Memoirs and Diaries of a Marked Woman
THE TOOTH WITCH
TEETH - DIARY EXCERPTS
1993 - JUNE
[speaking to a homeless man in Central Park, New York]
I said that my mother was cruel and evil. She had taken me to the dentist several times when I was two years old and had him drill my teeth for the sole purpose of torturing me into submission.
We were still living in Annecy at the time and walked from the apartment to the dentist's office, my mother holding me by the hand. I knew there was nothing wrong with my teeth but I dared say nothing. I knew it was some kind of other necessity that required me to suffer, but it would have been impertinent for me to talk about it and a big black cloud of terror obscured my sky permanently during the whole treatment which took about five visits.
In the dentist chair, I would put my hand in my mother's but when the pain was too much I would lean my elbows on the arm rests and arch my body away from the chair. When this happened the dentist would make fun of me and call me "the electric battery" like those my father was selling at his appliance store. So I was ashamed to be chicken and would try to be braver. The dentist used a fast drill and a slow drill. The fast drill didn't hurt very much. I was watching from the corner of my eye, hoping that this time he wouldn't use the slow one, dangling from an articulated arm where you could see the belt, but invariably my heart would sink when I saw him reach for it. I saw the belt start moving in the long arm of the drill machine and then I felt the drill on my tooth. It was sheer torture. It was not that he was touching a nerve, it was the vibrations which spread to my entire 2 year old skull With my skull abuzz, I heard a giant and prolonged roar like a brutal and blind giant monster machine was passing through my head, which filled me with total terror. I was overcome by the sensation and felt totally alone in my agony while the dentist and my mother exchanged a few words in a detached tone. "So who can blame me for not loving my mother? Who can tell me that she loves me and that she's a good woman after what she did to me? She's a sadistic woman, like those Nazi doctors." "I see what you mean, Danny said, the medical experiments etc., Joseph Mengele". When I heard my mother compared to Mengele tears started to roll down my cheeks. He saw I was crying but didn't say anything. I felt he wasn't moved, he didn't feel any compassion. He had said these last words in a cold voice. He was an enemy furthering his hidden agenda, collecting intelligence. He had been planted there to wait for me, get me drunk and loose lipped, and was connected to Glenn, the garbage man in the building, since earlier in the week I had told Glenn, that I intended to play at Columbus Circle. I got up and left without a word. I felt drunk but not too much. I felt crushed by the weight of Danny's betrayal on top of my mother's, but at the same time relieved to have got this horrible childhood memory off my chest and to be able to cry about it.
* * *
Conversation téléphonique Brigitte - Claire
B. - Il est pas question de faire un emprunt pour que je puisse manger quand meme? Et de toute façon je t'ai dit que je signerai pas la vente de Pantin hein, tant que je n'aurai pas reçu la mˆeme part que les autres.
M. - Eh ben oui, eh bien c'est bien de ça que je me suis occuppée, pour que tu reçoives cette part.
B. - Ca a l'air...
M. - La succession sans Pantin.
B. - Quoi?
M. - Ben oui, ta part de la succession, Pantin exclu.
B. - Quest-ce que ça veut dire "Pantin exclu"?
M. - Ben il est hors... on peut pas partager Pantin puisqu'il est pas vendu.
B. (soupir) J'ai besoin d'argent de toute urgence, alors? Il y a pas de notaire …s le lendemain du jour on s'est parlé; une inflammation … une dent qui supporte un bridge...
