I alluded to this in my post a couple days ago, but haven’t come right out and said it here: I’ve had braces the whole time I’ve been writing. Long story short: I had braces when I was a kid, and was diligent about wearing my retainers at night all through high school, college, and most of my adult life. Then I let a periodontist in Seattle convince me that the retainers were somehow contributing to my gums receding (???), and so I stopped wearing them. And then a few of my teeth went crooked. When I moved back home, I popped into my old orthodontist’s office one afternoon, to see if he could make me a new set of retainers that would correct my crooked teeth while I slept, and the next thing I knew, I was back in braces.
Needless to say, this affected my confidence level. I was suddenly very conscious that when I spoke, when I smiled, people could see the braces on my teeth – and I believed this made it hard for them to take me seriously. I convinced myself that no one was going to check me out or want to flirt with me if they saw my smile, and that I’d lost my ability to charm people. I don’t know whether any of this was true; what I do know is that even around Doug, I was more shy than usual.
Yesterday, I got the braces off. And I feel like a whole new person. Not only is it physically easier to smile – because my lips aren’t catching on the metal brackets on their way up – but I feel like smiling more as well. And I feel like I’m more confident, more outgoing than I was before – even before I got the braces on in the first place. When Doug and I stopped by the Coffee Bean this afternoon, where usually I would let him order first, then toss my order in almost like an afterthought, I stepped up to the counter first and asked the barista (cute, blond, possibly gay) for his opinion on one of the featured drinks.
Then, in a fortunate coincidence, I got a new haircut today. Doug and I swung by the gas station on our way home, and where I would usually pass him my credit card and wait in the passenger’s seat, tonight I surprised him by getting out of the car and pumping my own gas. My exact inner reasoning? Hey, I’ve got cute hair and tiny shorts. Maybe all these old dudes pumping gas want to look at me. It feels conceited to say, but so, so good to think.
So why am I telling you this? Well, after I had my miscarriage, and began looking at pregnant women with a mixture of hatred, disappointment, and jealousy, one of the only ways I could think of to make myself feel better was to go to the gym and get really hot. If I couldn’t join them, I reasoned, I would beat them; I would become as ostentatiously not-pregnant as they were ostentatiously pregnant; I would make them jealous of me.
Since then, I’ve modified this resolve into the goal I’m working toward here: to live my life fully, enjoying it for what it is, taking advantage of its possibilities before an eventual pregnancy makes those possibilities impossible. I used to joke with myself, vowing to do one thing every day that I couldn’t do if I was pregnant. Rarely were these thing fabulous – I counted activities like drinking coffee or alcohol, or cleaning the rabbit cage, or riding my bike – but at least I could look at them and say that they were mine. I’ve described the loss of my pregnancy as looking into negative space, seeing a picture of my life with a baby cut out of it, with that baby-shaped hole drawing my attention so fully that I become unable to see the rest of the image, the things that are still there. The common activities that filled my “couldn’t do if I were pregnant” quota, although minor, were at least physically present in the picture of my life.
The pre-baby life that I want is, of course, slightly more fabulous than coffee and rabbits and bicycles. I think there’s some part of me, left over from my first marriage, that associates marriage and babies with being old and boring. This, too, explains my initial instinct, post-miscarriage, to “get hot.” Before I’m old and boring, I want to take advantage of the opportunity to be young and fun.
I’ve spent some money on a couple tiny little dresses from a salon/boutique that I adore. I rationalize this spending by saying that my window of opportunity to wear short and tight and expensive dresses, and look good in them, is not going to be open forever. And when I explained this to my thrift-store-and-WalMart-frequenting mother, she actually encouraged my shopping choices. That’s how I know I’m onto something.
There’s a Carrie Underwood song that I love, unreleased, off her first album. It’s called “While We’re Young and Beautiful,” and the lyrics read, “While we’re young and beautiful / kiss me like you mean it… Cause the time will come / when we’re not so young and beautiful.” A friend once told me that it reminds her of me every time she hears it, because I like it so much, because I sing along so loudly in my car, because I’m so hungry to live out its message.
So, a checklist: Confident smile. Cute hair. Bike rides and yoga classes. Small clothes. Sing. Dance. Kiss. Enjoy. Repeat.