:-#

Receiving Dr. Ringler


The phone rang, and I ran to answer it. "Hello?"

"Hello, Mrs Kole?"

"Yes?"

"This is Dr Ringler, the one you interviewed with last week. Are you still interested in the receptionist position?"

"Absolutely. As I mentioned, Dr. Killion, the oncologist that I work for now is retiring."

"Well, I think that you're the best person for the job, but there's a hitch - Being the receptionist for an orthodontist, you need to display
an image consistent with our office. Unfortunately, your teeth are not in the condition that we want our clients to associate with us."

I thought back to the interview, and how much emphasis Dr. Ringler put on image and visual perception. He had "clients", not "patients; "Team
members", not "employees". Everything in the office was bright, professional, and neat. But there must be a reason that he called. "So.
. ." I started, not sure where he was going.

"I would be willing to hire you, but on the condition that you become not only a team member, but also a client. Starting treatment at age 32
will take a while longer than if you had done so as a teenager, but I'm sure you will be pleased with the eventual results."

We hashed out the details - subtracting cost of treatment from my salary, I would be getting a modest pay raise. And straighter teeth. I
had one office visit in one week, then another one before my first day on the job in two weeks.

It had to be better than my current job - patients at a tumor doctor have a very high mortality rate. Many know they will die soon, and are
looking to extend their limited few months, and slow the decline of their quality of life. Too many times the doctor would come up to me,
name a patient, and shake his head "no". That was the sign that the patient had died - I would make sure the payment account was up to date,
cancel future appointments, send the medical file to our archiving company, and send out a condolence card.

Working for an orthodontist must a lot more pleasant, seeing many young, vibrant children. While slightly concerned about getting braces at my
age, I looked forward to my first days on the new job. At my first visit, I was the first appointment of the day, and was immediately
welcomed in, and was shown to a tiny room with a padded stool, with some kind of a scary-looking machine in front of it. 


"Don't worry - this won't hurt." I hadn't notice the technician who come in while I was looking at the . . . thing. Her name tag said she was Alyssa.

She positioned some of the machine in front of me. She had me lightly bite down on an indented ridge of a plastic post, then positioned a pad
under my jaw. As I rested on the pad, the weight of my head kept my teeth on the small ridge. She positioned a thin pad at each side of my
head, and looked everything over. The pads and small post stopped me from moving my head. "Ok. Don't move." She stepped out of the room. The
machine whirred, and a box rotated about 5 inches away from me, from one side of my jaw to the other, and stopped.

Alyssa stepped back in, and removed the pads. "That wasn't so bad, was it? It's just a bigger version of a dentist's X-ray machine."

So far, so good. I was then led into the typical comfy dentist's chair. I was glad that I didn't see any drills around. Alyssa picked up what
looked like a football player's mouthpiece. "This is going to taste icky, but it only has to be in for 3 minutes."

She put it in my mouth, and had me bite into it. She was right - it tasted like clay - one delicacy nobody has for breakfast I guess.

After the 3 minutes were up, Alyssa took out the clay mouthpiece, and I was glad to rinse the taste out of my mouth.

Only a few minutes later, the doctor walked in.

"Open wide. The first step is to add spacers." He took out something that I couldn't see, placed it over one of my back molars, and
started to tap it into position. He gave a close look at his work. "Bite down. Ok. How does that feel?"

"It doesn't hurt, it just feels like I got a piece of roast beef stuck between my teeth." I replied.

"OK. Three more to go." He repeated the procedure on each of my back molars. "You're all set. See you on Monday - 7 AM."

On the way to Dr Killion's office, I looked in the rear view mirror. If I looked closely, I could see what looked like a tiny bit of roast beef
stuck between my teeth. I was more accurate that I thought. I bit down, and felt a bit of force spreading my teeth. I don't know why, but I kind
of liked it. I finished up the week at Dr. Killion's office. I trained the temp that he hired to replace me while he finished out his remaining
patients. In a way, I was dissappointed that the feeling of the spacers died after a day or two, and I went on with life.

Monday morning came, and I made sure to be on time for my first day. Dr Ringler had me immediately come into the chair. "How are you doing?
Today is band day." He's so peppy in the morning.

I was going to find out what that meant. It wasn't bad at all. He first took the spacers out of my mouth. It felt like I had a gap between my
teeth - like I lost a filling or something. It didn't feel right somehow.

"Ok. Open wide." He scrubbed my 4 back teeth with some tool, then took something I couldn't see, and put it over the first tooth. Just like the
spacers , he tapped it into place. I heard it scraping against the tooth, but it wasn't bad. Once again, I got the "roast beef in the
teeth" feeling. "Bite down" Dr Ringler instructed. "Good?"

"Yep. It's OK"

He continued the same process over the back teeth. After a look at his work, he said "Ok. You're all set. Most days, you need to be in
at 7:30, the office opens at 8. Come in at 7 again on Thursday for the next visit. He started showing me around the office. Alyssa and Sue were
his assistants - They did X-rays, took impressions, prepped the stations, showed people how to put on and take off headgear, and other
simple procedures.

The filing system seemed simple enough, as did the billing system. When I had to use the bathroom anyway, I took a look in the mirror. My back
molars were covered with metal, each with two small tubes sticking out toward the front of my mouth. "Not so bad." I thought. "Nobody but me
will see them right now anyway." I shrugged it off, and went back to work. I'm a single mom - I have a daughter, Crystal, who just turned 12.
That makes it 12 years and 9 months since I heard from Rob - the genetic father. To become a "dad", you need to spend time with the child. When I
told her that I was getting braces, Crystal thought that was kinda cool, but kinda weird. I wonder if she thinks it's me trying to fit in with
her and her friends, or trying to re-live my youth. I try to spend time with Crystal, but that's not why I'm getting the braces put on - it's
that or get a different job!

My first few days at Dr Ringler were uneventful - I was learning the system, but didn't have any major disasters. I was also keeping an eye
out to see what the patients were wearing - they were my future. I saw a scattering of patients with all different appliances - some were
visible, like one memorable angry-looking boy who was wearing a headgear. About half were not wearing any visible appliances, the other
half had brackets on their teeth, and a wire running through them. I didn't know quite what the doctor had planned for me, and I didn't want
to ask - in a way I didn't want to know, like not knowing would prevent the worst from happening. Thursday came, and I was in early for the
appointment. He seemed so cheerful for 7 in the morning. "Good morning. It's bracket day for you! Open wide!"

Alyssa used a scrubbie to clean the front of my top teeth. I can only guess it was the same tool used on my molars. Dr Ringler then used what
seemed to be a pair of needle-nose pliers to get something off of the small table next to my head. Alyssa was doing something, but I didn't
know what.

As the pliers went into my opened mouth, he said "Don't worry - this won't hurt a bit." He then pushed a bit against one of my teeth, held
the pressure for about 5 seconds, and took out the pliers. He was right - it didn't hurt a bit. Time after time, he took something with the
pliers, and placed it against a tooth, held it, and then took out the pliers. It was frightening having a doctor go into your mouth with
pliers, but painless in this case. He took a close look at what he put in, and then went in with a pick - a nudge here, a prod there, and then
he was satisfied. He nodded at Alyssa, and walked out.

