Seventeen and Soon to Be Braceface

October 16, 2008
By Meira Bennett, New York, NY

I’m lying down on a pale blue reclining chair, with a tray hanging over my side and a bib over my chest, in a tiny office off Lexington. I close my eyes and inhale deeply. It’s only for a few months, I think to myself. Just a few months. The sterile silver tools clink as Mea unwraps the package and spreads them out on the tray. Smooth jazz streams down from the speakers on the ceiling, and when I open my eyes, that’s all I see. Speckled, grey ceiling. I open my eyes again, and Dr. C’s face looms over me and all I see now are his eyes behind his glasses. The rest of his face is covered with a surgical mask. His fingers, covered in rubbery blue gloves pinch my arm and the mouth behind the mask asks ‘how’s the boyfriend.’ I smile wryly to myself and remember that I have one last non metal smile before I am condemned to let everyone know what I had for lunch. ‘Nonexistent’ I reply. I stretch my mouth into what they think is a cheerful grin. It’s not cheerful. I’m not cheerful. I’m seventeen years old. Seventeen and a senior. Seventeen and soon to be braceface. It’s not worth it, I decide, and I relax my face into the scowl that I walked into the office with. The scowl that I wore on my face walking down Lexington. The scowl I feel inside of me everytime I examine my teeth in the mirror. If only, if only my retainer was perfect. If only my teeth were perfect. If only I was perfect.
My mother told me that my best physical qualities are my hair and my smile. I got a haircut. I hate haircuts. The tooth was a problem though. The incisor that was pushed aside, pushed out of the neat little semicircle that tortured me for nearly 2 years of my life. 18 months, I endured the pain, the headaches, the swelling. Twice a month I visited the little office off Lexington and stretched my mouth open, wide, wider, as wide as it could go so that they could stick their fingers into my teeth and perfect them. One shift at a time. I would choose colors. My bat mitzvah theme was pink- and so I sported pink braces. I matched.
They told me to wear rubber bands in the back of my mouth. Tiny rubber bands. I used them for my hair instead; tiny little braids in my hair. Sometimes I did a whole head of braids and I would go to school with crimped hair the next day. I would go to the orthodontist with little braids and crimped hair but my teeth did not move. They delayed the date I would get my braces off. I wore the rubberbands in my teeth from then on. I couldn’t go to a new camp with braces on. I couldn’t go to a new school with braces. I just couldn’t.
I am a legacy in that little office off Lexington. Grandpa was an orthodontist. He lived in California. Whenever he would fly in for a visit we would all show him our teeth, even my mother would be inspected. I would stretch my mouth open aaaaand… bite! By the time I was ten, the year he became interested in my teeth alignment, my sister’s teeth were already wired and she was coming back from her orthodontist with flowers. I went one time, just to check it out, and the waiting room was a game-zone, complete with a pinball machine and a video player. My orthodontist just has magazines.
That was the year I flew to California to get my teeth x-rayed for Grandpa to examine. Grandpa wanted to put braces on me himself. I thought I would have to wear a night brace, one of those hideous wires strapped around my head. I was supposed to have a “Dr. D smile.” But my mouth wasn’t ready. My teeth always came in late.
I don’t know if Grandpa ever saw me after my braces came off. He saw me with braces, I know. Whenever he visited he would come with me to the office and chat with Dr. C. They had known each other for a long time. Everytime I went for a checkup or adjustment he would ask me ‘how’s Grandpa?’ The last time he asked me, I hadn’t had a checkup for a while. I had been instructed to come back every 6 months for a retainer adjustment, and that was it. My bimonthly visits were over and the office had undergone a renovation. Mae had had a baby and I was done with my first year of high school. Summer was here and I had just got a haircut. My retainer was all bent out of shape. ‘I’m sorry’ he said. And turned back to my teeth.

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