It happened the day before my first junior high school dance. I’d been to the orthodontist several times, enduring that mouthpiece filled with the cold, white, plaster of Paris concoction – both before and after getting those extra, unwanted teeth pulled – leaning forward and breathing, barely, through my nose while the imprint of my teeth and gums hardened. My casts would join a hundred other sets of jaws displayed in glass cases along every wall of the office, in Dr. Zappler’s museum of overbites. Still, I was surprised when an army of razor edged silver bands were cemented on each and every tooth, connected by a single wire that joined me, unwittingly, to the club of children with braces.
The monstrous dental chair faced a picture window looking out over a lake, a calming view before the tempest of tears that would follow when I got home and went directly to the mirror over the bathroom sink. My mouth was overtaken with metal, a silver smile behind swollen lips unaccustomed to the foreign objects in my mouth. My inside of my cheeks were sore. My heart dropped.
Because there was a boy, sort of a bad boy – or he soon enough would become one – and my crush on him was fierce. Just thinking about him conjured up a stirring in my 12-year-old body, a tickle that was a bit confusing and a bit intriguing. I guessed that if he would ask me to dance or possibly steal a first kiss, it could only get better. It was rumored that he might, friends had reported that he’d been glancing over at me frequently in the cafeteria.
Staring in the mirror, all hopes of his attention darkened. My first seventh grade dance would be the one where I sat alone on the wooden bleachers while my friends rocked back and forth with their boyfriends in that arduous circle otherwise known as a “slow dance.” My life was ruined.
Contrast this with Short-pants, who was thrilled about the acquisition of her braces. She marched home from the orthodontist triumphant with a blinding silver smile. She showed them off, beaming wide and proud to everyone she met, “Notice anything different?”
A few things have improved in the world of orthodontia. Instead of the wide bands wrapped around each tooth, she has but a tiny button cemented on the center of each one. You can barely see the wire that connects the teeth, there’s not as much metal in her mouth. Most important, Short-pants thinks it looks like she has diamonds on her teeth. Her smile is bejeweled.
I told Short-pants about my memory of getting braces, and the timing, and how different my response was from hers. (I left out the “stirring” part.) She listened thoughtfully.
“Did he dance with you?”
“Mama,” she fell into her Mother Teresa voice, “if that boy didn’t dance with you just because you got braces, he wasn’t worth liking.”
Then she flashed me a beautiful, blinding grin.