M. - Et alors les dentistes là-bas, ils soignent pas...
B. - Ils soignent pas gratuit non.
M. - Ils soignent pas gratis. (silence) Et tu as pu te faire soigner quand mˆme?
B. - Ben je le paie, je le paie en monnaie sonnante et trébuchante, hein. J'ai pas d'assurance...
M. - Mais oui.
B. - J'ai pas d'assurance du tout. Ni dentaire ni de santé en général.
* * *
That night Richie was on guard duty. Richie is employed by Bonarti, my landlord. He's rather tall, blond and he has a huge belly. Last summer he had let me know that he knew that I use coupons to buy cat food, making me feel that even at the supermarket someone was spying on me. But since I intended to borrow a few dollars from him, I acted friendly. Also the music in the club downstairs was so loud that I wanted to avoid hearing it for a while and chatting with Richie was a solution. He was outside on the porch. "What's happening?" I asked. He started immediately to berate his boss, saying he was a crook. He asked if I had ever seen cops in his office. No I said. “Well, when they come, it's to get their money because he's paying them off. He was a cop himself, you know, but he was kicked out because he was crooked. So you see, he's friend with other crooked cops, that makes sense.” Then Richie went inside and I followed him. He started walking back and forth in the small lobby. There was a packet of ketchup on the floor but he didn't step on it. He said that he was tired of working for Bonarti. The pay was lousy and he couldn't afford to move. He lived in a basement room half as big as my own in a building that belonged to Bonarti, and when it rained the place was flooded. He said he was on call twenty four hours and had no time for himself. The way he described his situation was that he couldn't afford to change jobs or move. "That's slavery pure and simple!" I said, indignant. And then he went on and on, on the same theme.
He started to explain to me how to live cheap. He said I could buy three cans of beans for a dollar, take advantage of the coupons etc. He said he did the same, he had no choice, and spoke about canned food combinations that disgusted me. I never buy canned food. I felt he had a lot of nerve to tell me what to eat, as if he expected me to resign myself to being poor and eat shit. "You don't look like you're starving" I said. With his pink plump flesh he reminded me of a pig. He lifted his T-shirt and I saw his huge belly. He smiled with satisfaction and passed his hand on his belly. That was gross. Were it not for the loud music I could hear in my room, I would have left but I couldn't stand it and I had to wait outside until it stopped.
Then he started to talk about his mother. He said that she abused him when he was a kid. He opened his mouth and showed me his teeth. They looked okay. He said she had hurt his teeth. I thought about my own dentist sessions at age two. Was he making reference to that knowingly? I thought he did. He said his mother stabbed him in the thighs and locked him in the car trunk. "She's a psychopath" he said. Then he stopped and seemed to be waiting for me to say something. I felt he wanted me to tell him what my own mother had done to me. "Yeah, I said, my mother abused me too but it was mostly psychological." He seemed disappointed.
Then Richie told me that the price of cocaine had gone way down, from $1,000 an ounce to $300. That to make crack you just have to boil cocaine with baking soda, that crack dealers make a fortune and that himself, he had $2,000 saved. It sounded strange that he could have any savings after telling me that he was earning slave wages with the landlord. Then he added that all the policemen around were crooked and were being paid by the landlord. He let me draw the conclusions myself. He made it look like a piece of cake to become a crack dealer. Money to invest, easy and cheap to make, good wholesale price, a ready market, nothing to fear from the police.
I didn't understand right away what he was driving at, and I said that fortunately, I had rid myself of my cocaine addiction a few years ago. He looked disappointed. It seems certain now that if I had taken him up on his veiled offer and become a crack dealer with his seed money, there would come a point where I would have been busted by the police when I least expected it, lulled by the assumption that there was nothing to fear from them. And then from an attempted murder survivor my legal status would move unexpectedly to that of a criminal defendant and I would be prosecuted as such, and my criminal defense would take priority over my personal injury claim.
Richie was standing near the entrance door against the wall across from me. Then he started pacing the lobby back and forth. When he reached my side he avoided the ketchup packet on the floor, turned around and returned to the opposite wall, then he stopped again and resumed his pacing. He talked rather fast in a monotone. He directed the conversation as if following a script.
After a short silence he broached the conversation on my inheritance and in different ways, with different arguments he tried to convince me that my share was not as important as I believed. In the course of our discussion on this subject, althought I doubted strongly his good faith, I told Richie that my family was ripping me off, that my attorneys had been bribed to turn against me. Everywhere I turned for help, the ground crumbled under me. It truly looked hopeless I realized and seeing the sparkle in Richie's eye I knew I hit a nerve. "What are you going to do then?" he asked defiantly, his eyes shining with curiosity. "I'm not going to kill myself that's for sure." I said. A few days before I had called a suicide hotline from a pay-phone down the street. I thought that maybe the phone was tapped and my inquiry about suicide was known to my enemy. Unless it was because a few days earlier, when Jose the super had asked me how I was, I had said "Not too good, there's only so much you can take." This too sounded desperate and maybe he had repeated it to Bonarti. I didn't want to give them false hope. "Yes but what can you do?" he asked smartly, as if the obvious solution was to commit suicide, so it meant in fact, that I was stupid not to do it and solve the problem for everybody. "Nothing. There's nothing I can do." "You see..." "You never know, maybe something will happen." I said, to show that I hadn't lost hope completely. I thought you could never exclude an act of God, or a deus ex machina, which was really the biggest part of any hope I had left. Plus the fact that I would try until my last breath. After all, things happened. He said that I had misunderstood the law. "What do you know about French law?" I asked. He said that he had worked in France a few years ago in a law office.
