The past year and a half with braces has been a piece of cake compared to wearing bite turbos (also known as bite blocks) for 18 months. The hardest part of these hidden acrylic pieces that keep me from closing my top and bottom teeth is explaining why I struggle to eat things like lettuce, or shredded carrots, or thin slices of beef jerky. Basically, any food that requires precision chewing has been off-limits since July of 2019.
Allow me to explain. Put your palms together as you would at the end of a yoga class. Now, move them slightly apart so a notepad or a thin book could slip between them. That's what my top and bottom teeth still look like when I bite down, thanks to the bite blocks. A year ago the gap was much wider. I can chew a big wad of salad up to a point, but grinding a single lettuce leaf is impossible because my teeth are held apart like your palms.
Although now that I'm this far along the bite correcting process, it is easier to eat. My teeth are shifting into place, and it's possible to chew more items on the menu. Add wearing a mask to cover those stubborn specks of cooked spinach wedged under my arch wire, and I'd say I've adapted quite well.
I wrote the following story over a year ago, not long after I got braces. I came across it recently and read it to Buddy. He approved and thought it was worthy of posting.
Characters and their names have been (slightly) modified. The story is (mostly) fiction.
(Click HERE for A Diet of Soup and Sarcasm : Part One)
A Diet of Soup and Sarcasm: Part Two
On a chilly Maui evening, Dean and I drive up a winding road to a mutual acquaintance's (aka, stranger's) house for a potluck dinner. We are the "friends of a friend of a friend's" invitees. A warm bowl of wasabi-garlic mashed potatoes sits on my lap. I'm somewhat used to my forced diet of soft food. If mashed potatoes are the only thing I eat tonight, I'll be fine.
As we enter the house, I glance at the kitchen counter. It's a patchwork of mismatched dishes filled with crunchy snacks, meats, and sticky desserts. Crusty, chewy sourdough baguettes sit next to salted caramels and other things I cannot chew. I set the mashed potatoes next to the wine, so I know where to find them.
The hostess greets us with a plate of bacon-wrapped shrimp—my mouth waters.
"Those look lovely, but no, thank you. I can't." Her blank stare makes me uncomfortable. I feel compelled to explain and be heard. I'd like to tell her how I struggle with having braces at my age, and how I hate the feeling of food stuck in them, and how I love to walk my dogs and not talk to people because I suck at small talk. Instead I say, "I have things on the back of my teeth that keep me from chewing." I stood poised for her understanding, but was denied.
"You don't look like you need to lose weight," she snaps while looking me up and down.
"It's not for weight loss!" I snap back. I shouldn't be offended, but I am. "It's part of my braces." I try to explain, but she walks away with the shrimp.
I spot a vacant couch detached from the bustle of chatter in the kitchen and take a seat. Dean grazes the buffet, sampling the spicy pecans, taquitos, and peanut butter stuffed celery sticks. I give him the secret signal we practiced before the party; the one that says, "come here." He brings me an overfilled glass of red wine and a plate of olives. "Your potatoes are gone. Can you eat these?" He asks.
My tongue mashes an olive against the roof of my mouth; an acquired skill. I can feel little bits of green flesh burrow between my brackets. As Dean crunches celery sticks, my tongue, getting lots of exercise, finds the last shred of olive, and wiggles it free.
An older lady wearing an Indian Sari and a tiara of dried flowers sits next to us. She introduces herself as "Deva Prema Star Cat." She tells us she's been on Maui for ten years, working as a feline aura cleanser. "It's a gift I acquired on a yoga retreat outside Rishikesh," she says without blinking.
Deva is originally from Florida, but "her heart is with Kitty India," she tells me while placing her hands on her chest. Her wrists are donned in feathered bangles like cat toys.
Having no interest in what she thinks she does for a living, I ask her which part of the state she's from, referring to Florida. Perhaps we can have a relatable conversation.
"Florida is part of the United States," she says, eyes open wide.
Her gaze is off-putting. I wonder if she thinks I'm questioning her "state" as in "mental condition." But, she had to have misunderstood my question. Who doesn't know Florida is a state? Before I can clarify what I meant, she persists.
"Florida is on the mainland, my sweet kitten." She closes her eyes as if to cleanse her aura of my presence. Then she starts to purr.
I may not be able to bite an olive, but I can still bite my tongue.
