Wednesday, June 10, 2015

"The Story I Didn't Write"

When I was in High School, we had Grade Thirteen.  Grade Thirteen was a university “prep” year.  If you did not intend to go on to university, you could graduate after Grade Twelve and head straight to work, though that work inevitably involved wearing coveralls, rather than a jacket and a tie.

At the end of Grade Thirteen, nine two-and-a-half hour “Final Exams” were administered – four days of two examinations per day, plus the ninth two-and-a-half hour examination by itself.  (It was actually precisely this time of the year.)

Your “results” on these examinations would determine which university you got into – the better your grades, the more prestigious the university.  Also, if you scored over a certain aggregate percentage, you would be awarded an Ontario Scholarship, accumulating four hundred dollars out of the four-hundred-and-seventy dollars for your “Freshman Year” tuition.

I wanted that scholarship.  It would really help financially.

This reality came dynamically into play as I perused the topics for the “Original Essay” section of my “English Grammar” exam, the evaluation of my essay forming a substantial portion of my “English Grammar” final grade.

The options for my “Original Essay” were the following: 

“A Trip To The Dentist.” 

“The Changing Seasons.”

And “The Most Interesting Person I Ever Met.”

Although immediately drawn to “A Trip To The Dentist,” I instinctively realized that there would be humor involved.  I was concerned that the examiner, grumpy and exhausted from endless hours of mind-numbing essay reading, would find nothing I wrote remotely funny and they would consequently assign me an inferior grade.

I chose “The Changing Seasons” instead. 

I did all right with it – “Raking leaves under darkening skies…”  And, scoring up to the necessary standards I was ultimately awarded that Ontario Scholarship. 

Over the years, however, I still regret passing on “A Trip To The Dentist.” 

So I am writing it today. 

And here it is.

                                                 "A Trip to The Dentist"

I have never liked going to the dentist.  And here’s why.

When I was around eleven, in preparation for getting braces, my orthodontist Doctor Posen informed me that I would need to have eight teeth pulled, four “Baby Teeth” that were stubbornly refusing to fall out on their own, and then, after they grew in, the four replacement “Permanent Teeth”, although pulling them out offered questionable meaning to the word “permanent.”

A couple of weeks later when I returned home from school, my mother, without any of her characteristic forewarning, announced that I needed to leave immediately for a dentist’s appointment. 

“I’m not going, “ I replied.

“Why not?” she inquired.

“Because he is going to pull my teeth.”

My mother scoffed dramatically, dismissing my concerns as childish and ridiculous.  I, however, vehemently disagreed.  My conversation with Doctor Posen indicated that my concerns were not ridiculous.  And as for “childish”, it fit.  I was a child.

“I am not going!” I repeated, stamping my foot on the kitchen linoleum for emphasis.

“Oh yes you are.”


“What’s all the fuss about?  It’s only a cleaning.”

“No it isn’t!  He is going to pull my teeth!”

Sticking to her guns, my mother then accused me of being a baby, which, when you’re eleven is practically the worst thing you can be accused of.  Being an eleven year-old “Baby” conjured images of a maturing pre-adolescent, decked out in blue jeans, t-shirt and a diaper.

Since a child’s rights are theoretical at best – and who knows, I thought wishfully, maybe it was only a cleaning – I soon found myself trudging the handful of blocks down to a location on Eglinton Avenue, where, with rising trepidation, I pushed open the door, climbing the stairs to the offices of “George Starr, DDS”, next to “Giblon’s the Butcher”, whom I was certain caused no more torture to the animals than would inflicted upon me in the dentist’s chair.

Dr. Starr, stockily built with thinning slicked-back auburn hair, looked exactly like Harry Lumley, the current netminder for the Toronto Maple Leafs.  That was the only thing I liked about him.  He bore a striking resemblance to our home-team goalie.

I shall spare you the suspense, though less so the graphic detail.  After settling me into the chair – I had at first cowered in the corner until he threatened to call the police – and fastening a paper bib around my neck, Dr. Starr plunged a gigantic needle into my gum and inside my cheek.  Later, wiggling pliers back and forth for what seemed like a lifetime, Dr. Hockey Puck yanked out one of my “Baby Teeth.”

An hour later, I stormed back into the house, my swollen face still frozen, wads of gauze packing the gap where there had recently been a tooth. 

“Mom!  He pulled out my tooph!” I lamented, barely decipherable because of the swelling, the freezing and the gauze.

My mother remained silent.

“I really hurt!”

Still nothing in response.

“Why didn’t you tell me the twooph?”

Finally, my mother turned to me and said,

“If I told you the truth, would you have gone?”

The answer was obvious, denying the possibility of a retaliatory retort.

All in all, it was a dubious trade-off.

A maternal betrayal.

In exchange for straight teeth for my Bar Mitzvah.

I wonder if that’s why I never entirely trusted anybody ever again.


Wendy M. Grossman said...

I also had that experience - the dentist pulling the baby teeth, I mean. I couldn't see why we couldn't just wait until they fell out by themselves. They are, after all, *deciduous* teeth.

The experience was horrid, and while I think not trusting *anyone* ever again might be overkill, no mother who would lie about it deserves to be trusted again by the person she lied to. The one thing I can say for myself is that I howled piteously in the dentist's chair, and while that did not deter the dentist one bit it embarrassed the hell out of my mother.


Alan said...

When I go to the dentist, I get rattled....

FFS said...

Ah, the dreaded “departmentals”. Every grade 13 student in the province wrote the same exam at the same time. The exams were in sealed envelopes and the seal was broken at the front of the exam room just before the appointed start time. At the end of the exam the exam papers were put back in the same envelope and re-sealed. The exams were marked centrally at Varsity Arena where double-dipping teachers would use a standard marking scheme. The worst exam was the French dictée where a vinyl record was played over the school’s public address system which had the acoustic quality of the sound system on a subway, and one’s task was to correctly transcribe what was heard. The marks on these exams were the sole criteria for university admittance. Fifty years later I still have the lack of preparedness exam nightmare.

Pidge said...

I had a similar procedure...only worse. Years of torture. Thanks for reminding me.
(now you can guess if I'm referring to tooth extractions or Gr. 13 departmentals...if it weren't for the 'curve', where would I be today?)

Marathon Man said...

Dental horrors: seems to be a universal nightmare. And something to look forward to, seniors: those crowns in your mouth will eventually have to be replaced, or worse!

I'm with Wendy, how can you trust a mother who lies to you?