Sometimes I wish I could still deal with complex emotions like an angsty teen slumped in the backseat of a car, earbuds in blaring equally angsty music with hyperbolic lyrics that speak to me and strike the perfect notes of the soundtrack for my life as I stare out of the window, squinting in the sun, not thinking about crow’s feet, but how immensely awful all the awful things are and how I wish life could be different, taking comfort in expanse of time that lay before me, knowing it will all be better one day.
Last night I went to a film screening for work. As usual, I had plenty of time but still ended up in my seat with moments to spare. Being early has never been my style.
I think I managed to only bump one person’s head with my bag as I made my way to sit next to my coworker, as the film’s director went on with his introduction.
I looked around me and noticed that everyone’s laps included a paper handout and a pair of 3-D glasses. Ugh, I thought, of course I am the only person whom they forgot to give the appropriate materials. I was going to have to sit through an entire 40 min screening of fuzzy film.
See, I have this theory about my luck. It has to do with the side of fruit you get with your egg scramble at Sunday morning brunch. I always, unequivocally, get the bad fruit. While brunching with another person with a second fruit cup to compare, it’s always very obvious who got the sad fruit. One blueberry to their five. A smashed strawberry slice. Mango forgotten. More cantaloupe than anyone needs.
This is my life.
So I slumped into my movie chair cushions, disappointed that my cool movie experience was already shot to shit before it even began, glancing around the room at everyone looking like morons in their dumb oversized glasses. I wanted to look dumb too!
I already see double half the time because I was truly #blessed with a lazy eye that has gotten progressively worse as I age, turning night driving into a harrowing carnival ride. I didn’t need to experience it during my movie.
But, I didn’t say anything. I didn’t dare get up, because I was on unfamiliar territory. Instead, I sucked it up best I could.
Once it was over, we got up to leave, walking back toward a co-worker sitting in the back who snuck in even than later than me.
"How did you like it," he asked.
"It was really good, except no one gave me the 3-D glasses, so it was hard to focus my already disabled eyes."
"Aww, poor Heather."
We all walked out into the lobby, and that’s when I noticed two large containers filled with 3-D glasses strategically placed next to both entrances. Even though no one physically handed me a pair, or explicitly told me that I would need them, I realized that I didn’t get the short end of the stick. No one wronged me.
I was just a rushed idiot, and I felt pretty stupid.
It was an important reminder for me that we are all responsible for ourselves on so many levels. So much of our own daily happiness is on us, and no one else, particularly contingent on whether or not we allow ourselves the time. We’re all rushing around like we’re the most important little beings running off to the most important meeting/appointment/lunch that has ever taken place.
And, as a result of our myopic, self-absorbed blinders, we have no one to blame for mistakes and oversights but ourselves.
Except servers. I still blame them for not quality controlling my fruit cup. Come on.
As a kid, I wanted to be cool, but I didn’t want to be a nerd. Unfortunately, I didn’t understand that all the things I thought would make me cool were, in fact, the nerdiest. Glasses, braces, inhaler, cast for broken wrist. I wanted them all and, eventually, I got what I wished for – except for the cast, which was not for lack of concerted trying.
The reason I thought they were cool was because all of these things intrinsically elicit a lot of attention. Being popular and cool meant everyone gave you attention, right? So, even though it seems counterintuitive, it makes sense why I wanted these painfully dorky items in order to feel cool.
Glasses were easy to check off the list in second grade, followed by an inhaler for my “exercise-induced” asthma – which basically confirmed my status as an indoor kid.
I had to wait until I was eight years old to get my first taste of orthodontics when my big adult teeth began to crowd each other in the small little cavern of my mouth. From my first visit to Dr. Yamada, I knew what I eventually really wanted: a fucking cool retainer!
On the arm of every chair in the orthodontist’s office were two laminated index cards. One listed the impressive amount of flavors to choose for impressions, and the other was my holy grail: retainer color choices. I knew I still had about 6-7 years of time left before I had to make one of the biggest decisions of my life, but I thought about it every single visit.
