Lost Journal: The Battle for Orthodontic Independence

Journal entry: October 22, 1984 (age 15) – Taking the braces off

I’ve been preparing for this day for years. My parents paid a lot of money to get me to this point, and they’re filled with pride. It’s a day that young men dream of. Today, I am a man. Today, I had my braces taken off.

It was a good day for my orthodontist, too. Dr. Bronsky and his brethren in armature must savor the moments when their patients are actually happy to see them. I imagine they feel more in harmony with the Universe when they are removing foreign metal objects from a person’s mouth, rather than welding them in place with the assistance of screws and wire cutters. Today was one of those rare good days in the tooth-wrangling biz, when the results make it all worthwhile. Dr. B happily hummed along with the radio, tapping his feet on the floor beneath my tipped-back dental chair.

I, too, had started to enjoy the moment and what it meant – the aesthetic end that would justify the mandibular means. Each band of metal Dr. Bronsky removed was piled on a tray that sat on my chest. By that slight change in location, the hardware was deweaponized – decommissioned, if you will, as a nerd-tracking device. My glasses, red hair and combination skin were losing a valuable resource in their war for facial destiny. My nice, but beleaguered blue eyes were being reinforced with two fresh rows of enameled infantry. The improved results would reverberate far beyond the battlefield, into the halls of academia where Darwin once held forth. On the evolutionary chart for gingerus americanus, I was making the step rightward from knuckle-dragging Mad magazine model to slightly stooped star of Happy Days.

My mind was racing with all the things I would be able to do now. I could smile for photographs. Snapshots of me over the past several years feature a mouth awkwardly straining to stay closed while I smuggle in live baby chicks from Paraguay. I could chew gum, and work my way up to walking at the same time. I could eat corn on the cob dipped in caramel, or peanut brittle and taffy sandwiches. I could sleep on my side and not wake up next to the drool pool. I could mouth the words to Hall and Oates’ “M-E-T-H-O-D of Modern Love” without injuring myself. I could kiss girls with braces, free of the fear that we’d be condemned to working the carnival circuit as a freakish example of conjoined orthodontia.

But the best part of being newly brace-free, I realized, was the extra mouthroom. It was a forgotten luxury. My tongue and lips kept restlessly exploring their surroundings like cats in a grocery bag. I imagined it would look to Paraguayan airport security like the contraband chicks were fighting their way out. (I realize I’m mixing my metaphors, but I’m still delirious from the clinical de-geeking.)

As I stood up to leave the orthodontist’s office, I looked over at my beaming mother. She was doing that high-speed panto-clap that says “Yippee!” I flashed her the biggest, toothiest grin of my life. But the enamel was quickly cloaked when I heard the doctor’s voice over my shoulder. “See you next week when we fit you with your retainer!”

Tim Mollen
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