Thursday, September 15, 2011


Every six months I voluntarily open my mouth and allow my teeth and gums to be scraped, scrutinized, prodded, and sometimes photographed. I believe that the health of your teeth is largely due to genetics. My sister's teeth often fell victim to cavities. But my brother and I, who didn't brush our teeth any more than Jen, share three cavities between us. Luck of the draw, I say.

However, over the years I must admit a certain amount of smugness developed from my undeniable ability to defend my teeth against cavity bugs. I mean...from my hereditary luck. I would bask in the awe of my friends every time I could slip into a conversation that I had not one cavity, or as the years went by just one, or now at 37 only two. Then I would add that whole bit about it just being genetic luck while silently assuring myself that my toothbrush and I were yin and yang, Bo and Duke, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.

And so I diligently scheduled my dentist appointments every six months since it was like turning in a paper that I'd already marked with an A. It just made me feel good.

About ten years ago, I started going to a new dentist. We'll call him Dr. Dentist. And with Dr. Dentist my run of "A's" was over. Along with my self-esteem.

At first everything was business as usual. During my first few visits I heard the expected, "Melissa, your teeth just look great! Such healthy teeth! There's nothing I can do for you!"

And then one cold winter day. My dental hygienist had just finished up and Dr. Dentist came in to take a look. I settled back in my chair prepared for the usual.

"Melissa! Your teeth are just so healthy. Just really great, those teeth! But, Melissa..." As he paused I stared wide-eyed at him. What more could he possibly have to say? "...have you ever considered braces?"

No, I had never considered braces. My teeth weren't terrible, but if I'm being honest, they weren't anywhere near being straight. Both my brother and sister had had braces as kids, but I did not. Maybe it's because my parents thought I was tough and could handle crooked teeth? I'd never really thought about it and honestly didn't think they were that bad.

And only two cavities...that had to count for something, right?

Dr. Dentist did not share my view. Over the next several years, Dr. Dentist ended every visit like this, "Melissa! Your teeth just look amazing. So healthy! There's nothing I can do for you. But Melissa....have you ever considered braces?"

On these same visits I'd also hear, "So you live in Bailey, right? Bailey. You know, I almost bought a practice out there."

And as the years went by, "You know Melissa, you're not too old for braces. They have Invisilign now. Nobody would ever know. My wife had her teeth straightened when she was 40. Never too late."

But I assured myself that I wasn't so vain. So my teeth were a little crooked? That made me real, right? Until...

"Melissa! Really great teeth. So healthy! You know, you could hold on to those much longer if you considered braces. Have you ever considered braces? It's never too late, you know. Preventative care, really."

Hold the phone. Preventative care? I could lose my teeth earlier because they're crooked? I'm all about preventative care...I think. I excercise. That's super preventative, right? Why shouldn't I do the same thing for my teeth?

And on that day I surprised Dr. Dentist by saying, "Please, Dr. Dentist, tell me more about braces. I am interested!" I think Dr. Dentist nearly fell on the floor.

And so my Invisilign adventure began. I spent the next three and a half years straigtening my teeth. But straighten they did. And every visit to Dr. Dentist was met with a proud nod.

Today. My teeth are straight. I only wear a nighttime retainer to keep them that way. And I will hopefully hold on to these babies for the rest of my life. So last Tuesday I went in for my regular six month check-up. It's "A" time again. Straight teeth, still just two cavities. Could Dr. Dentist be more proud of me? I'm probably like his star pupil or something.

"Melissa! Your teeth just look great. Really, just so healthy! And straight!" I settle back in the chair. Ahh, things are back to normal at last.

"Did you drive all the way from Bailey today? Wow, Bailey! That's really out there. You're really in the mountains. How do you like living in Bailey?"

"Well, Dr. Dentist. You live in the mountains, too," I say with a small laugh as I point out the obvious.

He chuckles. "W-elll...kinda. But you really live in the mountains. You know, I almost bought a practice out there. Almost. I was really young then. But, you know," and here he gives me a conspiratorial look, "I just wasn't sure if maybe I would be paid in chickens, or something like that." He laughs loudly behind his mask.

Ok, whatever, make fun of where I live. Let's just get to the part where my teeth get that "A" I've been waiting for.

"Anyway, Melissa. Your teeth just look great today. Really healthy. But, Melissa....(aw crappity, crap, crap!)...have you ever considered whitening your teeth?"

"Um, not really. I did try once with some store bought kind, but it didn't really work."

He scrutinizes my teeth, scrapes one thoughtfully, polishes another with his gloved finger, then says compassionately, "Well, Melissa. It might take you two, three even four times to get them white."

Cavity smugness...obliterated. I give up.

"Okay, Dr. Dentist, I'll have them whitened. Do you take chickens?"


Friday, September 9, 2011

Ten Years

Ten years ago I was waking up with a terrible hangover. The night before my best friend had gotten married. It was the last wedding of our small group of friends and we all celebrated like it was our own. My head hurt, my eyes were glued together and all I could remember was that I needed to catch a flight home that day. So I hurriedly packed my bag, yanked a brush through my next-day wedding hair, tried to scrape the mascara from my eyelashes and ran out the door to meet Sean.

I got back to Denver late that night and was up early on September 10 to get to work. That evening, I spoke to my friends and we laughed about our weekend, replayed the bridesmaid's dance number for the bride and groom, and promised to talk again soon.

The next morning I made coffee and began my 45 minute commute to work. While the early sun shined through my windows the always calm voices of NPR were giving me the morning news. And then everything changed.

First the reports out of New York. When the first plane struck, we had a few minutes to believe it was a mechanical malfunction gone nightmarishly wrong. Nothing more than a terrible, terrible accident. But as I listened in horror another plane torpedoed into the second tower. I sat alone in my car, surrounded by morning rush-hour traffic, feeling alone, angry and indescribably sad.

Then the Pentagon. And then Pensylvania.

When I was a child my parents could recall every detail of their day when John F. Kennedy was assassinated. I only remembered it from video, pictures and in the memories of others. But they remembered what they ate, what they wore, who they talked to and where they stood at the moment they found out.

That is September 11 for me and everyone else who has shared in the memory of that day. Along with my co-workers, friends, family and strangers I cried for the terror of the men, women and children on the planes and in the buildings. I mourn for every person who lost a loved one that terrible morning. We all shared in the grief. But too many carried the burden of surviving it and moving on.

I was in New York this past spring with those same college girl friends. We are all married now with 12 children between us. While in New York we went to Ground Zero and visited St. Paul's Chapel. I walked around the 200 year-old church grounds and gazed through the beautiful trees and ancient gravestones to where the towers once stood. While the city lay stunned and hurting, this small chapel and so many volunteers provided shelter, comfort, relief, and love to the rescue workers and victims of that day. I stood in the cemetery and cried as though it had just happened.

Sunday is September 11 and it will have been 10 years since that day. But I remember it as clearly now as if it happened yesterday.

Did that day change me? Did that day change you? I know that it forever shifted my view of the world and my place in it. I am relieved that ten years have passed because we can allow time to blur the shock and horror of that day, but it will never be forgotten.

Today I wished my dear friend a Happy Anniversary and smiled as I recalled the wedding, my friends, the dancing, and all the laughter of the evening. There is so much good in our world. So on September 11, I will pray for peace. Peace for those hurting, peace for those who remember, peace for so many still angry.