Mom and Mrs. Henderson

February 24, 2011

When I was young my teeth were seriously jacked up.  I’m not talking about a minor gap or that my eye teeth stuck out. I mean my mouth looked like I was the half-brother of Sloth from “The Goonies”. I never smiled in pictures and, when I talked in school, always had one hand covering my mouth. It got to the point where I’d cover my face with a bandana at the dinner table so my family wouldn’t have to look at my Frankenstein grill.

Thankfully, when I was thirteen, my parents decided to have me fitted with braces. Being the precocious brat that I was and because they were totally vogue, I demanded I get the new translucent braces. My parents acquiesced and I went to the orthodontist, Dr. Ronk, for my fitting. Although he said I was a perfect candidate for the new clear braces, he informed me that my upper jaw was too narrow and did not line up with its lower counterpart. He gave me two options: break my lower jaw or expand my upper jaw. Without hesitation I opted for option number two.

A couple of weeks later I sat in Dr. Ronk’s chair, my mouth wide open, waiting to begin my dental transformation. From out of a drawer he pulled a shiny metal device that looked something like a spider, but with only four prongs protruding from a flat center.  Figuring he made a mistake, I informed him that I had ordered the clear braces. He assured me that the braces he would install were clear, but that, before the braces, he needed to install the palette extender he held in his hand.

Other than being a way of slightly expanding one’s jaw, a palette expander is basically a torture device. Twice a day I had to stick a small metal key in the expander, twist it half a turn and move my upper jaw apart a fraction of a millimeter. It was uncomfortable at first, then painful, then more painful and, when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, more painful still. Every time my tongue moved around my mouth or touched my teeth, I winced in pain and prayed to God that she put me out of my misery. The only thing that helped was if I gently rested my tongue on top of my bottom lip. It made me look a little bit “duh” but I didn’t care; as long as it subsided some of the agony.

That same year I started public high school. Up until that point, I attended a small, Catholic school with a total of 110 students spread throughout nine grades. It was quite a shock went I went from an eighth grade class of thirteen to a freshman class of 300. Being one of the “catholic kids” on top of being painstakingly gay made me very undesirable to be around, so I threw myself in my studies, especially English. My teacher’s name was Mrs. Henderson. She was one of those teachers who married rich and chose teaching so she could have summers free to spend at her family’s summer home on the lake. But she was a good teacher and fairly respectful of her students, until…

One morning in class, right after I had turned the key of my palette extender, we were discussing George Orwell’s seminal classic “1984”. Knowing that I’d have the answer to her question, Mrs. Henderson called on me to discuss the dangers of Communism and its long-term effects on society.

I sat there, my tongue resting on my lower lip, panicked that any explanation was going to cause my mouth great pain when Mrs. Henderson stuck out her tongue at me and demanded “Stick your tongue back in your mouth, Michael. You’re not a caveman.” The class erupted in a fit of laughter and I slinked down into the bottom of my seat cursing Dr. Ronk and the genetics that caused my crooked teeth in the first place.

That night at dinner, my mom (for more information on her, read Mom) knew something was up. After a few rounds of her asking me what was wrong and me saying nothing, she dragged the truth out of me. I had barely finished my story when she bolted from her chair and marched to the phone in the hallway. Knowing her intent, I followed her, begging her no to call Mrs. Henderson, saying that it would just make things worse.

She flipped through the phone book, found Mrs. Henderson’s number and punched it in on her phone. “Mrs. Henderson,” she said in the fakest voice she could muster “this is Michael Phillips’ mother.” She gave me a wink and continued “We were just eating dinner and Michael told me the most ridiculous story.” She laughed one of those canned laughs they use for sitcoms not filmed before a live studio audience and continued, “He said that you actually stuck your tongue out at him today in class and called him a caveman. Now, this can’t be true, is it?” Mrs. Henderson said something to her that I couldn’t hear; probably her version of what happened. “I guess you’re not aware” my mom shot back “but Michael has a serious orthodontic condition that requires him to wear a substantial piece of metal equipment in his mouth that causes him great pain.” My mom smiled as, what I can only assume, was Mrs. Henderson’s most embarrassing apology. “I appreciate that” mom responded, “But I really think you owe that to Michael.”  She hung up, looked at me said “That’s one teacher that’ll never mess with you again.”

The next day Mrs. Henderson apologized to me in front of the entire class.

My advice to Mrs. Henderson: None. She learned her lesson.

My advice to my mom: Keep up the good work. There are plenty of assholes out there that enjoy making others feel bad about themselves. I’m glad you’re out there to stop them and I’m even gladder that you’ve got my back.

My advice to everyone else: Although I’m a huge fan of making fun of people, watch out. You never know who has a protective mother ready to strike.


One Response to “Mom and Mrs. Henderson”

  1. mom Says:

    Oh do I remember this. We see eachother from time to time and pass with a fake smile. I will ALWAYS have your back. No one messes with my Michael. And by the way we are having stuffed green peppers for dinner tonight. xoxoxo mom

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