Love in the Time of Invisalign

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It appears that my life is a series of grave miscalculations.

It started in college when, left to my own devices, I decided to be an actress.

I packed my schedule with modern dance class and experimental theater. I taught myself how to tap dance from a book. I scoured the films of Peter Brooks, the writings of Samuel Becket, the dramatic musings of Dario Fo and The San Francisco Mime Troupe. I became a veritable triple threat in three most obscure and useless ways: contact improv, jazz cello, and non-verbal theatrical comedy.

There was the personal trainer career, my ill-fated business ventures, my unfortunate and short-lived marriage.

This past week, I got invisaligns.

“I guess I shouldn’t be so impulsive,” I told my neighbor after I stopped crying. We were walking our dogs.

“You’re impulsive about dental care?”

“I’m impulsive about everything.”

The problem is not the invisaligns, these clear braces that are supposed to enter your life with only a slight intrusion. They are so subtle, the advertisements say, that no one will be able to tell that my teeth are becoming straighter, bit by painful bit. They are convenient. They snap in and out so that an active adult can pursue excellent oral hygiene.

The problem is that, instead of the traditional four small, somewhat well hidden “buttons” glued onto a patient’s teeth, my dentist placed around nineteen buttons, small square blobs of white epoxy across my entire smile – one on every visible tooth in my head.

I suspect procuring my dental care at deep discount through Groupon was another grave miscalculation.

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4:30 a.m., Saturday morning, I roll out of bed and into a pair of jeans, socks, a shirt. I pull my tangled hair into a tangled pony-tail, wake my dog up long enough to say good-bye, and step out into the early dawn. I ignore the lone yellow cab that casts a plaintive honk in my direction as I climb the hill. I’ll take the train to the bus to the airport to my rental car.

But the train runs slow early mornings and slower on Saturdays. I miss the bus by three minutes. The tired dispatcher looks up at me, no compassion on his grizzled face. The next bus leaves in half an hour. Thing are suddenly a little tight.

I bet on a cab ride to Newark. It’s a splurge, but an extra half hour will buy me peace of mind and enough time to fill my water bottle, wander through the airport, snap out my new teeth and clean the old ones.

The cabbie is soft-spoken. Young. French-Haitian. A student, perhaps. As we pull away from the curb, I lean back, thankful to hand over responsibility to my temporary caretaker as I watch dawn get fat and then thin again.

But the meter is running up at an incredible rate. And the drive seems very long. We pass a sign for the airport. And keep driving into the darkness. And now we’re in South Orange and now Montclair.

“How much longer to the airport,” I ask, leaning through the divide.

“When the signs appear.”

“Yeah. You passed those a while ago. The airport’s in Newark. We just drove through Montclair.”

“Do you know how to get to the there?”

“No. That’s why I hired you,” I say. And then, “Do you have GPS?”

“No. Do you?”

“No.”

The meter’s at $120. He pulls off the highway.

“You’re going to turn that off, right?”

He nods, but leaves it running as he pulls into a gas station for directions.

“You passed the airport again. We’re in Jersey City.” I haven’t missed my flight, but it’s a distinct possibility. “You know you want to head towards the terminals and not cargo, right?” $130… $140… I kind of want to laugh, even though it’s not that funny.

“I’m sorry,” he says. He’s choked up.

“You got to learn somehow,” I say. Inside, I’m shaky, frazzled. I feel like I might puke.

He pulls up to the correct curb and I trip out of the cab, into the terminal, through security, and make it to the flight as they’re boarding.

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It’s cold and rainy in Nashville, despite my intrepid optimism that expected 72 and sunny. My hair is wide and tall and I have no plans other than drink a cup of coffee at Fido and drive around until I find something to stop for. I can’t check into my place until five and it’s just a little past nine.

I pull into a lot at 7th and Church. It’s in the middle of a busy nowhere, so I do what I do best. I walk. At The Hermitage Hotel, I sit by the fireplace and compose a postcard in my head. It says:

“Made a few miscalculation planning this trip to Nashville. I would fire me, if I could. But it seems I am a contract freelancer on a union gig. It’s not over until it’s over. Landed at the Hermitage Hotel. So beautiful. Sitting by the fire until they kick me out. Miss you. xo, a”

And then I’m walking again, down the hill, towards a faint glow of music. I wander through alley with painted trash cans and songs slipping through closed doors, full of poetry and CAM00376grace, and into a humble bar on Second Avenue. The bartenders, pretty, clean, tattooed with half-way smiles, ignore their clientele as best as they can. I wonder how this country – this world of humans – can be in such pain when we have music to hold us together. How we mistake our lives for ours alone, even as we reach out with songs and stories for others to hear. How we listen to the same melodies over and over again until we realize that the singer is singing about us. And how we can’t see that, in sharing our stories, we open a door, a dialog, that magnifies the best of what it means to be human.

“Who are you rooting for,” says the woman to my left.  She points to the t.v screen behind the bar. She’s rooting for Connecticut.

“I’ve been traveling since four.” I slur, mostly because of the invisaligns, “All I see are pretty colors.”

The woman to my right is from Iowa and howls a piercing scream when her team scores. Her husband shouts “you’d all starve if it weren’t for Iowa. We grow corn!”

In the window, a burly, apologetic, humble, and joyful man strums his guitar. If New York is the heart of North America, Turtle Island, I decide, Nashville is its soul.

Before I left, I told Hazel I was nervous for my date in Nashville, nervous to ever date again.

“Just tell them you had a dental procedure.”

When she asked why, I told her it was because food gets stuck in the buttons on my teeth and it feels like I am reliving the worst part of my teenage years.

“If you like the guy, don’t eat. If you don’t like him, eat spinach. That should put them off.”

We listed all the good that has already come from my grave miscalculation:

I haven’t eaten sugar in a week.

I have cut down 100% with snacking at work.

I have also cut down on speaking, biting my nails, and drinking red wine.

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Nashville’s cold the next morning, too, but the sun is out. I’m at Bongo Java, drinking coffee before my Nashville date. I haven’t decided if I’ll greet him with the teeth in or out. If I’ll cop to the handicap, or try to hide it. If I’ll cover my mouth when I smile, or let the white blobs swing free.

“How’s the little squirt? How are you,” I text Obi. He’s watching my dog this weekend. She loves him and his fat cat.

“Little squirt is fine. Bought a new suit. Spent lots of money. I think I might puke.”

“That’s what growing up is all about,” I shoot back, “managing nausea.”

I look at the time. 11:03. My date walks through the door.

This is it. Here I go. Love in the time of invisalign.

1 thought on “Love in the Time of Invisalign

  1. Yes, Nashville. Can we say, to be continued? That’s how I felt as I neared the end – please don’t be done – I want the rest of the story and now I see the Blind Date to follow!

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