Over the course of my time with Dr. Yamada, I had a myriad of excruciating appliances and oral surgeries. But, there were awesome things too. I had braces TWICE, which meant that once a month I was able to choose seasonally spirited colored bands for my brackets. And although, to my disappointment and dismay, I wasn’t made to wear headgear, I was forced to wear rubber bands that connected my top and bottom jaw.
When I was about three years old, I saw a cashier in a department store (probably the late Bullocks) in the late 80’s with neon rubber bands on her braces. I knew then what cool looked like. After being given regular rubber bands, I inquired about the neon variety that I had seen ten years prior. The assistant went to the back and dug some up from the early 90’s no doubt. They were so old, they snapped constantly, but I loved them.
When the time came for my braces to be removed, the pressure was on to choose a retainer color. I had known friends who brought in tiny purple butterfly stickers for their retainer molds, people with glow in the dark, glitter, neon, and even ones that looked like a watermelon – seeds and all!
I half-joked with my friend Lauren that I should cut out a magazine photo of Tobey Maguire for my retainers because he was my ultimate celeb crush at the time.
Sadly, D-day arrived and I was faced with one of the greatest decisions I’d ever had to make, a decision seven years in the making – half my lifetime – and I didn’t want to screw it up. I wish I could tell you that I didn’t, but the truth is I choked. I got nervous and chose something safe. I told them I wanted bright red, because it was my favorite color, and because it was a fun color that also blended into my mouth. Why I believed anyone would look inside my mouth is beyond me.
At the last second, the assistant told me they could split the retainers in half and I could choose two colors. I made a game-time decision and “yellow,” was released out of my mouth. And so, that’s how I ended up with two of the ugliest little pieces of plastic and metal. I owned MacDonalds themes retainers.
But, retainers are expensive and, unfortunately, I was pretty responsible with them. I didn’t have a dog to accidentally chew them up, and I diligently put them in their case at night. I wore them for 15 years straight, until I began dating my current boyfriend. I wanted to come off cool and sexy, and besides, they had been bothering me for some time. Into the bathroom drawer they went – in their case of course.
This is how I found myself at the dentist for a chipped tooth, with him inquiring if I had worn my retainers, because my teeth had moved. I was shocked and offended! I had worn them religiously for over a decade – two years of laziness shouldn’t be so harshly punished.
(This is STILL in my folder at the dentist office. The hygienists always expect a 12 year old when they retrieve me from the waiting area.)
But, he was right. I knew it. Since I started making a real adult level income, I have known in the back of my mind that I really should man up and get a new pair. I made an appointment to come back in for impressions, and I realized that I was giving myself a do-over in the retainer department. “Excuse me,” I flagged down the dentist before he walked away. “Can I choose a color for my retainer?”
“I usually just order pink,” he replied. “But, I’ll look into it for you.”
One week later I returned to the dentist’s office to take my impressions, remembering how much they make you want to gag. As I wiped the saliva and strawberry flavored plaster from my mouth, my dentist returned with a large laminated chart of retainer colors.
I suddenly realized that at 29 years old, I was faced with yet another life altering decision. I would do it right this time! I flipped the options from front to back, oohing and aahing over nostalgic choices that were still available. The watermelon was still around, as was glitter and neon, but there were also new intricate designs depicting a snowy mountainside, a meadow, and a strawberry.
Should I finally get my Tobey Maguire retainer? I earnestly considered.
Ultimately, being the almost 30 year old that I am, I placed my order for the classic rainbow design. Because I have always loved anything with rainbows, and nothing, absolutely nothing has changed.
I had to wait an anxious two weeks to come back to pick them. But when I did, it was worth it. They were nothing short of beautiful. Such craftsmanship! The minute the dentist opened the familiar hard plastic half-moon shaped case to reveal my shiny new rainbow beauties, I was in love. Not to mention, the retainer artisans took the liberty of adding glitter to the yellow panels. They were just as inspired as me, it seemed.
