Years ago, my mother had one of those old hair dryers that came in a hard plastic case with three golden buckles along the sides. On the days Mom set her hair, she’d call for one of us to get that case and open it up. She’d remove the plastic cap which she’d fit over her curlers before drawing it tightly around her head until only the thick pink curler pins pressing against her forehead showed beneath the elastic. Curled around the motor of the dryer was a clear flexible hose; really just a piece of soft plastic supported by a long wire that curled along the inside. Mom would plug the hose into the cap and sit there beneath the blast of hot air while her hair dried. My sisters and I would gather round, our curiosity piqued by this regimen of beauty, holding our unpolished fingernails above the piece labeled nail dryer—the circular disk on top of the motor through which cool air shot out. One winter day, we used that dryer to encourage the flames in the fireplace, thus melting a hole into the hose. The plastic hardened and turned black and the air from the dryer would no longer make it all the way to the plastic cap.
* * *
“You need braces,” the hygienist said to me a couple of weeks ago.
“What’s that?” The hygienist picked up the plastic tube, curled around my lower lip. “Close.”
I did and the little tube vacuumed up all the toothpaste and spit from my mouth.
“What was that you said?”
“I don’t need braces. I’m married.” I laughed a little. Who the hell was this woman?
She shook her head. “Doesn’t matter. You have to keep up your appearances.”
I wanted to tell her that losing my muffin top would go a long way towards keeping up my appearances, but she revved up her toothbrush. “Open.” And she hung the plastic vacuum tube from my lower lip again.
“Watch out for that new hygienist,” I told my husband that night. His appointment was for the following morning. “She’s going to try to get you in braces.”
And she did. And without my husband’s permission, the dentist put in an estimate for a mouth guard. Seems that—like me—my husband grinds his teeth at night.
When he first saw it ten years ago, my husband laughed at my mouth guard: a hard piece of plastic that fits over my top teeth and keeps away the nightmares that all of my teeth are crumbling away to bits. I couldn’t talk with my mouth guard. It was ugly and made my upper lip protrude.
“Well, that’s attractive,” my husband said as I fitted it into my mouth the first night.
* * *
To say that my husband snores is a gross understatement. My husband will snore the wallpaper off the walls, the paint off the ceiling, the hair from my arms. And when the curtains blew out of our windows on the 4th of July, he blamed the fireworks. But I knew the truth.
For seventeen years, I told my husband about his snoring, telling him he really ought to see a doctor. But he always scoffed at me. “I’m fine.”
So, I did what every good wife would do in this situation. I told on him. I told his mother.
And a week later, he went to the doctor.
He was scheduled for a sleep study where he would spend the night hooked up to all kinds of wires and gizmos and gadgets and watched all night by a technician. When he woke, several hundred dollars later, he was told something that I’d been telling him for the entire span of our marriage: My husband has sleep apnea.
Now anyone who knows anything about me knows that I’ll look for a non-medical alternative before seeking a doctor’s help. I Googled sleep apnea.
“You know, you could learn to play the didgeridoo.”
My husband laughed.
He had a point. He’s less than musical and with the amount of traveling he does, I’m not sure a 10 foot long instrument would be the best solution.
He was fitted with a sleep machine—a mysterious electronic device that pumped air through a long hose into a mask covering both the nose and the mouth and attached to the face via all kinds of attractive straps and buckles. Looking at it, I’ve often wondered whether the manufacturer merely took my mother’s old dryer and repositioned it as a sleep device, without the fancy cap, of course.
He brought it home and tried it on. The plastic tube hung to his waist. “Great,” he said. “I look like an elephant now.”
He plugged it in. “Night.”
I popped in my mouth guard. “Night.”
But we quickly discovered his mask leaked, a situation commonly known to apnea sufferers everywhere—and their spouses—as “mask farts.” Every inhalation was accompanied by a high-pitched squeal that could be heard from anywhere in the house and perhaps outside as well.
The doctor adjusted the pressure on the mask. He tightened the straps.
The mask whooshed constantly. I found I was sleeping with Darth Vader. Or, rather that I wasn’t sleeping with Darth Vader.
The doctor handed my husband a twenty dollar piece of felt—invented by one of his patients, he proudly declared—which fit over the nose and mouth and cut down on the whooshing. Again, we tightened the straps.
Finally, after months of adjustments, all was quiet.
Finally, we could sleep.
“That looks horrible,” the doctor said to my husband at his last appointment. “You’re going to need plastic surgery.” He studied the cut on my husband’s nose—a cut resulting from the tightness of the mask. The doctor ordered a new mask, a better mask, a mask that was worn over just the nose. “It’s going to be harder to talk now,” the doctor cautioned, handing my husband a bill for two hundred dollars.
My husband put on the mask. He spoke alliteratively as he could no longer pronounce most letters. There were long pauses between his words as he forced them out against the current of the air rushing into his nostrils. “Dite.” Pause. “Dove.” Pause. “Doo.” Pause. “Don.”
“Love you, too, Darth.”
Darth was back, in full force. The only way to get a decent night of sleep was to fall asleep before my husband plugged in or to sigh loudly so that he would remove the mask. Even his snoring was better than this.
“I’ll put some felt in, like the doctor did.” But all we could find was gauze, which we folded and cut in a rough approximation of the doctor’s twenty dollar fix.
I slipped in my mouth guard. “Night.”
Within three minutes the gauze started fluttering around his mask. My husband snorted. He coughed.
“Maybe you should take that gauze out.”
He barked out a laugh. “Deah.” Pause. “Die.” Pause. “Dite.” Pause. “Die.”
I’m not sure if he inhaled the gauze or if he removed it but two seconds later, he started whooshing again.
This whooshing is like driving down the highway with one window partway open and the air pressure inside the car unbalanced. This whooshing is like a tea kettle about ready to boil. This whooshing is like a radio tuned to static and playing full blast. This whooshing makes you want to take action. To do something. But there’s nothing to do except poke my husband and hope that he readjusts his mask.
And as I lay there, listening to the whooshing and the farting of my husband’s mask, I found myself wondering how this could possibly be called a solution to my husband’s sleep issues, any more than braces would be a solution to my appearance.
Perhaps in the morning, I will order a didgeridoo. And then I will set my hair in tight curlers and fit a shower cap over my head and plug it into my husband’s sleep machine.
I do need to keep up appearances, after all.
Labels: Beauty?, braces, Growing up, retro hair dryers, sleep apnea