Why vanity is a sin
Thursday, June 15, 2006, 7:16 PM
In the fifth grade, my orthodontist constructed a retainer for my upper teeth. It was fleshy-pink colored with metal loops that went over the gums above my two front eye teeth. So even if having it there hadn't made me chtalk funny, there was still no hiding the fact that I had one. It was like having an alien inside of my mouth. Until I got used to wearing it, the thing would sometimes pop out between my lips. I still remember the look on Mrs. Atkins' face when that happened.
How traumatic is this for an eleven-year-old girl? Catastrophic.
The only thing worse would have been peeing my pants or barfing on the floor in the middle of class. Maybe wearing the retrainer was forging my spine of butter into something stiffer, like mashed potatoes without the milk, but at the time it just felt like all hell breaking loose. I would have rather been left to chew gum and caramel with my crooked teeth because when you're a kid, individuality is taboo. Back in the late 70s, you didn't see many kids with braces or retainers.
And like every kid, I wanted to fit in. To be chosen during Rockin' Robin, the roller skating dance of love during the late 70s and early 80s. The girls would line up on one side of the roller rink's wall and the guys would line up on the other. From there, we would eye each other shyly, slyly, embarrassingly, covetingly. To be chosen was all--it was the pinnacle of roller skating happiness and made you the envy of the rest, a feeling that followed me into my dreams.
I remember standing with hip outthrust, a coquettish grin on my face. Everyone said my smile was a killer, probably because I didn't smile that often. I was tall for my age and slightly crazed like all eleven and twelve-year-olds are. And I'd left my retainer back on one of the tables, wrapped neatly in a napkin. I was free! Nevermind that little-to-no talking went on during the single trip around the roller skating rink, but I couldn't risk the thing popping out like a Jack In The Box. I had a conquest to make. Heartbreaking and rollerboogie to do.
I felt sorry for the boys who never got to rest or revel at being chosen the way the girls did, because once the girls completed their turn around the floor with the boy who chose them, they headed like a strip of velcro for the wall, leaving the boys to have to choose again to keep the dance going. But I was never brave enough to keep going after the whistle blew, to beckon to the one of the boys who stood along the opposite wall waiting to skate. I'll always be sorry about that. Oh, if only. I know now that the boys wanted to be chosen as much as the girls did, but back then? I would have rather got a tooth pulled than to ask a boy out onto the skating floor.
Later, I discovered that someone at the rink was extra busy that night about throwing away the trash on the tables. Imagine my surprise when I found out that my napkin-wrapped retainer was gone, the horror, the butterflies in my stomach. How could I feel such loss over something I routinely wished to Kingdom Come? And what was I going to tell my mother?
That someone stole it.
For some reason, she didn't believe me. I caved and confessed that I'd wrapped it in a napkin and left it on the table, that someone had thrown it away, and couldn't she just buy me another? I was embarrassed and sorry and would never do it again! But she made me go back into the skating rink and dig through the trash to find it. I even had to explain to the people there what I was doing and why. Pretty soon all of us were looking for it. And when it was found, I ran for the car like a devil's imp was on my heels.
Vanity must be a sin because it's embarrassing as hell.