Alyssa pulled out what seemed to be a black light - the kind so popular in the 70's. "Keep your mouth open, and bite down." She shined the light
all over my mouth, pulling away my cheeks a bit to shine it everywhere. After a few minutes of this, Alyssa used the scubbie on my lower teeth,
and then got Dr Ringler.

He looked at the work, nodded, and did the same thing to my lower teeth. First the pliers, then the pick, nudging and prodding, then the light,
then the inspection. The doctor proclaimed "Good to go, and we have clients coming in another ten minutes. Everyone get ready! Pat, Monday
early again for your next appointment."

I wondered what kind of reaction I was going to be getting from everyone, especially Crystal, seeing me for the first time in braces
like a teenager.

I looked in the mirror. I had white brackets on all of my teeth, but no wire connecting them. I guess I'll be getting that on Monday. I saw that
the brackets weren't put on straight - they didn't line up at all. It took me a moment - my teeth don't line up either. I guess the brackets
will line up when I'm done. They have a long way to go. When my mouth closed, I saw it puffed out a bit where it covered the brackets. You
could tell I had braces even with my mouth closed.

The day went on. The brackets felt rough to my tongue, but it was an odd addicting feeling, subconsciously running my teeth across them all day
long. The client's parents didn't even bat an eyelash at my changed looks, or have a second glance.

When I got home, Crystal demanded "Let me see mom! Open wide!" She can be so cute at times. I opened wide, and showed off the brackets,
explaining that the wire would come next week. I had a weekend reprieve before the real treatment started. Monday morning came, and I wasn't
sure quite what to expect. Once again, I sat in the chair. Dr Ringler started in. "Good morning. Now for the wire. When I tie the wire to the
brackets, you have your choice of color - which color should I use?"

Alyssa showed me a selection of colors - orange, blue, green, violet; a whole spectrum of colors.

I turned to Alyssa "Do you have something that won't clash with any of my shirts?"

Dr Ringler started laughing. Alyssa thought a moment, and said "Try white, it goes with almost anything." I went with white.

Dr Ringler continued "I'm going to start with a medium wire. It is temperature sensative - as it heats up in your mouth, it will try to
return to its original shape - the shape we want your teeth to be. This will give the pressure on them."

He put the wire into a tube on my top right molar, and started to string it along the brackets, like a game of connect the dots. Each time that
he hit a bracket, he'ld pick something off of the side-table, and connect it to my teeth.

As he put the wire onto the bracket, I felt the pressure increase, tooth by tooth. By the time that he reached the other side, I felt a gentle
pressure on my teeth. It wasn't excruciating; it was actually kind of pleasant - it made my mouth feel alive. Maybe braces wouldn't be so bad
after all! He finished off the first wire, picked up another large wire, and did the same thing along my bottom teeth. Once again, there was a
pleasant pressure, but hardly obtrusive!

Dr Ringler picked up the pliers, and said "If this gets too bad, just lift up your hand, and I'll stop." I knew this could only end badly for
me. The doctor started working the pliers, and the pressure increased dramatically. It started to hurt as he pulled the wire tighter and
tighter. He finally tied it off. "That's a good start. Now for the bottom." He cranked up the pressure on the bottom also. I was a brave
soldier - I didn't scream, call out, or raise my hand for him to stop.

When he was done, Alyssa started going over the "do's and don'ts" - what not to eat, to brush more frequently than I had been, and so forth. She
reminded me that they are temperature sensative. If they hurt too much, I should suck on an ice cube for temporary relief. Tylenol or Allieve
are other remedies. I thanked her, and went to the receptionist's desk to start my day.

I noticed that whenever I would greet someone now, the flash of silver wire on my teeth would catch their eye. I now started getting the double
takes, and the people blatently staring at my mouth as I talked. At the time, it seemed perfectly normal to be wearing braces. I was in an
orthodontists office - it's what they do!

All day, Alyssa, Sue, and Dr Ringler were wonderful - checking in to see if I was doing OK, asking if the pain was too bad, if I needed a glass
of ice water or anything. I was fine. My teeth felt loose, but I actually enjoyed the feeling on my teeth. It was different, so it was
interesting and a pleasant diversion. Of course, I wasn't going to tell them that final detail.

After the office closed, I went to the supermarket. When ordering at the deli, the person behind the counter was staring at my teeth too! That's
when it finally hit me. I wouldn't only be wearing the braces in the safety of home and the office. I would be wearing them for the next few
years of my life. I would still be trying to find a husband, wearing braces. I would be shopping in braces. On Christmas day with my folks, I
would still be in braces - they weren't coming off in the forseeable future. I came home, and once again, Crystal wanted to inspect
everything. I allowed her to run her finger across the archwire - carefully, and answered all the questions that she had - Did it hurt?
Not too bad. Don't they still hurt - not at all. How many days do you have to wear them? - It'll be a few years honey. We'll both have to get
used to them.

The next day, I noticed Brian Stevens, one of our patients, arriving with his mother. She parked the car right in front of the office, and
the two of them started to talk back and forth. While I couldn't hear a word, their seemed to be some disagreement. Finally, the mom grabbed
Brian's jaw, and forceably turned his head. Brian apparently gave up at that point.

When I next looked up, the two of them were entering the office. Brian was wearing a set of headgear - a wire bow stuck out from his mouth,
curving back to just under his ears. A blue strap connected the two ends behind the back of his head. Brian's face said it all - "I look like
such a dork. I can't believe I'm wearing this dumb thing." I had mixed feelings about it - he obviously only wore it when he came in for a
check-up, but it did look kinda dorky.

Another memorable patient was Annette Vedenburg. She was a good looking kid. She came up to the window to give her name - "Assseesss
Vedessbuhhrgh". She looked like she was going to cry. Her mom seemed kind and encouraging. "Try it again honey. Take your time, and annunciate."

Annette composed her thoughts, and faced me again. I could see that there was something on the roof of her mouth, which messed up her speech
badly. "Aaannnneessstt Vedellnnnburghh."

I smiled at her. "Much better Annette. Have a seat, and I'll call when the doctor is ready." I also pulled up her medical records. She had a
"pallette seperator" for about a week. I made a mental note to avoid those myself. After two days in braces, the pleasant tightness feeling
had slowly died away. It would still be another 12 days until they were tightened. I still had the additional brushing, and the annoyance of
checking the mirror after every meal to make sure the braces were clean. I was also wondering if I was developing an obsessive/compulsive behavior - I kept running my tongue along the arch wire. It felt neat and oddly erotic.

I was not only getting used to the additional attention that other people had for my mouth, I was actually starting to welcome it. A few
times per day, I would practice talking in front of a mirror - and showing off my new mouth jewelry.

I counted down the days until they were tightened again - looking for the feeling to return. I came up with a plan. Finally tightening day
came, the wires were tightened, the feeling returned, and my plan sprang into action.

"Dr. Ringler? I have a concern about the braces."

He turned to me with a concerned look in his face. "You're having second thoughts?"

"No. Not at all." His face relaxed at my reply, and I continued. "It's just that due to my late age, I know that I'll be in braces for quite
some time. Is there anything that can be done to speed up treatment? Have the braces tightened twice as often perhaps?" In all honesty, I
didn't care that much about the length of time in braces - I just wanted the erotic tightened feeling more often - simple self-interest hidden
under the pretense of health concern. I thought it was clever myself. 

