Just Smile

July 20, 2011
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The harsh smell of antiseptic and mint toothpaste assaulted my nose the second I entered the room. I went directly to the main desk and announced my presence to the women sitting there, starring at the computer screen with a dazed look. I then sat down in the waiting area, contemplating my fate. It couldn’t be so terrible, could it? My friends had to have been exaggerating the pain, right? Just as I began to seriously consider making a break for it, I was called into the office. I had to brush my teeth using a blue disposable toothbrush that came in plastic wrap. The fibers were rough and hurt my gums and I couldn’t help but feel self-conscious; did all those people really need to stare at me as I brushed my teeth? Then I sat in the chair: the chair dreaded by all children, the one that haunts their nightmares. The one that seems cozy at first, but then makes a loud, mechanical sound and becomes an awkwardly shaped bed of sorts, giving access of your mouth over to those standing above you.
“Hello there, Casey!” said Dr.Langberg, entirely too chipper for this early hour and this sad occasion. “Ready to get your braces put on? It’s a big day for you!” he exclaimed, flashing his own, perfectly aligned, teeth.
After receiving a feeble smile of my own, he got to work. The next hour and a half was pure agony: the pulling, the scraping, and the pressure! There were moments when there were three hands in my mouth, all demanding my cooperation. Then, once it was finally done, Dr.Langberg handed me a mirror.
“There now! Not so bad, is it?” he said kindly.
“No” I agreed weakly. It was so much worse. My mouth was sore and swollen. I could still taste that acrid mixture of blood, plastic gloves and metal, and my teeth….oh my teeth! On every tooth was a small, square piece of metal, and all of them were bound together by a long wire. They rubbed against my lips and I could already feel the strain they put on my teeth. They shined brightly and reflected the harsh glare given off by the incandescent lights above. My braces.
They were so….noticeable! I had hoped to pass them off as if they were nothing, to act as though they weren’t even there, but now that I had seen them, I couldn’t unsee them! They seemed to take over my entire face, a billboard screaming, “Look at me! Look at me!” when all I wanted was to blend in.
As I stared at myself in the mirror, I could feel it setting in: the grief. For the loss of my social life, of my little acting career and my self esteem. As the days passed and I became used to my braces, I also found myself moving steadily through the stages of grief. Denial (No, this is unnecessary. I’ll just go back and have my orthodontist remove them.), anger (this is ridiculous! My teeth are fine! I refuse to start my freshman year of high school with braces! Get these off of my teeth NOW!) Bargaining (I’ll wear a retainer every day for the rest of my life! I’ll brush my teeth four, no five times a day if I don’t have to have braces! I’ll never crew gum again, please!) Depression (No one will want to be my friend. I’ll end up sitting alone in the back of the lunchroom … alone everyday. What’s the point?) And, finally, acceptance. As much suffering and anxiety as my braces caused me, I knew deep down (very deep) that I was doing the right thing and that I would be happy for having had them. What are a few months with braces when it will give me the smile I want? I will just have to suck it up, brush well, and serve my time.
Over eighteen months later, as I sat in that same chair, waiting for Dr.Langberg to finish removing my braces, the dread I remembered feeling in my heart was replaced by a warm feeling: pride and excitement. I was proud of myself for having pushed through the horror that was high school with the added baggage of braces, and I was so excited to finally be rid of them! Finally finished, Dr.Langberg handed me a mirror. I looked at my reflection and smiled.





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