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  • when i was thirteen or so, the high life of excruciating self-consciousness, when all the athletic participation in the world did nothing to adjust my ungainly shape, just after first being made to cry by a boy’s rejection, with, believe it or not, even more acne than i boast at twenty-one, my orthodontist determined that the only thing to save at least one part of that awkward visage was orthognatic surgery.

    the general strategy involved a few more years of braces, pulling wisdom teeth, one of those horrendous expanding apparatuses (my mother and sister cranked it nightly with a wicked metal tool, easing apart the upper palate), to be followed by an intensive procedure that would expand my upper jaw and surrounding bone structure. this would effectively compensate for my jutting jawline and its accompanying underbite.

    three years had to pass before the ugly duckling reached transformation, and in the gaps between youth worship band rehearsals, arguing with my father, and algebra, i fantasized about the coming beauty.

    when the time had arrived, my surgeon asked if i would be interested in a prescription for a mild antidepressant to accompany my recovery. my family balked at the idea, although he assured that if i changed my mind, it was not an unusual need, that most people struggled to adjust.

    pffft. preposterous. i was going to be fabulous, not grieved.

    wrong.

    it took about six months or so until i recognized myself in the mirror, until ordinary oral tasks like flossing, eating a sandwich easily, or applying chapstick didn’t trigger tears and self-loathing. why had i done this? was i just another shallow bitch getting cosmetic surgery? will people ever again tell me i look like my mother when she was young?

    now i’m sad for that struggling girl but not particularly sorry to have received my improved smile and profile. i sidestep the essential questions about aesthetic, worth, accomplishment, and identity that lurk in the background of grainy tenth grade prom pictures and the crevices of my dutifully worn plastic retainers.

    photo: a year post-surgery, showcasing the goods
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