He thought about it for a moment, and said "Yes. I think we can do quite a few things to speed treatment. We'll do tightenings every Monday now,
and next week, I can add a few other things to speed things up. I'm so glad that you're willing to be a wonderful patient and a good example
for our other clients. Speaking of clients, they're due in 10 minutes people. Get things ready everyone!" That Friday when I came in, Dr
Ringler came up to me with a thoughtful look on his face. "Have you ever wanted to be a model?" I didn't know what to make of that question. Only
a month ago, my face was not projecting the correct image, scaring little children, or something along those lines, now he think's I'm a
model? He went on. "You see, our web site designer wants to add in a few pictures of smiling patients undergoing treatment. Since you seem to
have such a positive attitude, so encouraging to our clients, I would like to post some pictures of you on the web site."

After a build-up like that one, I couldn't turn it down. "Sure! I'll make sure to be looking my best on Monday." It's not like the internet
community would be seeing anything that our patients. . . sorry. *clients* would not be seeing anyway.

Monday, photo day, came around. First thing that happened is Dr Ringler had me smile (showing off his work), with Sue taking a few pictures with
a digital camera.

I was looking forward to getting the tight feeling on my teeth, but wasn't quite sure what Dr. Ringler meant by "add a few things".
I sat in the same chair with a little trepidation. Just what did I get myself into? I thought back to Brian's headgear and Annette's pallette
seperator, and cringed a bit.

The good doctor came in, and asked me what color I wanted it changed to - He changes the ligatures every two weeks. I looked at the choices, and
chose silver. It's going to make my mouth really sparkle and catch people's attention when I talk. In for an ounce, in for a pound. Dr
Ringler tightened the upper brackets, replacing the white ligatures for silver. I felt that he seemed to have a bit of problems on a few teeth,
but thought nothing of it. "Good?" he asked.

"You know, they don't seem as tight as last week." I lied. I just felt like I wanted them really really tight, pushing my teeth, making the
ache, without anything I could do about it.

"Hmm. I guess I'll make it a bit tighter then." He went back in to tighten them even more. I was on the verge of screaming out from the
pain when he tied off the wire. "Better?" He asked.

"Um. Yeah. Thanks." I mentally kicked myself. This tightening was going to hurt a lot for the next few days. As he tightened the bottom wire -
to the new excruciating tightness of the top one - he once again fumbled with a few brackets. Dr Ringler smiled at me. "It's so good to see you
so eager for good treatment. You'll be an inspiration to all of the patients who come in to have work done. Sue took a few more pictures of
the work in progress.

"A lot of your problems come from having your teeth not quite line up correctly - your top teeth are way too far forward, and your bottom
teeth are too far back. Here's what we're going to do to correct it. I've installed hooks on some of the brackets - two pair on each side."
He held up a mirror. Counting from the back, and looking at the bottom, I had little downward facing silver hooks on teeth 2 and 4. On the top,
I had upward facing silver hooks on teeth 4 and 6.

Dr Ringler explained as he continued his work. "Clench your teeth. Good. I'm now installing rubber bands between the hooks. These will pull your
lower jaw forward, and push your upper jaw back. I'ld like you to wear these for two hours on, then two hours off today to get used to them."
Just then the first band was hooked, and I felt one side of my lower jaw pull forward. He continued. "Try to sleep wearing them. Tommorrow, wear
them for four hours on, two hours off. Wednesday is six and two, Thursday is eight and two, Friday is 10 and 2, and by the weekend, you
should be wearing them 24/7." He finished the second band, and the other side of my mouth lept forward. Sue will show you how to put them on,
take them off, and give you a good supply of them." As he installed the second two rubber bands, I felt like my lower teeth were being ripped
forward, and my upper teeth were being ripped backwards.

Sue stepped forward. "Smile for the camera!" My teeth were in agony, but I put on my best fake smile, and showed off the fine work done this
morning. Sue started snapping away. "Say 'Ah', so I can see the inside!"

I opened up my mouth, and this only further stretched the rubber bands. I let out an "AAaaaahhh". This was not for the camera, this was the
braces making each tooth into a tender site being ripped out of my mouth! Sue started snapping away. "Keep it open - I want to get it from
the other side. And smile - that last shot looked more like a grimace." 

My mouth was in total agony, she was only making it worse, and she wanted me to *smile*? She clearly had no idea what I was suffering
through here! With Dr Ringler watching and depending on me for good pictures, I tried hard to put on a good smile. "Aaaaaahhhhh!!!!!" I was
very very grateful when the pictures were done and I could close my mouth. I took a few deep breaths. These rubber bands were going to take
a whole heck of a lot of getting used to. Dr Ringler calmly waited for me to compose myself. He held up a facebow. It looked like two giant
silver loops - the smaller one would go from one molar, loop outside of my lips before plunging back to the other molar. Welded to that was a
larger one - it would go from in front of one ear, forward to meet the front one, then go back to the other ear. I was getting headgear! They
looked so dorky on Brian, they'll look even worse on an adult! I had to put an end to this one before it goes too far! "I. . ."

Dr Ringler cut me off, and started sticking his fingers into my mouth, effectively stopping my arguing. I'll never know if it was intentional.
"As you know, this is a facebow. It slides into the tubes connected to your molars, like this." I felt the prongs sliding into the tubes. He
held up some straps - medium blue, green, bright pink, silver, and a few other colors swirled before my stunned eyes. "Which would you like?"

I must have been in a daze - no words came to my mouth. This was happening too fast! What can I do? Sue said "I think you'ld look in pink."

"Pink it is!" Dr Ringler triumphantly declared. "This is a high-pull headgear. Not that it pulls more, it just pulls higher!" He started
hooking it up as he talked. "One side gets hooked to this side of the facebow." I felt a light tug on the left of the bow. "This strap goes
behind your head. . . " The tension continued around the back of my head ". . . and this one goes over the top of your head, giving the pull the
correct angle . . . " What Brian had one strap, and I have two? This must look twice as bad! ". . . Hook it up to the other side of the bow
here." I felt like two giant rubber bands were pushing my upper molars into the back of my head! He went on. "Let's see. I'll tighten it up two
notches over here. . ." He fiddled with something on my right side, and the pressure ratcheted up even more! I couldn't help it, and let out a
wimper of pain. "and two notches this side." As the pressure increased more, I let out a longer wimper of pain. Either Dr Ringler didn't
notice, or he didn't care. He pulled one strap to test the tightness. "That feels right for a start. Keep up the good work!"

Dr Ringler is such a positive guy, I don't know if he realizes that this get-up looks rediculous outside of Halloween, and it hurts like hell!
Oddly enough, he believes I can do this just fine, and I just don't want to disappoint the man.

He turned to face the empty hallway. "Alyssa? We are having clients coming in any minute now. Can you cover reception? Sue needs to take a
few more pictures, and show how to put on the rubber bands and headgear."

"Sure" Alyssa said as she came up the hallway. She turned and looked in to see how I was doing. Her face spoke volumes. She felt sorry for me,
and I looked like a total geek - but without the paycheck some computer geeks get these days. I was finally done getting new appliances. Sara
took me to the bathroom, so I could look in the mirror to see how to install the rubber bands and headgear. She also saw it was a good photo
opportunity.