I walked away feeling great for so many reasons. I had made the adult decision to go out of my way to have them made. I paid for them all on my own, in full. They fit like a dream. And, I finally felt like I had rectified a real regret.
I wear them every night because it’s nice to know that I am preserving my parents’ $10k investment in my smile, because I paid for them, and because they are really fucking fun. I even recently discovered they are also glow in the dark. Can you even??
Even now, I am struck with my guttural desire, the same desire I had 15 years ago. We mature and grow so much, but we’re still so very much the same. It’s comforting to know that these versions of you still exist, ingrained in who you become.
But, just as I am excited to have the dream retainers I always wanted, this time it isn’t in an effort to be cool. It’s not for attention. It’s just for me. As much as I wanted to seem cool with my attention seeking glasses and neon rubber bands when I was younger, it was always for me. I realize that just being me, nerdy ol’ me, was what made me cool and I was doing it all along without trying.
I share my dumb elation on Instagram. I share them here with you. I will probably receive attention for it. It might even make me cool. But this time I don’t care either way. We all get excited about weird shit, and this is mine. It’s comforting to know that even though the 8 year old me, and the 14 year old me are still in there, I’ve grown up quite a bit.
Retainers are meant to hold things in place, but despite their best efforts, things still shift a little.
It seems as though 2005 and 2006 were lost years as far as photographic evidence for my clothes. It was a time before I had gotten myself a fancy digital camera, and light years away from a cell phone that could take viable photos. I was working off CVS disposable cameras and relying on friends with real cameras.
It was also during the inaugural years of Facebook when Zuckerberg and Co. were just figuring out how to let users upload multiple photos into albums, let alone tag them.
However despite the literal technical difficulties, I was able to find some real gems. Here we go 2005!
Let’s just dive into this primo going out wear. This was on a trip to London, from which I will continue to share a parade of bad outfits and a terrible haircut.
My roommate Brandy (far left) and I flew 10 hours to visit with our third roommate (pictured below), as she studied abroad in London. Naturally, we we decided to go out to a London club one night. Naturally, I wore my best black “going out top” that showed my matronly nude colored (I was very pragmatic about my intimates) bra every time I moved around too much, and much coveted, much saved up for Diesel jeans.
Look at us. We all look the same. Being 20 is still about fitting in and staying on trend, and we were nailing that clone thing.
P.S. This hair is so awful. It was chemically straightened, and I still flat ironed it. Also. So. Many. Layers. My head looks like a chopped salad.
This was St. Patrick’s Day on the same trip to London. I chose this green t-shirt because it was the only green item I had brought, but also because I was beginning to slowly discover my true self: painfully casual.
The shirt is from Urban Outfitters because I LOVED their t-shirts from this era. They made these slightly heathered t-shirts that were just the right thickness in mulitple colors. Maybe you remember them from the “Everybody Loves a ____ Girl” series. Of course, I always wore them with a white tank top underneath, because I treated white undershirts like Spanx.
There are a few things to note about this outfit. For starters, overall it’s basically “Emo Lite.” I loved those little Ralph Lauren black rimmed glasses, my first pair of nerdy cool eyewear.
Even though this was a bumming around day (see pulled back messy bun with bangs in weird early 2000’s pouf), I was wearing my dark “going out” denim, and my favorite shirt at the time. I also think we should note the black hoodie I found at a thrift store and thought was so EDGY. So much so, that I adorned it with little pins over the breast.
If memory serves me correctly, there is a red pin that says, “You are loved” in German, given to me senior year of high school by a cool Mormon friend, and a black Darwin pin I found at my favorite high school vintage store in Long Beach. Alt to the max.
