I, Braces

Am, is, are, was, be, being, been.


I have a firm grasp of the english language.


Wait…I’m lying.


Sometimes I make words up, and sometimes I use words I vaguely know the meaning of. Okay, I have a semi-firm grasp of the english language. Enough to know that I should’ve capitalized English. What the fuck, dude.


I can’t play Mad Libs because I’ve forgotten the basic fundamentals of English that were repeatedly taught to me from 2nd to 12th grade. I sometimes forget what an adverb is. My 11-year-old niece knows what an adverb is without the refresher.


I really have no one else to blame but myself, not even my public schooling. I can pinpoint the root of the problem, one of many roots as to why I am not nearly as smart as I should be (drug use included). My mind flashes back to Mrs. Ortega’s English class during my Senior year of high school. I can visualize her telling me, for the last time, what an adverb is.


But I was not paying attention to her words, I was paying attention to Mrs. Ortega. She was in her early thirties and had braces. She seemed so frail and white. Her hair was short, and what I considered at the time, mousy. Even the complete slob I was as a teenager felt sorry for her.


She was not a natural Ortega. She was a former Mormon missionary who fell in love with Mr. Ortega in Mexico. While her personality seemed contrary to this, I’d like to think she couldn’t resist what she likely perceived as an exotic Mr. Ortega, and finally let down her tight ponytail and succumbed to his charms. It is the stuff that romance novels are made of.


Yes, braces on an adult is depressing. You can tell there is a haunting kind of humiliation in it. Aside from Mrs. Ortega, I once had a challenging female boss who had braces. This woman had married into the family business and had a sense of false superiority about her. Unfortunately, it was difficult for a 21-year-old me to take a 50-year-old woman with braces seriously. 


There were other contributing factors to my distaste. Her right wing shook hands with a former President’s right wing on a visit to that middle-of-nowhere town in that middle-of-nowhere red state, a tale she’ll regale anyone with but when I see the pictures I can only imagine him thinking, “Damn, this bitch has got some braces on.”


Sure, she had promised me lucrative networking opportunities with “high profile” travel writers, if you consider the Black Hills tourism division high profile, to prove her power. But like all things said in passing and by someone who didn’t really mean it, it never happened. The last conversation we had, she’d seen my newest and most visible tattoo and snarled, “Now, how in the world are you planning on getting a decent job with that thing?” Perhaps I should’ve asked, ‘How did you become the first lady of tourist traps with your crazy old lady perm and crooked teeth?’ But I didn’t.


But Mrs. Ortega was different. Although uptight, she wasn’t as deserving of her student’s mocking. What else can you do but be a bitch to rotten teenagers? She had classrooms of students that looked older than her, and unlike my old boss, she probably worked really hard for everything she had. Including forgoing the humiliation of being an adolescent with braces to get herself through school so she could finally afford to get her fangs fixed and live with the humiliation of being an adult with braces. Who was I to criticize her? But I did. Especially those times she kicked me out into the hallway for being too loud or gave me shitty grades on my reports.


Besides, when I wasn’t paying attention to Mrs. Ortega’s perceived physical shortcomings, I was sleeping in class. She was only trying to keep me from being a feral child, grunting my requests and crying because nobody could understand my garbled speech. 


In a bitter twist of irony, this memory is now hilarious to me. I wrote this initially for a book of essays years and years ago and the first time I saw myself in the mirror with my new grill, all I could remember was the amount of adult brace hatred in this piece. My bad bite landed me in the same predicament as these women at 38.


Now being a woman significantly older than Ortega was when she had braces, I don’t feel bad about them. Even when I’m the only patient in the room over the age of 14. I hope they felt that way too, even if others were passing judgment. If not, they probably should’ve got them in gold like I did because this look is swag as fuck. 

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