I looked at the mirror. The facebow and bright pink headgear looked horrible! I saw that the bright pink was covered by a clear plastic
sheath. The headgear stood out like a neon sign against my black hair! Then it struck me. I had on a white blouse. I have one other white
outfit, and one pink one. Everything else will clash with the headgear!

Sara showed me how to take off the headgear. My mouth immediately felt a little better. Still really sore and it ached all over, but not like my
teeth were being ripped out. I was sure that I'ld learn how to take off the headgear *really* well. She then showed me how to put it back on. It
was like chewing broken glass after a dentist appointment.

As I practiced this, Sara took pictures. She apparently liked getting the shots where my back was visible, but you could see my face in the
mirror.

She then demonstrated the technique of hooking on the elastics. Poking and prodding at my teeth only made the whole thing worse. Finally, she
was done, and I practiced a few times as she finished off the pictures.

Mouth still in agony, I got some ice to suck on to lessen the pain, and went to the receptionist desk. 1 hour, 45 minutes left until I can take
this thing off. I suffered throught the rest of the day like that - 2 long hours of hell followed by a brief 2 hour respite. I tried sucking
on as much ice as I could stand. It numbed my mouth a bit, which was good.

I drove home, and parked in the driveway. I still had an hour left to wear the whole thing. "Tough!" I thought, using my rear-view mirror to
take everything out.

Crystal was already home from school. I didn't want to tell her or show her anything right now.

It was another 4 hours before I got ready for bed. I looked at the headgear. Dr Ringler had cut off any excess strapping - I couldn't put
it on any looser. The rubber bands only came in one size, so they wouldn't loosen either. Defeated, I put them both on.

Two hours later, the pain and discomfort from not being able to lay on my side had me still wide awake. I had tried. I took off the headgear
and elastics, and within 15 minutes, I was asleep. The next day, I got up, and looked at the headgear sitting on my nightstand. I couldn't
bring myself to put it on yet. I got dressed wearing pink as not to clash with the headgear, had a leftover muffin to eatand brushed my
teeth. Since getting braces, I have to brush three times as often, and each brushing takes three times as long! Finally I was done, and got in
the car. Only then did I put on the elastics and headgear, and drove into work.

Right at opening time, a guy in his late 20's or early 30's walked in, and walked up to me. "Is Dr Ringler around?"

I was surprised. Clients aren't generally that casual. After a moment's pause, he continued. "Hey! You're the one from the photos! I'm Mark, the
marketing guy - I do all the newspaper ads, the business cards, and I'm also making the web site." He was clearly staring at all the apparatus I
had on around my mouth.

I stood, headgear, elastics and all, and held out my hand. "Pat Kole. Nice to meet you." After we shook hands, I went to get Dr Ringler.

A few more clients came in, and Dr Ringler took them. After about an hour, I heard Mark's voice behind me. "You look kinda depressed. Does
something have you down?"

I took a quick glance around - I knew the waiting room was empty, and nobody was in the hall behind him. I turned my back to him, and pointed
at my headgear "What does this look like to you?" I turned back to face him, and I could see he was deep in thought.

He picked up a pair of scissors, and said "Turn back around." As I was doing so, I heard a "Snip". I was wondering "He didn't cut my headgear
or my hair. What is this guy up to?" I felt him tug a bit at the headgear, like he was trying to shove it somehow. "It looked to me like
unused advertising space."

I turned back around to face him. He was smiling sheepishly, and held up his hands. "What do you expect from a marketing guy?", and started
laughing a bit at himself. His laugh was infectious - I found myself laughing right along side. It felt good to be laughing with someone
else. Even though my headgear was involved, I felt he was busting on himself more than on me. It was a pleasant change.

Alyssa walked in "What's so funny?" Mark had me turn around and explained how he cut a business card down to size, and slid it between
the clear plastic sheath and the bright pink headgear. When he repeated jis "What else do you expect from a marketing guy?" line, Alyssa started
to laugh too. I felt Mark run the tip of his finger along the lines of the straps. He said "Ok." to himself. Something was up, but I had no
clue what.

I wore the headgear 4 hours on, 2 hours off. I knew that Dr Ringler, Sue, and Alyssa were watching. I ignored the business card, and left it
in. The next day, I looked though my closet - I was out of clean things to wear that would match my headgear. I put on a white and blue set, and
went to work - once again, putting on the headgear and rubber bands in my driveway.

"Dr Ringler? I have a question about my headgear."

"Oh? What is it? You have been so wonderful about wearing it. We're all proud of you."

"Well, you see, pink doesn't really go well with a lot of my outfits. Could I have a different one? Black perhaps?" Black wouldn't stand out
against my black hair.

"I thought you liked the pink! You look good in it. But no, they don't come in black. We have pink, green, blue, silver, red, purple and white."

None of those would blend with my hair at all. I took white. At least white goes with everything. I put it on my desk for around noon when I
could have my two hour break from it.

Once again, Mark came in right at opening time, all smiles. I asked him "What's up with you, you look like the Cheschire Cat!"

"Or the cat that stole the canary?" he countered as he walked around into the receptionist's area. He saw the white headgear on the desk, and
pulled out two strips of something. He went to work stuffing them into the straps.

"What are you doing?" I playfully asked him.

"Hold on a sec." He continued stuffing. After about another 30 seconds, he held up my straps. On the top one, he stuffed a slip that said "Ask
me about". The bottom strip read "Ringler Orthodontics". The lettering was wonderful, done in a color-blended style.

I looked at it in disbelief that he would spend the time to do a thing like that.

He let slip "What do you expect from a marketing guy?" And we both started laughing. He tossed me his business card, saying "If you need
anything. Give me a call - my home number's on there.", and headed out the door.

After lunch, I went to put the white headgear on. Looking at it, I realized that Mark didn't ask for Dr Ringler. He didn't see Dr Ringler
this morning. Mark didn't come in to do any business with Dr Ringler. He made the trip for me. That made me feel special. I heard a burst of
giggling behind me in the hallway. I turned around, and Alyssa was trying not to laugh. "What?" I asked.

"Providing some advertising?" She seemed very amused.

"Oh! That. Mark made it up. He's. . . unique."

"Look at that smile! I think you like him."

"Nah. He's the one that likes me. I didn't ask for this to be made." I pointed to the headgear. "His idea, his creation, his special trip to
drop it off. I think that he's the one that likes *me*."


Alyssa asked "Did you give him your number?"

"No, but I have his. I held up his business card, and pointed to the home phone."

She smiled. "You go girl. Give him a call tonight. He might just like that."

I sat back and thought, kind of dreamily. It would be the only reason to drop off a business card specifically to the receptionist of your
customer. "Yes, he might. He might." Two days later, I was into my routine. Put the headgear and elastics on in the driveway before coming
to the office, wear them all day, take them off in the driveway at home.

Alyssa sidled up to me, and with a sly smile, asked "So, did you give Mark a call?"

I smiled back. "Well, yeah. It was just personal interest - He is making a web site with my pictures on it, I wanted to see how the pictures
turned out, and how we was doing with them."

Alyssa gave me one of those looks. I continued. "You're not buying it? I don't know if Mark did either." (pause for effect) "But we're going out
for lunch on Monday."

Alyssa broke out in a broad grin, and flashed the thumbs up sign. "You go girl!"