Hello again little ugly Coach purse that didn’t match anything. Hello dark Seven jeans. I knitted that VERY long black scarf that hung down to my waist, and I couldn’t have been prouder. I had those Onisuka Tiger sneakers in TWO colors. I indulgently bought two of the same shoe for practical purposes: one black and white, the other white and camel. I had my footwear bases covered in my mind.
I also want to introduce you to my very favorite jacket from college. It was a very soft black quilted sweatshirty coat with mint green lining. It had a hood. It felt alt. It was from Anthropologie. I wore it until it could no longer be worn.
Was I on growth hormones? My boobs were giant. Or, maybe gravity had yet to take its toll on my happy 20-year old body.
This shirt was from….you guessed it, Abercrombie. And, of course, I had to be wearing a damn wife beater tank under it, because NO shirt left the house without a companion shirt underneath. I loved layering. That day, I had a natural colored pull over hooded sweater with me, AND a cream colored puffer jacket you can see peaking out from behind me.
I actually remember feeling really good about this outfit and how I looked in it on that day trip to Brighton Beach. No duh, those BOOBS.
*Please note the Hot Topic black plastic bracelets on my wrist. So scene. What a beautiful juxtaposition with the A&F.
Stonehenge. Wonder of the world. Blah, blah. Look at that incredible layering I have going on! This was clearly my JAM on this London trip. Nice work with the wife beater under shirt, red “Ciao Bella” graphic t-shirt from Urban Outfitters circa 2003, grey USC hoodie, AND puma sweatsuit jacket. That’s FOUR layers.
Oh, and I have been rocking head scarves for fifteen years. Don’t hate. I still have that vintage scarf and it’s super dope.
I thought this black sweater-jacket thing with the flaccid popped collar was just the most edgy little thing I wore…especially with that wife beater underneath. Don’t go anywhere without it!!
Also, just to give context to the photo, my floor mate in my sorority house and I used to bogart the party pics photographer at events and take carefully planned sequence photos, order them to be printed, and then post them on the wall in order. So quirky and fun.
Hi Will! That’s my college boyfriend Will and I. We both look so young and adorable. I remember making him buy that light blue sweatshirt from American Apparel because that’s when American Apparel was at its height as our generation’s GAP. Just like Gen-Xers did in the 90’s, we all rediscovered basics at an astronomical price, but were willing to pay for it because they were “ethically”made downtown. Whatever, he looked great in it!
As for me, I was wearing this sweater thing that I LOVED. Sadly there is no full length photo for me to find, so I will describe. It was a dark pea green hooded sweatshirt that went down to mid-thigh, long sleeved, and with a GIANT gaping opening to the waist. It was its own species of sweater, and I wore it generously. — of course always over that DAMN white wife beater!
Oh dear. I had dyed my hair very dark. I was wearing a USC grey hoodie that I loved. I thought it went with everything I owned and wore it accordingly. Also I LOVED that Penguin polo shirt that I got on sale at Urban Outfitters, even though it was too small! And don’t think I don’t see you, you dumb little Coach bag.
Also, you can’t tell from the photo but…I am wearing a wife beater under that polo. You better believe it.
There’s a lot to talk about in this photo, but I want to address the grey cardigan with the subtle floral pattern on the breast. The sweater had little puckered shoulders and lapels. It was basically a rare sweater/cardigan/blazer hybrid. I bought it at Urban Outfitters and believed it to be very grown up, possibly a good fit for internships or nice fancy dinners out, as pictured above.
*I, quite literally, only gave this sweater away this year.
I worked for the The Daily Trojan, USC’s newspaper, as a copyeditor and…I did not have good feelings about it. They were cliquey and weird and I wasn’t into it, which I am clearly expressing in this photo. Of note in this photo is the Abercrombie branded sweatshirt, which was actually SUPER comfortable and great fitting. I mostly wore it around the house, or when I was really bumming it. I had stopped shopping at Abercrombie at this point, but was still ok wearing my old clothes.
I don’t think that lasted very long, especially when I discovered Forever 21. Until 2006….