BY MONICA BOBRA
I bared my teeth in the mirror, growled at it like it was some fierce demon signaling my impending doom. I don't care what you think, I decided, I don't care. And then I closed my lips and took the stairs down, two at a time, slid across the hardwood floor, picked up my sneakers and tied the laces in the car.
My dad had taken a couple hours off work and was going to meet us there. My mother had picked my brother up early. I hated the fact that this was a family affair. My lips were still sealed as we waited. My dad read Time, my brother read Highlights, my mom read Ladies Home Journal and I stared at Seventeen, but I refused to let anybody see me take any pleasure in anything so I just pursed my lips and waited.
We rose. We filed in. We sat yet again.
"Hi Monica, I am Dr. Robert Hortin. Nice to meet you."
I pursed my lips.
"So, your father tells me that you are thinking about braces."
No, I clarified to myself, my father is thinking about braces. I am definitely not thinking about them.
"Well, there is a great importance in having straight teeth," he went on, as I intensely examined my shoelaces and decided… purple would most definitely be an awesome color to dye them.
"First of all, it eliminates potential for oral diseases, most commonly those associated with gum infection. The second reason is mostly cosmetic: it is proven that people are taken more seriously when they have straight teeth. It comes with the territory of professionalism. You might not worry about that now, Monica, being in the seventh grade, but later you will thank your father for spending all this money so that you can look beautiful."
My dad beamed.
Various methods of how to get rid of the Sylvester the Cat grin sped through my head, but I decided against it and contented myself with imagining the scenarios.
We went home with an appointment. I was to lead at least the next two years of my life with huge blocks of metal pasted to my teeth, and I couldn't help thinking that Sean, the cute boy who walked me home after woodshop, would most definitely think I was ugly and ask Vanessa to the next dance.
Vanessa didn't have braces.
Vanessa's dad thought she was beautiful.
The next time I saw Dr. Hortin it was just the two of us. I was highly pleased. He asked me how I was doing. I pointedly told him that I would rather be in Pre-Algebra with Ms. Frazee, who had scorched-off eyebrows and assigned detention for not knowing the formula for the circumference of a circle.
He told me what he would be doing, and asked me if I had any questions.
"Could I leave?"
"Open your mouth."
I opened it halfway. He pried it open and inserted an immense container of goo that apparently had to sit in my mouth for two and a half minutes but he let it stay for probably an hour, and I wanted to throw up and why did he torture me so much?
Lying in the chair, I watched him prepare the millions of tools needed to remodel my mouth. The light glinted off one that looked like hedge clippers. He smiled at me with raised eyebrows, and I thought: He is going to kill me right now.
Sizzling, caramel-colored glue. Dry, powdered gloves daub it on my skin.
Massive prickly rectangles forced backward-farther, farther-no gagging allowed.
Open, open, open…an enormous plastic spreader stretches my cheeks.
I can't swallow. Clear tubing sucks saliva out of my mouth.
I came out of the office sore and indignant and decided I definitely would hibernate for the next two years because my life was over and Sean would certainly find me the most repulsive human being on the face of earth.
And even though all my friends told me it was not so bad, I dreaded second period, and then it came:
"Hey! You got braces." He smiled and asked me if I wanted to be in his group for the skit. I raised my eyebrows. Perhaps I would suspend hibernation for a couple of weeks.
"K, we are going to meet at my house after school. Wanna walk with me?"
My aunt came to visit from India a few months later. She was studying to be an orthodontist, and brought with her videos of oral surgery gruesome enough to traumatize the VCR. When she saw me, she was massively delighted that I got braces and decided she just had to meet my orthodontist.
"He's evil," I told her.
"Just cuz," I said. Why did I have to explain that? He obviously had converted me to a human magnet.
They met each other at my next appointment, and bonded over ruining kids' lives, and he was so nice and she was so nice, and Monica, can you say hi to your aunt for me next time you call her?
"She's growing up so fast," he announced to my dad at the next visit. It had been a year.
"We are moving on to rubber bands to correct the alignment." He told me that I needed to stretch the bands from the back of my top teeth to the front of my bottom teeth, and I must wear them for fourteen hours a day, even while eating, and not only did I look like I had unruly fangs but when I pronounced 'elephant' it came out 'yaglafant' and Sean would certainly think that I looked like one myself, I had so much gray in my mouth.
I didn't wear them to school the next day. Sean hung out with me during recess. He wouldn't have if I looked like a yaglafant, I decided. I decided never to wear the rubber bands to school. Or to the store. Or during swim practice. That idea didn't go over well.
"Have you been wearing your bands, Monica?" the familiar voice asked.
I knew he had a point. I knew he knew I lied to him, but he let it slide, and upped it to 18 hours a day, and at that point I knew I had to do something, so I wore them to bed and got 8 hours a day.
"Have you been wearing your bands, Monica?"
Silence. I looked at my shoelaces. I wished there was a way to avoid looking like a yaglafant and still do what he said.
I bared my teeth in the mirror. A huge clunk of metal, but not so bad. They were getting straighter, I noticed. In a few more visits they would be perfectly straight and I would never have to worry again.
"Monica, I can't take your braces off as soon as I had originally promised."
Death. Destruction. Pain.
"You haven't been wearing your bands enough."
I nodded. The appointment over, I walked silently to the car.
"Is Dr. Hortin being a MEANIE?" my brother asked, crawling out from below the driver's seat.
"No," I said.
I never got over my fear that boys would find me utterly revolting, so I elongated 18 hours a day for 10 months to 8 hours a day for 2 years. Dr. Hortin must have realized that there was a reason I refused to wear my bands any other time but to bed, and instead of ranting and raving and calling me an awful patient, he told me the consequences and I accepted them.
The day came in time. I was 16, and it had been 4 long years.
"How are you doing?"
"Good," I smiled. "Won the waterpolo game last night against Castellja." Castellja had been previously undefeated.
"Yeah? Well, everyone knows Monica has a tenacious soul." I looked at him. I liked that characterization. And so true it was.
I leaned back in my oft-occupied chair and listened to the sounds of instruments removing the pieces of metal from my teeth. As I ran my tongue along the outer edges of my teeth, I was reminded of the slippery moss that causes you to lose footing on rocks strewn along streambeds.
"Look at yourself," Dr. Hortin said as he held up his mirror. "Beautiful," he said, and beamed.
I returned his gaze, lips apart.
"Thank you," I said.