That evening, I had to go out shopping - a neice of mine was getting married, and I needed to get a wedding gift before all the good ones
were taken from the registry. It's a lot easier to wrap one set of sheets than it is when all that's left on the registry is one serving
spoon, one pot holder, two hand towels. . . you get the idea. 

I headed into Target. Got the shopping cart, got a printout of the registry, and boldly went forth to get the sheets. I turned the corner,
and saw the back of Sue's head! I didn't have my headgear or bands in! I quickly continued past. I was sure she hadn't seen me. I quickly fled
the store, purchases forgotten. I practically ran to the car, got in, and started to sob. The tears flowed freely as I cried and cried and
cried. I had failed. After what must have been a half hour of crying, I came to my senses. Yes, I had failed in the battle of self-discipline to
wear the braces. It was still early in the war. A war that I had to win.

I went home, and started a search of the internet for tools and tricks for uncompliant patients. I had to admit it - I was clearly uncompliant.

I searched site after site. All of them dealt with ways a parent could convince, force, or police their son or daughter to wear the appliances.
I needed something different. Then I saw it. One orthodontic supply company sold a special kind of hook for the elastics. It was
spring-loaded, so that unless held down (with the rubber band), it would pop up away from the teeth, and poke the wearer in the side of the
inside of the cheek. Patients. . . sorry. *Clients* would thus find it more comfortable to wear the elastics than the constant poking, and
compliance was virtually guaranteed. It was harsh. It was brutal. It was needed. I printed out the information.

I saw only one fix for the headgear issue. I clearly couldn't be trusted to wear it responsibly. I cheated before, and I knew I'ld cheat again.
My mind saw that it was inevitable - the facebow had to be wired into place. The next morning, I came into work. I immediately went to Dr
Ringler before I lost my resolve. "Dr Ringler? I um. . . have something that I need to talk to you about."

He gave me a quizzical look - As the person who does his scheduling and billing, I talked to him all day! I blabbered on "Well, more like
something to confess. Well fix." I took a deep breath to better compose my thoughts. "I haven't been wearing the headgear or elastics like I
should. I've only been wearing them here at the office."

He smiled. "Well, you admit it, and know it needs to change. I'm sure you can be better in the future." He turned away, as if the matter was done.

"No. I can't be better. I know me." He turned around, and put on a "ready to encourage yet another patient" face. I see that one every day.
I beat him to the punch, and pulled out the printout. "I looked through the net. These hooks will guarantee that I'll wear the elastics all the
time." I watched as he scanned the two pages. His eyes got big when he got to the point about poking the cheek if not held down by the elastics."

He looked me right in the eye, and spoke deliberately. "Are you sure that you want these? They get glued right to the teeth, and once they're
on, I'm not going to take them off until you're done with the treatment. Do you understand this?"

"Yes" I replied. I hung my head. "Could you please wire the facebow on? I know that it would make compliance with the treatment a lot easier for
me."

"You're sure you want this? It will be a few years without taking it out."

"Yes. Please."

"I'll tell you what. I'll order the hooks. To make sure you want them, I'll ask you again on Monday. If you still want me to, I'll also wire in
the facebow."

"Thank you doctor." I was glad. I would no longer have to hide from co-workers or parents of clients that I happened to meet around town. I
lost the battle, but damn it, I was going to win the war - I *would* wear the rubber bands. I *would* wear the headgear. I went home, and
figured I'ld better get used to wearing the appliances - an accellerated break-in (or catch-up) period or something like that. It would be the
first time that Crystal would be seeing them.

She came home, turned the corner, and saw me. Before I could say a word, her eyes practically bugged out of her head! "Mom! You got a head
harness! A . . . horse head thing. What are they called? The things on a horse's head?"

I'ld better get used to it. One thing about being a single mom - you need to pick your battles carefully, and we do kid each other in a
friendly fashion to break up that "Mom is the evil dictator, and child is the rebellious peasant" situation so common in single-parent homes.
Crystal was insistent. "What's the horse-head thing called?" She made a motion around her face imitating my facebow.

"A horse wears a bridle honey. This is. . ."

She cut me off. "You have a horse's bridle! Oh man!"

She had a nickname that she knew would rib me. I'ld have to draw a line. "Well, Pudge-kins (one name for her, she was so concerned that she was
fat), just not in front of company."

It was an unwritten rule - in front of adult company, she needed to behave. In return, I cut her a lot of slack in front of her friends. I
continued on, pointing as I went. "This is the facebow. It's connected to mommy's molars - the back teeth. These are the straps. They pull the
teeth back further to make mommy look better.""

"What's that that you have in your mouth"?

"Oh, the elastics."

"They look like rubber bands!"

"Well, they are rubber bands. Just tiny ones. I took one of the four out, and showed it to her. These help to align my teeth. I wear four at
a time. I re-installed the elastics, giving her a clear show as I did so. I don't want to hide anything from her that I don't have to - If she
sees and knows what is going on, she will have a better understanding of why I do what I do, and expect her to do certain things.

I took off the high-pull headgear, took out the facebow, and showed it to her. She stared at it, intrigued. "What does it feel like?"

"Well, these straps are like a giant rubber band, pushing against the back and top of my head. I placed them over her head, and pulled a bit
to give it some tension. Hold this." She held the straps with some tension. "The facebow hooks up to my teeth, and feels kinda like this."
I put my fingers up to her top insisors, and gave them a gentile push. I realized that I couldn't really push on her molars - she didn't have the
orthodontics to push against.

"Oh." She said. She released the headgear, and I stopped pushing. She looked at the straps and read the message before handing them back.
"'Ask me about Ringler Orthodontics?' Walking advertisement?"

I laughed. "Oh, that's something that Mark, the web site guy put on there. Speaking of web sites, want to see if Mom's on the net? The site
is going to feature pictures of me, the headgear, and the elastics. I'm going to have to be wearing these all the time."

She gave me a joking sassy face. "Well Mom, put on your bridle!"

"OK Pudge-kins." I hooked it back up, and we headed upstairs. Two thoughts entered my head. The first was Crystal was going to police me
for the weekend, and I'ld be stuck after that. The second thought was Crystal's teeth weren't that straight either - she could also use
treatment. We found out that the site was not ready yet, but there was a picture of me wearing the headgear and elastics already up. Crystal was
amused by her "celebrity Mom".

I wore the headgear and elastics all that evening - the first time I topped 9 straight hours. I went to bed, and tossed and turned that night
trying to get to sleep. I knew that sooner or later, like Monday night, I'ld have to learn how to sleep in the headgear and elastics. A weekend
would be the best time to start. It took a few hours, but eventually, I fell into a fitful sleep. I was too used to sleeping on my side.

The next morning, as soon as I got up, I took off the headgear, and brushed my teeth. I then went searching through the net to see if anyone
else had the same sleep problem, and what they did about it. The net is a great resource for those odd problems! Anyway, I found a company that
makes a special pillow - it has a cut-out just for headgear! I ordered one, and paid the extra to have it next-day. It would arrive on Monday.

I headed down to the kitchen, and Crystal was already having some cereal. "No horse's bridle this morning?"

I smiled at her. Having only one parent around isn't easy on her, and she's a pretty good kid. We keep each other in line. "OK. I'll go and
put the horse's bridle back on. Just remember, in front of adults, the term is 'headgear'. I managed to sleep with it in last night." I trudged
back upstairs, and put the headgear on, then went down for my morning coffee.

