“I have a 2 o’clock,” I said in the tiny waiting room in which I had never done any waiting before, even though this dental office and I were this close: //.
No more than six meters in length, that thing was large enough to fit in just a couple of chairs, and a tall fan that was now rotating on its axis next to my thigh, like a head of a kind giant gently blowing at a field full of dandelion heads. A white cheesecloth pouch was suspended from a pink ribbon from the top of it, with what looked like slices of dehydrated papaya inside.
“Must be for the smell,” I thought and suddenly became aware that there was indeed an inexplicable aroma in the room. It reminded me… What did it remind me of? Nothing that I had encountered before, that’s for sure.
“Yes! You do!” the receptionist greeted me with so much glee I had to quickly scan my memory for her name. “You do have a 2 o’clock!”
She was Vietnamese, just like the two doctors and the three nurses on staff, all of whose names I did know. But this creature — I hadn’t met her yet. She had to be new, but all too well cast for this place. By now, she was smiling at me, full force. No, not smiling: grinning. Dr. Josephine and nurse Lisa where now standing in the back of her, grinning at me as well, as if I were here to take their office Christmas card photo.
Had I been standing in a typical American doctor’s office, I would immediately feel weirded out or somehow guilty.
“Shit! Had I missed a payment, or something?” I would find myself tripping out. It’s a Soviet thing still swimming in my blood, amidst the platelets, like a strange disease. Only a few of us possess it, but I can always recognize the symptoms of it, in others: This immediate access to one’s guilty conscience and the consequential fear of punishment. I hate it!
But I wasn’t in a typical office. The tiny women kept grinning at me, and once I was buzzed in, all three followed me to the dental chair, with my name on it. Well, okay: It didn’t really bear my name, but considering this joint and I were this // close, it might as well have had. Because again, it’s a Soviet thing, with me: My mouth is an exhibition of horrific dental work from the old country that took me nearly a decade to correct. Yep: My shit’s all fucked up. I hate it!
And now, it takes a continuous upkeep, which I had done at half a dozen of dental offices all over the country; often leaving behind lengthy records and baffled dentists. And it always makes me think that if ever my body had to be identified by my teeth, my docs would be able to do so over the phone:
“Oh yeah! Her shit’s all fucked up,” they would tell my mortician.
And then I bet, they’d call each other up and have a conference.
(What? Too morbid? Well, it’s a Soviet thing.)
By now I had climbed into the chair with my name on it and stared up at nurse Lisa — a tiny brunette with permanently smiling eyes — who was getting me hooked up with some mouthwash and a bib. Dr. Josephine was pulling up a chair on the other side of me.
“What happened?” she said.
“Oh, you know,” I shrugged. “I lost another crown.”
With her tiny fingers better suitable for a child’s hand, Dr. Josephine was already examining the Crown of the Hour. I had yanked that thing out of my mouth while sitting in traffic on 3rd Street the other night, after completing an hour of my weekly weight training. By then, it had been bugging me for a couple of weeks, coming loose and irritating my gums; and performing food storage stints under it, better suitable for the old country. That night, feeling all mighty and pumped up on testosterone, I finally lost my patience; grabbed a metallic nail file out of my purse, and flipped that thing up and out.
“You could break your windshield that way,” Dr. Josephine said.
She’s a quick one. They all are: These tiny creatures that always surprise me with their gentleness and quiet footsteps, but also with their ability to mutter dry jokes while shooting me with anesthesia. Oh, yes. There had been plenty of spit takes committed by me in this chair, with my name on it; all quite embarrassing due to my mouth’s temporary paralyses. But it’s okay. I am certain my tales of drooling laughter and intoxicated whimpers are quite safe around here.
Dr. Josephine began to work her magic: testing the crown against the gap between my molars, filing it down, then testing it again. She would do about nearly ten repetitions of that, patiently and so gently that had it not been for the dental mirror with which she moved my lips, I would never know her hands were in my mouth. But when the crown finally snapped into it place, I swung my feet to one side and said:
“Okay, all done, good to see you, thank you very much, bye!”
She and nurse Lisa began to laugh, again in that quiet fashion of the joint, and I remembered how readily they always responded to my humor.
“Oh. That’s why they were grinning upon my arrival,” I thought, and wiggled myself back into the chair: They had adored me. For years, by now.
While waiting for the cement to dry, I listened to Dr. Josephine’s recollection about her colleague’s experience with some of my fellow ex-patriots. With my mouth full of cotton and a sour flavor I had learned to know so well, I had to put my comedic routine to rest; shut up and listen.
Back in the decade of my birth year, she had gone to a conference; and at a lecture by her mentor she heard a story of other Soviet immigrants he had worked on. In waves, these fragile old ladies with a mouth full of crowns would arrive throughout the 70s.
“Was their shit all fucked up?” I mumbled through my teeth. I couldn’t help it.
“No,” Dr. Josephine said chuckling simultaneously with nurse Lisa who by now reached over to my chin and wiped off some drool. (Lovely!) “Perfect mouths. But what he would find under those crowns…” she lingered.
Yep. Some fucked up shit, eh?
“Diamonds,” Dr. Josephine said.
Despite her clear instruction to bite down, my jaw dropped. Nurse Lisa’s gloved hand gently redirected it to its place.
“Yeah,” Dr. Josephine continued. “Tiny diamonds. I guess that was the only way to smuggle them out of the old country.”
“Done!” I muttered through my teeth again. “We’re taking all of my shit out — NOW!”
The tiny women chuckled again — my angels, my godsends. And it wouldn’t be the first time I would remember the adoration with which they had always treated me. But then, I would forget it again.
Because it must be a Soviet thing: This poor memory of someone who’s had her shit all fucked up; but who was recovering — slowly but stubbornly! — with her dry sense of humor and her unfailing kindness in tow.