A Break-Up Letter to My Childhood Retainer

red and white mouth plastic toy and food plastic toys
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Dear Childhood Retainer,

We both knew this day would come. I contemplated doing it in person, but I can hardly stand to look at you anymore.

A relationship shouldn’t be this difficult. I shouldn’t dread seeing you every night. I shouldn’t feel forced to spend time with you out of pity. You’ve given up on your appearance, so much so that I’m embarrassed to introduce you to people. I feel as though you’ve deteriorated right before my eyes.

We met in 2011, shortly after I broke things off with my first retainer. He was made of wire and created a gap in between my teeth that ultimately led to an infection from decaying food. After our tumultuous relationship, you, a clear plastic tray, were a much-needed breath of fresh air; you made me feel comfortable and secure in a way that he never could.

Over the past eight years, we’ve been through a lot together: countless colds, the flu, strep throat, oral thrush from the strep antibiotics, vomiting (you never did do well with alcohol). I appreciate you putting up with me for all these years. The nights I forgot to floss, the weeks I went without cleaning you, and my endless teeth grinding which I’ve been told can be heard from the next room. I’m also sorry for all of the things you’ve been exposed to over the years because of me: viruses, bacteria, food, mucus, my dog’s saliva from that one time I let him lick my tongue. You didn’t deserve that.

I’m sorry that we’ve spent less time together towards the end of our relationship. Sleeping together seven nights a week turned into five nights a week, which eventually whittled down to one or two nights a week. I stopped bringing you to my friends’ apartments and even on vacations. It really hit me when I went to Ecuador for two weeks last month and I didn’t invite you. Worst of all, I hardly thought about you while I was there. I didn’t even tell anyone you existed, though I had plenty of opportunities – my roommate wouldn’t stop talking about her Invisalign – and when I came home, I avoided you for the first few days, in denial about how we were growing apart, not wanting to face the reality of the situation.

As a teenager, I thought we fit perfectly together, as if we were made for each other, but 25-year-old me has evolved. You’ve been one of the few constants in my life, and I need you to know that this is one of the hardest things I’ve had to do. But recently, you’ve become opaque, your once transparent aura riddled with residue. I can’t help but think I had something to do with that. I feel as though I’ve been wearing you down. The pressure I’ve been putting on you has literally split you in half at the molars. I can’t provide a safe space for you anymore; your container became so filled with mold that I’ve been keeping you in a clear plastic cup (sans lid) for a few years now so that you can touch as little surface area as possible. I don’t care for you the way you deserve to be taken care of.

I know what you’re thinking: surely there’s something else I can do to keep her in my life. But it’s not you, it’s me. You deserve stability, loyalty, whitening toothpaste. Right now, the idea of being with another retainer sickens me, but I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t fantasized about it. Particularly bonded retainers – the ones that are permanently and discreetly attached to the inside of your teeth.

Right now, I just need some space. I still want us to visit every now and then, reminisce on all of the good times we had together. Maybe even rekindle things for the night when I’m feeling lonely or nostalgic. I would love to keep you in the plastic cup in my medicine cabinet, but I know you need to move on too. We both deserve to be happy.

Whatever happens, I don’t want you to think that I don’t love you. We’ve simply outgrown each other. Every time someone compliments my smile, I’ll inevitably think of you and your jagged split molar that created painful blisters in my mouth.





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