Let us begin with a moment devoid of inspiration, on a day I couldn’t place in 2008 or 2009 exactly, in a place where, for entertainment, you go to marvel over the perfect, razor-sharp shear of the commercial carpet. Let us begin with checking Daughter #4 out of a routine orthodontist appointment.
Seasoned mothers—those who long ago lost that ooo-how-much-has-my-baby-gained-now enthusiasm—will know what I’m talking about. (They're the same mothers who hand over pages of important paperwork at the pediatrician’s office with nothing but a child’s name, birthday, and a quarter-size pool of mother-drool on them.) Very little in life is more milquetoast than the orthodontist’s office, or the orthodontist for that matter.
I’m looking down over a high counter on Receptionist Donna, who is blinking expectantly, wearing a periwinkle lab coat with Dancing Teeth all over it. She is waiting for an answer. I am scuffing my feet on that amazingly flat carpet, thinking shit shit shit and carefully forgetting something that will make the next appointment a month from now a vessel-buster. I feel like Charlie Brown banging his head on the wall to remember something, or Wile E. Coyote sliding over a cliff like a warm oil slick.
“Uh Wednesday!” I say. “Wednesday the 14th at 4 p.m. Yes, that will be fine, I’m sure of it.” In reality, I'm as sure that somebody I love very much is getting married that very second. Maybe I’m the matron of honor. You don’t ask too much of poor Donna’s dead glazed eyes, though. If I call back to schedule later, when I have some wits about me, a computer system programmed to issue appointment cards and school excuses at the same time will die. And if that happens, an entire township of adolescents will have crooked teeth. For life. More fearsome than Donna’s eyes are the mothers who would burn me alive for destroying their children’s social lives.
I hold my tongue about my doubts, then witness something extraordinary. Because suddenly, Dr. White Rice bursts through a door I never noticed before, slicing the office-filtered air like an albino porpoise on a Navy Seals mission. “Donna, I’m not going to tell you again,” he snarls through pursed lips. “I want the plant here.” He reaches to the counter and forcefully moves a calla lily I hadn’t noticed before two inches. Not three; two.
He stomps off. Donna looks at me with a tight thin smile and I hear her words inside my brain, though she remains silent: I’m in hell.
But not me. Now I know! Now I get it! Orthodontists go into orthodontia to ease their inborn Obsessive Compulsive Disorder! One more of life’s mysteries solved.
Leaving, I hook an arm into Daughter #4’s and give her a kiss. “Thanks kiddo,” I say. I could explain that I mean thanks for being a fourth set of goggles for this extraordinary view of the universe.
But I don’t. She’s used to non sequiturs.