When I was in the sixth grade, I participated in the spelling bee, a yearly ritual for me throughout elementary school. It was a confirmation to all that I was a smart kid, that I could one day become successful, you know, become someone who spends his free time writing blogs that make less than one cent per post.
This year was unlike the other years and not because I won or anything. I lost. Might have finished in tenth place or so. No, it was different because I had a metal mouth. Said affliction ruined my word pronunciation, like so:
“HAAACK-ey.” Then I spelled it. And again with the pronunciation: HAAACK-ey.
The social goodwill lost from knowing how to correctly spell as a sixth grader only withered away further with the unintentional comedy that came from turning the word hockey into an auditory phonics lesson. I wasn’t just a nerd. I was a nerd who sounded like a Norwegian woman speaking her first words of the English language. Damn that metal mouth.
Of all the first world problems we experience as kids, nothing compares to the excruciating pain of braces. I not only had braces but also the Herpst appliance, a contraption that featured two metals bars glued to the top and bottom of my teeth. The braces shifted my teeth together. The Herpst appliance aligned the upper and lower part of my jaw. Combined in my mouth, the braces and the Herpst appliance made it possible for pain to move through my mouth in four different directions, like a mathematical plane.
I could have lived with having the voice of that non-blonde who sings the “HEY YAY YAY, HEY YAY YAY, I SAID HEY, WHAAAAAT’S GOING ON” song if I didn’t have to live with the tightening sessions. Anyone who had braces remembers those. An evil man with steel, wheezing, spinning drills set those drills on a table and uses a far more humane instrument to insert new wiring into the brackets or whatever they call them on your teeth. You could eat pizza and chips for about two hours afterwards until your life descended into suburban horror. You couldn’t eat. You couldn’t sleep. You begged your mom constantly for Flinstones chewable morphine. It sucked.
And I write this now because the pain hasn’t stopped. Sort of.
About a year ago, I went to the dentist for a routine checkup, becoming the third 24-year old male in the entire country to see a dentist that year. They loved my teeth. They were so shiny, so straight. They asked if I had braces? YUP! And then they looked at the gum-line on the lower part of my mouth. They asked again if I had braces. Um, YUP?
The braces, the Herpst appliance, they had disrupted the Tao of my mouth. In making my teeth look like those of a movie star, they wreaked havoc on the fabric of my gums. My lower gum-line was receding. A pearly white tinge snuck out from inside all that pink. I would need surgery.
I delayed this operation until the year 2011 so that I could purchase dental insurance through my employer. Then I delayed from the early parts of 2011 to the summer of 2011 to the fall of 2011 because I am lazy. Finally, I went to see the periodontist in late August. Even with insurance, I discovered that the surgery would still cost as much as a blue whale.
Three weeks ago, I had the surgery. The pain wasn’t so bad. The after-effects were. Yes, the sixth-grade suburban horror returned. I couldn’t eat anything except for ice cream and apple sauce for a couple of days. I gradually made my way to macaroni and cheese and soup. And awkwardness decided to rear its ugly head.
I had to wear a plastic covering on the roof of my mouth (they had taken flesh from there and grafted it to my bottom gums) and place a cotton patch over the sensitive area. It bled every so often and made me sound like I did back when I had the metal mouth. Here’s a conversation from a bar that weekend, exactly as it may or may not have unfolded.
Me: Hey how is it going? I’m Mark.
Frightened girl: ZOMFG!!!! Blood is flowing out of your mouth like HOTTTT LAVA!! Ugh.
So yeah, never buy your kids braces. Or Herpst appliances.