I was ten years old and getting ready for braces. But before that delightful experience, some unhappy preparation would be required. It was required for two reasons. One, I had a small jaw, and two, my baby teeth were refusing to fall out on schedule. As a consequence of these conditions, some pre-braces tooth extraction loomed ominously in my future.
Eight teeth would eventually be forcibly evicted from my mouth – four baby teeth and four of the adult variety. It was not a fortuitous introduction to the practice of dentistry.
One day after school, my mother informed me that I had a dentist’s appointment. From overhearing my orthodontist’s conversation with my mother, I was pre-warned as to what that dentist had in store for me. The old Yankeroo. Understandably, in my view, and I believe in any sane person’s, I was not enthusiastic about showing up. My mother said my concerns were unfounded. She assured me the appointment was “just for a cleaning.”
I was certain this was not the case. “He’s going to pull my teeth,” I insisted.
“That’s all in your head,” said my mother, sticking to her guns. “It’s just a cleaning.”
We went back and forth on the matter, me insisting the appointment involved the extraction of teeth, and my mother equally adamant that it was “just a cleaning.” In the midst of this contretemps, there were “Don’t be a baby”-type taunts hurled in my direction, manhood-challenging allegations that would propel me in therapy for decades to come.
I tenaciously held my ground. I would survive my mother’s assaults to my masculinity. I had no choice. Surrender meant a needle jabbed into my jaw, pliers clamped around my tooth, prodigious tugging and bleeding from the gums.
Playing on my mind, however, was the knowledge that I had always had a lively, and often terror-inducing imagination, plus the fact that, as far as I knew, my mother had never lied to me before. If she said it was “just a cleaning”, maybe it was “just a cleaning.” Acknowledging my uncertain “inner storyteller” and my mother’s record for veracity, I abandoned my resistance and went off to the dentist’s.
The dentist pulled two of my teeth.
I came how with gauze in my mouth.
“Ma!” I raged through tears and absorbent cotton. “You told me it was just a cleaning.”
My mother’s reply was as reasonable as it was unsatisfying.
“If I’d told you the truth, would you have gone?”
I was furious. (The fire, as you see, has not totally abated.) A respected authority figure had taken advantage of my trust. And, equally as shamefully, I had fallen for it. Fortunately, recent history has demonstrated that when it comes to succumbing to this insidious type of persuasion, I am not exactly alone.
The “It’s only a cleaning” strategy? It’s the same argument that got us into Iraq. This argument is accompanied by a familiar justification.
If they’d told us the truth, would anybody have gone?
Oh my God. My Mom could have made a bad president.