By this time in the evening, Dean has a belly full of food, and I've had wine and one olive for dinner. After my conversation with Guru Cat Lady, the geography diva, I am in the I-could-care-less-about-this-party zone.
The hostess walks by and collects the empty paper plates that lay on the floor. Most people are standing now, drinking more, and talking louder. Dean and I are still on the couch.
"Did you all get enough to eat," asks the hostess as she glances at my full plate of olives.
"Jill didn't," says Dean. "She can only eat soup."
Insert full-body hot flash here.
Five minutes later, the hostess comes back with a paper cup of warm water mixed with dried split pea soup. I am grateful and embarrassed.
I start eating the salty glob of goop before the clumps have moistened thoroughly. Food in my stomach now will save me from a nasty hangover later. As I swallow the last green lump, a 1970s McCall's sewing pattern catalog model walks over to me. She's dressed in a mustard yellow satin jumpsuit with billowy 3/4 sleeves and a two-toned suede macrame belt that dangles fringe to the floor. She's alarmingly thin with long jet black hair parted down the middle. A plunging neckline reveals a diamond-studded peace sign pendant atop a pale, bony chest. Gold hoop earrings match her sparkly, stiletto heels. "My mom told me I should talk to you," she says.
I think she's the daughter of the hostess, but I'm not sure. Her style tells me she could be one of Deva Aura Kitty's litter.
"Like, oh my God, my dentist keeps telling me I need braces, but they are like six-thousand-dollars, and I'm like trying to support myself now, you know, I'm like 23 years old, and I'm trying to move out of my mom's house, but like, work just cuts into my free time, you know?" She is twirling her macrame belt fringe so fast if it hits her forearm it will undoubtedly leave a welt. "Like if I need to improve my appearance that bad, I'll use that six grand for Botox when I turn thirty."
It never ceases to amaze me how many people think braces are only for appearances. "My teeth were cracking because my bite was off, and crowns are more expensive in the long run." I am fruitlessly still seeking understanding. "Why does your dentist think you need braces?" I ask, knowing an intelligent conversation isn't going to happen.
She moves closer and I'm worried I'll get flogged by her belt. "So you teach yoga, right? That is like so cool. Like, if I could teach yoga in like high heels, that would be like so cool." She pulls a cellphone from her jumpsuit pocket. "Oh my God, I'm so going to text my bff. We are totally going to start a yoga-in-high-heels class. I mean, I don't teach yoga yet, but I'm going to get certified. Like I can just take an online class, right?"
No. Just start teaching. It'll be great. OMG! WTF?
Dean is cornered by a woman who looks like Lucille Ball, and flashes me the signal. Lucille is showing Dean how she can dance like Elvis. As I approach, she immediately stops dancing.
"Don't let me spoil your fun," I say, hoping she carries on so we can make our grand exit.
"Oh honey, were you in a bad car accident or something?" She asks me.
"Not that I know of." It's too late for me to be witty.
"Um. Well. Hello! Your mouth?" Her expression is contorted, eyes like full moons. She does not break her stare. The room turns black and white as I'm momentarily transported into an I Love Lucy episode on pause.
"Lucy, I'm home!!!" I yell, clicking my heels. There's no place like home. There's no place like home. There's no place like home. I just want to go home.
The hostess comes around just in time. "Great party," I lie through metal clad teeth."Thank you for the soup. It is terribly challenging to eat with..." Here I go again.
"Well, yeah, okay, whatever." The hostess is irritated with me. "My sister had invisa-braces too. I know you can just take them off."
Take them off? Seriously?! I. Have. Had. Enough. Of. This. Evening.
As we walk out the door, I flash her a toothy, these-are-real-braces-not-removable-Invisalign-braces smile and remember a quote from my dad. He said, "It's far more important that you understand rather than seek to be understood."
Great advice, Dad!
I understand I'll have my braces and bite blocks a little longer, but not too much longer. The hard part is over. I successfully ate an Ahi burger for lunch today. Progress!
Thanks for reading my waggish fabrication of a truly difficult evening. There is nothing quite as refreshing as replacing frustration with a little innocent hilarity. It's become one of my favorite pastimes, and I'm grateful Buddy encouraged me to share my silly story.
Greta liked it, too. Lol.
"Always laugh when you can. It is cheap medicine." ~Lord Byron
"Laughter is the corrective force which prevents us from becoming cranks." ~Henri Bergson
"A good laugh is sunshine in the house." ~William Thackeray