Last night I met someone who opened my eyes to the possibility that it was never my fault. Someone who allowed me to dare to believe that I was not in the wrong, that there was, after all, a different and better and kinder and more understanding way of being touched there; someone sensitive, finally, to how I felt.
Other men – and they have always been men – began accusingly, with unfelt greetings, bristling with judgement and continued that way for the twenty minutes it would always seem to take, no matter what (save for one occasion which beat the hour mark, and of which I still cannot speak).
As a party of three, we young children vied quite politely for the one little red chair, a true leather wonder, with gold-headed tacks, a fantastical distraction to help with the fear (unless some stranger’s child had bagged it first) in the lopsided parlour of an end-terrace house on the same street where we lived. Most dental surgeries now have custom-built bungalow clinics with lit gravelled pathways that hint at shattered teeth, but odd ones still remain in houses where families once lived and laughed. Victorian mantelpieces now display Corsodyl and inter-dental brushes, for sale at let’s-pretend prices, and swimming certificates, or the golfing proof that the man inside your mouth is healthily sociable and familiar with his own pain.
Our first dentist was a torturer and a ghoul whom my memory melds with our GP of the same time, with his bored eyes that didn’t care for kids and hadn’t met with a medical textbook, not ever, it seemed, not even to open at ‘A’ and to asthma; instead, murderous and drugged himself, prescribing ‘breathing exercises’ and spooned muck, nasal drops, calcifying and whale-derived bin-water to be jizzed up my thin and uncoping beak, thrice daily pipetting this toxic, useless milk into nowhere and for nothing. A family doctor who couldn’t smell the fag smoke in my hair. I could only believe they were vampire brothers, dentist and doctor, turret dwellers.
I was sent, with my teeth no more problematic than any growing child’s, to special surgeries at St. James’s, where a Scotsman with yellow skin pushed rubber-gloved fingers into my gums and shouted at me for poor brushing. Endless X-Rays resulting in nothing more than fillings. Extractions happened, but I often saw them through alone, worrying them out by the TV and once removing, ever so slyly, one rocking peg whilst serving as an altar boy, appreciating even at ten a frisson of dark freakishness as I swallowed blood during the sermon.
Dentists have personalised number plates. SF1 was a nice man, and he’s grown old with his patients, his moustache gone silver, and moved from the grand end-terrace along with the times. A family has that old front room once more. He saw me through big school and up to A Levels, and nice as he was – or interested in my education before going in for a personal best, or a golf-buddy wager – he still sided with the shit-fingered sadists at Jimmy’s and even conspired to send me back there.
Locally, recently, the men have been bearded and bores – caring only for their own travels and the tales, the lectures, that come with. I’m the captive audience:
‘… and do you know how many villagers we were able to treat in one day at that Township?’
‘Guess. How many?’
‘I’ve really no idea.’
‘Take a guess – what’s wrong with you?’
‘A million?! Are you insane?’
‘You asked me to guess, and it was obviously a lot. So – a million.’
The bore – boor – got out his calculator and proved how that number couldn’t be. And then he returned to South Africa and allowed his brother-in-law to have a go on me. I lost a lot of blood to them both. I love their world health sabbaticals. But they were complete twats.
I went to find a good dentist who is also a good person. Last night he gripped my shoulder. Told me ahead of everything what was coming next, and why, and for how long. He had New Order shuffling on a big clean Mac (yes of course that’s in the price.) He asked if I was okay. I said it was just all to do with childhood and its bad dentists. He said he understood; it was all about not feeling in control as a child.
© Copyright, Steve Mitchell and Fisher Lane, 2012.