If it was an object lesson, I could have done without it. Really. Does every meaningful life lesson have to be taught by Caligula? Couldn't realizations come to me via a Fuzzy-Bunny-O'gram? Nope, I've got to get Cruella De' Ville.
So you've gathered I'm home and alive. Two facts that surprise me. Joe pried me out of the apartment with great force and little patience. You see he isn't afraid of the dentist, not big strong Joe, so he doesn't really get my slow descent into fear and depression whenever I have to set an appointment. I know I am going to die on the chair. I know each moment is my last as we travel up to Richmond Hill to see my dentist.
Fears, even irrational ones, are fears. They are real. They cannot be explained away. Fear is the emotional version of nausia - affecting every part of the body. Growing with breath, filling the mouth first with liquid, then drying it completely out. Nothing is the same when frightened. Words are heard differently. Distance is experienced differently. It needs respecting, fear does.
This trip I knew I was having two teeth pulled. TWO. 2. II. I am trying to make light of it here but I am deathly afraid of dentists and have always known that I would die on the chair.
From whence stems this fear?
Oh, I know.
Growing up in Salmo we were not a wealthy family. We got by. My parents did everything they could to make the money stretch as far as it could. Dentistry then, like dentistry now, was expensive. As we lived near the border, my mother investigated and found that there was a discount dentist, speciallizing in children setting up practice just south of the border in a place called Metalaine Falls. On a trip down she met with him, liked him, and booked us in.
Now firstly, isn't the two word phrase 'discount dentist' one that strikes terror into your wee heart?
Well imagine him.
Imagine what he looked like.
Close your eyes, feel a touch of dental anxiety and picture him.
He was a tall skinny man with very long fingers. He had wrinkles on his face that ran up and down, not side to side. There were two deep lines around his mouth, like his own teeth were bracketed by disapproval. He didn't like parents to be present. He spoke in an accent. I don't know what accent it was, but if I heard it again, I'd probably throw up.
He taught me what dentists did. He taught me how dentists were. He gave me my first lessons in fear and pain and force. His long fingers would pin your arm down, even when he wasn't doing anything. He muttered little threats about 'slipping' if we screamed or squirmed.
Mother was always so grateful that the nice dentist was discount that I never said anything. Didn't feel that what I would have said would have mattered anyways. So I just learned to be very, very frightened.
I've been going to the same dentist for years, although that's deceiving because I often go 5 to 10 years between visits. I go when I have to go. This guy has never hurt me, never rushed me, tells me what he's doing, asks me permission. This guy is as gentle as the other man was barbaric. I picked my denstist because he had a reputation for treating people with intellectual disabilities who were afraid of dentists, doctors and white coats. The rumours were true, he is an exceptional man.
But no matter.
Because first lessons are first lessons.
I remember fear every time I go to the dentist.
Because my first dentist taught me this.
One of the jobs I have is to do intake for an organization. Those I see are referred for serious behaviours and comprehensive treatment. I'm always very, very, careful on those intakes. Because I'm introducing treatment to them. I'm representing professionals. It is my goal to get information but it's also my goal that they learn that they can set their fears aside.
Because first contact has a way of also becoming every contact thereafter.
One day we showed up for an appointment. My brother and I frozen, yet sweating, in the back seat. My mother with cash in her wallet. We parked in front of the building and entered, ready to climb the stairs to the office. It seemed very different. And it was. There was no one there, the building was set up for several small offices. All had been boarded up except the dentists office. But it too was gone. No sign of life anywhere. No note on the door. No explanation.
Crossing the road to the drug store for information, we met with a scandalized clerk who told us that the dentist had not been a dentist. He'd been some guy who just set up shop, no qualifications, no experience or expertise. The police had showed up to arrest him but he had disappeared. It was like he knew that they were coming. An investigation showed that he was cruel in his practice. Some boy had come forward and talked, some mother had listened, an investigation had discovered the fraud. But he was gone.
The damage had been done. He knew to prey on families who were poor, who would be grateful for his 'charity' in providing affordable dental care. He knew he could intimidate children, especially the children of poor families, children used to lack of voice, children who grew up second rate, children who knew their place.
He probably anticipated that one day, one child would talk.
But there were thousands, like me, like my brother, who wouldn't. He built his practice upon the bedrock of subservience. All it took was one voice. That's all.