I hate the dentist. It isn’t personal. I hate all dentists, but since I’ve had the same one for almost twenty years, I suppose it’s possible that she could get confused. I remember when I was eight and my mother took me to the doctor to have plantar warts removed from my feet. The doctor used liquid nitrogen to burn them off. It hissed and smoked and hurt. My mother thought I should be grateful but grateful I was not. I would stare at the top of his head, bent over torturing my feet, and I would hate him with everything in me. Even at eight, I understood that I was being irrational, but the knowledge did nothing to change how I felt. Away from him, I could say he might be a good man. In his presence, I despised him and clung desperately to mental images of myself hitting him with a baseball bat or kicking him over and sizzling part of him with his own torture device.
I have progressed very little in my relationship with my dentist. The last time I visited her, I told her that it was quite difficult to like her, given the amount of misery she caused me. I expected that she would take this tongue in cheek. It is not the kind of thing that adults say to each other in earnest. The fact that it was technically true was to me a very private matter.
This week I had to go back to the dentist for a marathon two hour appointment to get a crown put on. Somehow it came up that she had taken my pretend/real admission rather personally. I can’t remember how it was that she communicated this unfortunate piece of information. What I remember is that I then had to force myself to be warm and appreciative for two hours, while drooling and being simultaneously poked, pushed, prodded, and gagged. Attempts to make up for hurting her feelings instead of quietly hating her, came at such effort as to make the whole thing an odd kind of religious experience of an intensity I do not often experience. Smiling and friendliness (in the brief moments of respite when my mouth was free of her meddling) cost me something. I left feeling tired but different. I was grateful for the grace that came, but I didn’t want any more of it very soon.
Still, I wonder about ramifications. Having softened to the human behind the evil metal dentistry tools, I am stuck wondering about the what if. What if there is something be said for being human to people who hurt me . . . or at least trying?