As the coffee brewed, I started thinking. When I ate with the headgear on before, I drank 7-Up or Lipton Ice Tea with a straw. How will I drink
my morning cup of coffee? I don't keep straws in the house.

When it was done, I added the customary bit of milk, and sipped off of the top. Crystal stopped eatting, and was watching me. She was also
wondering how I'ld be eatting with this stuff in. I sipped as much as I could. The hot coffee heatted up the archwire, making it feel tighter. I
gave myself an inward smile. I loved that tight feeling. I couldn't tilt the cup any, so I started to carefully tilt my head back.

All in all, I did pretty well for the first time. A few drips went down the sides of my mouth, and onto my nightgown. I looked down at the two
brown stains. "Well, it needed to be washed anyway." I said to Crystal. We both had a bit of a giggle. I think that I need to invest in some
straws for coffee, ridiculous as it will look - I'm not giving up my morning coffee. That day, I had agreed to take Crystal out shopping -
she needed new skirts and jeans. While it would be my first time going out with the appliances, it sure wasn't going to be my last. I'ld better
get used to it or become a hermit.

We left the house to Crystal's "Giddee-up, and let's go!" She apparently thought my headgear was quite entertaining.

The first stop was JC Penny. I tried to ignore the other customers. They sure didn't ignore me - a lot of them were blatantly staring at an adult
in headgear.

As I was waiting for Crystal to come out of the changing room, I heard from behind me "Ringler Orthodontics?"

I turned around to see a woman my age, apparently also waiting for her daughter. "Yes?" I replied, paused, then realized I should explain. "I'm
not only a client, but I also work there."

"Well my daughter Katie has crooked. . ." At that point, a young girl came over modeling off a dress. The woman continued. "Do you think that
she'd be better after braces?"

The young girl looked trapped. She thought she was modeling a dress, not being tricked into braces! I faced the mom "I'm not an orthodontist - I
handle the paperwork side of it. But I can recommend Dr Ringler." I fished out a business card out of my purse and handed it to her. I then
faced the wide-eyed girl "They're not bad. Dr Ringler listens to what the clients want, so the treatment will only be what you want. But the
earlier you do it, the shorter the treatment. Wait until my age, and it'll be twice as long."

I turned back to the mom "If you want an appointment for an exam, give me a call on Monday, and I'm sure we can accomodate you. And the dress
looks like it fits on her."

"Oh. Yeah. Thanks" said the mom, and Linda went back into the changing room.

"You're such as saleswoman." Crystal said. She apparently came up while I was talking. "And I don't like those jeans. I look fat in them."

It was no use buying something she was never going to wear, so it didn't matter if I liked them or not. "OK. Shall we try the lighter side of
Sears?", and we headed off. Monday morning seemed to come even quicker than normal. Most weekends go quick, but the last weekend that I could
take off the elastics and headgear went quicker than most. Before work, I took off the elastics, took off the headgear, and looked in the
mirror. I tried to burn the memory of what I looked like without "Mom's bridle" into my mind. After a few minutes, I put them back on, and
headed into work.

As soon as I got in and got in the chair, Dr Ringler walked in for the weekly appointment. He looked at me.

I beat him to the pass. "Yes, I'm sure. Please put the new hooks on, and <wire the facebow in."

He held out the brackets, and showed them to me. They had a light spring that would push the hook out to poke the inside of my cheek if there was
no elastic to hold it down - just like the website said. He was either trying to give me a good view of what they looked like, or was trying to
scare me out of it. I gave him a quick affermative nod, sat back in the chair, and opened wide. I could tell that he didn't understand my
thinking, but would do it anyway. He took off the old wire connecting my brackets, and put some kind of a solvent on some of the brackets. Less
than five minutes later, the new brackets with hooks were on my teeth, and the glue was drying. He put cotton pads near the hooks to protect my
gums. Even without a mirror, I could tell my cheeks were puffed out like a chipmunk, top and bottom.

I sat like that for over half an hour. Unlike normal brackets, you couldn't wait a week to let these dry. Alyssa took over receptionist as
the first clients came in. Dr Ringler came back in to re-install the archwires. He installed and tightened the top one, then as he was half-way though with the bottom, he said "Oh. I almost forgot - you like them a bit tighter than most." He really started to tighten the bottom
ones, yanking my head a bit as he tugged on the wire. He tied that one off, and tightened up the upper wire to the same constant pull on my teeth.

Out came the rolls of cotton, and I felt things poking and prodding on the inside of my cheeks. He quickly put on the elastics, and the poking
went away.

"Good?" he asked?

I took a few sample bites. The tight pressure of the wires, the elastics all felt fine. "Good." I answered. I handed him my facebow. He put it
into the molar tubes, and went in after it with a pair of pliers. I felt a bit of sharp tugging on each upper molar, and it was done. The facebow
wasn't coming out for quite some time. I was relieved - I won the battle. I would dutifully wear the elastics and facebow. There was no
way I could "conveniently" forget; any break of the habit would be instantly corrected. I went to the bathroom to take a look at the work
that was done. I could tell little difference in the hooks - it was eye-straining to see the springs that would push the hooks out without
the rubber bands. The facebow was bent after it went through the tubes on my molars. The wire was also squished. Even if I re-straightened the
wire somehow, I couldn't make the flattened wire round again. The facebow was on until Dr Ringler was going to take it off. For the first
time in a few days, I was happy. I hooked the headgear straps around my head, and went off to my desk.

At about 11:30, Mark came in. Oh yeah! I totally forgot about our lunch date! It got me thinking. Was it a date? Or was it just two people
meeting over lunch. Guess I'ld find out. "Mark! Hi! You're early! I don't get off for another half hour."

"That's OK. I'll wait - no rush." He sat down in the waiting room. For the next half hour, I continued sending out bills, logging in payments,
and paying for our purchases. I saw the bill for the brackets that I was wearing, and was reminded of them - and how they weren't coming off. I
noticed Mark was casually watching me the whole time, with a slight smile on his face. He enjoyed just sitting there watching me work.
"Whatever makes him happy." I thought.

When noon came around, the office shut down, and I went to Mark. "Wow! You still have the sign that I made!" He pointed to my headgear.

"Yeah. It's amusing, and I'm too lazy to take it off. Great conversation starter." I replied.

Mark didn't know what to make of that, so he let the topic drop. We quickly decided to go to Brian the Butcher - a deli-style place that was
a few blocks away. We walked to the deli, and did small talk about the weather, and so forth. We came to the corner that it was at, and waited
to cross. Some guy walked past, and turned his head all the way around as he passed, staring right at me, even as he was walking the other way.

I scooped up an imaginary item from the sidewalk, and sincerely held it out for him. "Excuse me sir, I think you dropped your eyeballs." The
stranger got all embarrassed and fled. Mark was laughing so hard he nearly fell over, and had to support himself on the walk/don't walk pole.

We got our sandwiches, and sat down at a booth. Mark was clearly very fascinated by my headgear. "You don't take the headgear off to eat?"

"Nope. Got it permanently wired on this morning." I started to eat.

Mark paused. He "knew" I was lying, but didn't know what to make of it.
"No. Really."

"Really." I replied.

He clearly thought I was still lying, and didn't know the truth, or what I was trying to cover up. I put down the sandwich, and pulled back my
lips to give him a good look. "She hoe tee wie-a iss bennn baaa?" The pulled-back lip distorted my speech a bit, but I think he caught on.

He leaned forward a bit, getting a close look. "Wow." There was clearly more that he wanted to say, but the words weren't coming out.

I released my lips. "I asked Dr Ringler to do it. The elastics. . ." I took off an elastic, and pulled back my lips again to give him a look.
"dee hooks spwing oot wi-oot dee ewastics." I then re-installed the elastic, and showed it to him.

"Wow. That's dedication." There was clearly more that he wanted to say. I prodded him on with one of those expectant looks. "I like the way they
look on you." He finally let out. I patiently waited for him to continue. "I know you're going to think that I'm strange, but I'm
fascinated by braces. It's not like I'm some kind of pervert or creep. They just. . . catch my eye." I patiently waited again, but he said all
that he wanted to right now.

"There's worse things." I ran my fingers across my facebow. "It's not like this is coming off in the next three years. Knowing someone who's
interested in my orthodontics isn't bad."

Mark mentally kicked himself. "No. I like you as a person. I just consider the braces as a bonus extra. I'ld like you even if you didn't
have the jewelry on your teeth."

I continued eatting. OK. This guy has some kind of an orthodontic fetish. I'ld be the target of his fetish, but not in some slimey way.
And only for the next three or four years. But not a bad person to date. One month later, Mark and I were going steady. We seemed to get along
well. He was always stopping by the office (or doing other romantic things) just to see me. It was sweet; life was good.

I talked to Dr Ringler. We set up a good payment plan to get braces for Crystal. Convincing her that her braces didn't need to be as drastic as
mine, if she did it now, took quite a while longer. I finally got her to agree to a first visit - we would talk about the possibility and extent
of braces afterwards. I also had a talk with Mark. Loving me and my braces is fine. Crystal is *far* too young - hands off, and don't even
ask her about them much. He readily agreed.

Crystal and I came into the office. Everyone came out to see my little girl that I'ld talked so much about. Crystal, on the other hand, wanted
as little to do with this place as she could. We finally got her seated, and the doctor came in to take a look.

After a few minutes of looking around, he gave his conclusion to Crystal. - "Well, I have good news, and bad news. The bad news is that
you need to have some work done." Crystal's face fell. I could see her getting ready for a "No! I'm not getting braces!", but Dr Ringler
continued. "The good news is that you won't need much treatment. Not nearly as much as your mom! Your teeth aren't far out of alignment, and
you're young - your teeth will move quickly."

Crystal wasn't sure exactly what that meant. I spoke up. "What treatment do you recommend?"

"Well, the best treatment would be for brackets to twist these four teeth. . ." He pointed to four rotated teeth on the top. "That should
take only about 6 months. Once that is done, she has a bit of a cross-bite. A pallette widener should be used for roughly another 6
months. During the second 6 months, I'ld also recommend night-time wearing of a mouth-guard."

Crystal broke in. "No way! I'm not wearing one of those guards!" She pointed at me.

I spoke gently, but firmly to her. "Crystal, it's not polite to point. Besides, this is headgear. A mouthguard is something different."

Crystal seemed a little confused, but was starting to come to terms with the the idea. "Um. What things would you be putting in?"

Dr Ringler patiently explained again. "There would be two phases. Brackets like your mom has, but only on 4 teeth. That will last only 6
months. Following that, a pallette widener - a small box that sits on the roof of your mouth, and pushes the two sides of your mouth apart. It
doesn't really hurt, and it's not very visible. The mouthguard is similar to what football players wear - it will be the size that your
teeth *should* be, and will coax them into position, worn 12 hours a day in the privacy of your own home."

The privacy thing seemed to go well with her. "Ok." She was leary, but willing to do it. She got the x-rays done, and the spacers put in right
then. "Yes, we know it feels like you have roast beef stuck in your teeth. Don't pick it out." I set up an appointment for her for the
following week. It was easy to set up - I write in the appointments. The following Monday, she got the molar bands put on, and the four brackets.
She looked in a mirror, and thought it looked terrible. In actuality, you could barely see them. Then she watched as Dr Ringler tightened my
braces. It made her feel a little better. Not much, but a little.

Dr Ringler put the elastics back in. He tugged on them a bit to feel the tension, then turned to Crystal. "I think that Mommy's ready for smaller
elastics, for more pull. What do you think?"

Crystal looked so cute as she rested her chin on her hand like an exaggerated "The Thinker". "Hhhhhmmm. . . Yeah. I think so."

The doctor looked charmed out. "Ok, Dr Crystal. As long as I have your expert opinion." He took off the looser elastics, and gave me tighter
ones, then paused before putting my headgear straps back on. "Dr Crystal? Do you think that our client is ready for smaller headgear?" He
paused, waiting for an answer that didn't come, then continued "A smaller headgear will pull on her teeth more."

Crystal's face lit up. I don't know if it was "revenge on Mom", or "Do what the doctor wants", but she screamed out "Yeah! Smaller. . . " Her
voice trailed off. She obviously forgot what the proper name of "Mom's Bridle" was.

The doctor cut off one hole from each side of the band, then put it back on. Yikes that's tight! I had to troop it out for Crystal though.
"Thanks doctor Ringler! And Doctor Crystal!" When speaking, I sure noticed the tighter elastics too. Yow! I sure was going to have a loose
mouth for a few days. Felt kind of refreshing in an odd way though. It was the first time that I really enjoyed wearing the headgear and
elastics. Six months can pass so quickly. It seemed like only yesterday that Crystal and I were here having the brackets put on, and now they
are coming off. Mine have a long, long way to go. Her treatment went OK - wonderfully uneventful. She accepted the braces after the first week
or so. The doctor was correct - 6 months, getting tightened every other week. Mark had moved in with us a few months ago, and behaved himself
around Crystal.

It was finally time to change her treatment. Crystal sure wanted the braces off, but wasn't sure about what she was getting herself into. I
prepared her ahead of time. It was being done on a Friday morning. After she got the widener in, she would go home, and practice talking all day
instead of going to school. Sing, read out loud, talk to Mark, who was working at home, or whatever. I knew that it would slur speech, and take
some getting used to.

She came in to the office, and had the braces taken off. She asked for a mirror, and admired her bare teeth for the first time in ages. OK, for
the first time in 6 months, which is ages for a youngster. It was now time for the widener.

The widener took practically no time to install. It was hooked up to the existing back molar bands, and a small bracket was installed on the
inside of two more side teeth. That's it - a 3 minute job.

"Caah Ih caaah aa mihhhoohh?" Despite all the warnings, Crystal looked shocked when her slurred speech came forth. The doctor followed her
eyes, and found what she wanted - the mirror. She looked into it, looking one way, then another. "Ih caahh hhheee ihhh."

The doctor responded. He knew how to understand slurred speech better than I did, and already knew the same questions that everyone asked. "I
know you can't see it - it takes two mirrors." He handed her another mirror, and angled them about right. Crystal moved the mirrors a bit,
and was obviously straining to see anything clearly in the darkness of the roof of her mouth.

The doctor showed her a bent metal pin. "You'll need to take this key, and stick it into the holes in the wheel." He stuck the pin into the box
in her mouth. "Push back" He did so, and Crystal registered a look of surprise. "And retrieve the key." He pulled the pin out. "You'll need to
do this 3 times every morning." He continued his demonstration, showing me where the pin goes. "Put the pin in. push back, retrieve. Pin in,
push back, retrieve."

When he was done, Crystal gave us her thoughts on it. "Taht feehh-hhh olll. . ."

He then lifted up a semi-transparent mouthguard. It really did look like what football players wear. Dr Ringler explained and put the device in.
"After dinner, brush your teeth. Put this in like this. Bit down hard for at least one minute. Sixty full seconds. The first few days, it will
feel like the mouthguard is not quite the right shape. It is - your teeth are not quite the right shape. Over time, the feeling will go
away. You can watch TV, play on the computer, do homework,whatever, but don't open your mouth - no talking, no eatting. OK?"

Crystal pulled the mouthguard out. "Um. OK." She smiled. I could tell. Not that she liked the mouthguard, but saying that, she didn't slur.
Crystal did an OK job re-learning to talk over the weekend. If she was careless, her speech slurred - especially the d's, l's, n's, and t's -
the letters where the tongue is supposed to touch the roof of the mouth.

Crystal seemed totally unable to move the pallette widener - she could never get the pin into the hole - her hand was always in the way of
putting it in. I knew just the guy to help out - I showed Mark how to do it. With his large hand, he couldn't take the pin out - Crystal had to
do it with her tongue, then stick out her tongue to present the slimy pin back to Mark. Well, all part of being a fill-in parent I guess. And
he got to deal with her braces totally above-board. As I had to leave early in the mornings, Mark took over responsibility for it. He sure
didn't complain or argue.

The mouthguard was taken grudgingly. She didn't like it, and made her point quite clearly - she didn't like being left out of the
converstation at home. Instant messanger over the computer took the place of the telephone with her friends well enough. She was clearly
born of the computer generation.

Monday evening came, and Mark and I were talking about possible vacation spots. Crystal refused to put the mouthguard on, instead launching into
a tirade. "I'm not going to let you two talk about things like I'm not even here. I'm not going to let this stupid piece of rubber get in the
way of my life. You two think it's so easy - 'it's just like football players'. Yeah? Do you know what it's like to be the silent movie in
today's multi-plexes? I get totally left out of everything! My friends want to go bowling in the evening? They know I don't talk, so I'm not
going! I'm getting so left out - just because I can't talk at night. It sucks, you don't understand, and I'm not doing it anymore!"

Mark and I took a deep breath. We both knew we had to get her to wear it, and accept it, at least for another 6 months. I had come to accept
the headgear (advertising on the back and all), and the elastics as a part of me. It got to be habit to deal with them. I was no longer
surprised by the stares or the questions. I tried to put those who asked at ease - asking was normal. It was like putting on a bra or shoes in
the morning - how could I not do it? It also had the benefit of making my lover an easy mark. A sly toothy smile with rubbing a finger across
the archwire or facebow, and he was ready to go!

Mark and I had to come up with a plan. Crystal stormed off to her room, leaving the mouthguard on the table, almost like a reminder to us that
she's just not doing it. To us, it was a reminder that we needed to fix the problem. I broke the ice. "She's upset that she can't talk, and is
being left out of the conversation."

Mark added a thought "What if we agree not to discuss things she likes after dinner?" Even as it was said, we both realized that plan wasn't
going to work.

I idly picked at my elastics to help clear the remnants of dinner as I thought for a solution. Mark watched me closely. Not surprising for a
guy with an orthodontic fetish - he clearly enjoyed watching me do it. As I stopped, he said "Hold on a second." He dashed off, returning with
what seemed to be a small washcloth. "'Cmon!" He excitedly lead me toward Crystal's room, mouthgear in hand. I was clearly confused.

He knocked on the door, and she opened it up. He just said "Watch this." He had me open up my mouth, and put the washcloth between my teeth,
folded in half. Crystal looked as confused as I felt. He shut my mouth, then took out some of my orthodontic rubber bands. He wrapped one around
the back of one set of hooks, and the front of another set - they happened to be right on top of another. He doubled it up, and hooked it
over the first hook, then repeated it on the other side. My mouth was now clenching down on the washcloth by force of the elastics - I
couldn't open my mouth if I wanted to. He presented me. "See! No more conversation, so you're not missing anything!"

Crystal was still upset, but clearly amused at the sight of her mom's boyfriend using her mom's braces to gag her. "And what about you?"

I had an idea. But with my mouth like this, I couldn't tell them! I held up one finger, and dashed off, returning a minute later with a roll of
duct tape. I peeled off a stip, and smoothed it across his mouth. Another strip followed for good measure. I smiled and presented him. He
realized it served him right for doing this to me, and took it in stride. Mark held out the mouthguard.

Crystal said "OK. But if those come off, so does this." She shook her head, amazed we would do this to have her wear the stupid mouthguard.
She put it on, and life around the house returned to relative normal. We "talked" more than usual that night - It was fun to put someone on the
spot - making it a point to try to ask Crystal who she was instant messanging by pointing at the screen and then shrugging our shoulders
like "Who?" She would then have to try to creatively tell us who the other person was through pantomime - short, long hair, wears glasses,
things like that. We nodded if we knew who it was. Once or twice we needed to resort to writting something down to ask another person. The
pantomiming was a lot of fun, especially the look on someone's face of "How am I going to gesture for *that* one?

Hence was born "Silent Nights". We agreed that every Monday, we would all have forced silence all evening. With me, Mark sometimes kept me
like that all night - it was clearly a sexual thing for him, he loved having me gagged. I did it to make him happy. Crystal seemed amused that
I'ld do that all evening and go to sleep like that too just to make her feel better - I don't know how much she realized about Mark's desires.

The next week, Mark didn't get duct taped. I went out and bought wide medical tape - it would be easier coming off of his face. Crystal saw
this big white strip over his mouth, and couldn't help herself. She put in her mouthguard - she was always last, and held up a single finger.
She came back and moved something over Mark's mouth. Mark was confused - he couldn't see what she was doing. I tried laughing, but it came out as
a series of very animated "mmmfff!"s, which sure didn't give Mark a clue. When she was done, she lead Mark to a mirror. She'ld given him
cute feminine lips with lipstick. Mark couldn't believe it. It was a blow to his ego - a guy with lipstick, honor bound to stay like that all
night. A few seconds later, he got over it, and tried making kissy-lips to Crystal. We nearly fell over laughing.

Every week, Mark or Crystal would use my elastics to effectively gag me, and Crystal or I would tape Mark's mouth, and draw over it. Sometimes a
word balloon, sometimes vampire fangs. . . we got creative with his mouth, and became a tighter (and more orthodonically correct) family
because of it.

Last weekend, an advertisement was placed in the help wanted section of the Sunday paper. They were looking for a receptionist for an orthopedic
office. The money was good, the commute was short. I'm thinking of taking it. I asked Dr Ringler off-handedly "If I were to stop getting
things tightened every week, about how much longer would I have to wear them?" His answer was "Six to eight more years at least, then retainer
time after that. Why?" At the time, I explained it away as idle thinking, but Mark and I are discussing doing just that. I have to tell
you - it sure is tempting.

The end