After he had spoken about his mother as a psychopath without eliciting any "me-too" anecdotes from me, I said that my mother prevented me from working. I said that it was for her that the French man had videotaped me at Columbus Circle last July. "If you believe that, you must be crazy" Richie said. "No, I'm not crazy, I know it was for her... and she had me raped too, twenty years ago. My mother is a psychopath like yours, only worse." I said and I left.
* * *
1994 OCTOBER 10
Conversation téléphonique Maman-Brigitte
....[Mother suggests that the person harming me is my former boyfriend Carlos “Patato” Valdes]
B Je vois pas pourquoi est-ce qu'il ferait ça parce que...
M Ecoute qui peut te vouloir du mal?
B Ben je pensais que toi, tu pouvais me vouloir du mal.
M Mais c'est pas possible que tu penses une chose pareille Brigitte!
B Ecoute hein, on a quand même passé de nombreuses années ensemble hein, et je peux pas dire que tu m'aies traitée vraiment très bien.
B Je peux pas dire que tu m'aies bien traitée hein.
M Qu'est-ce que tu veux dire par la? Je te traitais différamment des autres?
B Oui. Tu laissais mes soeurs me tourmenter.
M Oh qu'est-ce que tu dis là, tes soeurs te tourmenter.
M D'abord je l'ai jamais su, et puis je crois que tu exagères un petit peu quand même.
B Il y a un grand mystère c'est que je me demande pourquoi tu m'avais fait ces séances chez le dentiste quand j'avais deux ou trois ans. J'arrive pas à m'expliquer la raison médicale.
M Mais enfin, je t'amenais chez le dentiste pour te faire mal?
B Quand j'avais deux-trois ans...
M T'avais des petites caries.
M Ecoute, quand on y allait c'était pas la torture, je te tenais la main, tu souffrais pas tellement!
B Si c'était la torture. J'étais terrifée. Je me souviens que je me cambrais... euh...
M Mais enfin il y en a d'autres qui connaissent ça...
B Mais c'est pas une excuse.
M Mais si je t'y emmenais c'était quand même pour le bien, si t'avais pas eu de caries je t'y aurais pas emmenée!
B Moi j'ai l'impression que c'était pour me ramener à, comment dire, peut-être que j'étais pas assez disciplinée à ton goût.
B Et que t'as fait ça pour me... comment dire...
M Ah mais dis-donc, je suis pas la mère Mac Miche hein! Qu'est-ce que c'est que ces idées que t'as dans la tête? J'étais sévèe avec toi? Je t'ai battue?
(Monday the 9th):On the way back, the crazy Cuban woman was walking towards me on the sidewalk and she smiled to me, so I wouldn't miss the gap of her missing tooth, she called me "mamita" and said she had a beautiful pair of glasses to sell me. I ignored her. This was two or three days after I wrote the episode in the optical store.
Tuesday the 10th: Last Saturday one of my teeth (artificial, front right) came off. I have pondered whether or not to go to Dr. Herbin but after he acted disgusted and ordered unnecessary oral surgery last July, I don't think it would be a good idea to go to him. And I've had such bad skin that I have stayed indoors these past few days. I didn't go out at all for two days. I am really a prisoner in this place.
Thursday the 12th: Call Dr. Herbin's office. The first thing his assistant asks, even before asking my name, is "What's your insurance?" It's not the first time this happens. I ask the assistant if she knows that a lot of people don't have insurance, and even less have dental insurance. She says that yes, she knows. "Then why do you ask me what's my insurance?" "Because Dr. Herbin told me to ask this question to everybody." "But if you know that a lot of people don't have insurance, why don't you ask first if they have insurance?" Silence. Make appointment with Dr. Herbin for 2:45 same day. Half an hour later his secretary calls and asks if I could come right now so he would see me at noon instead. I say I can't make it and agree to come at 1:30. Then I have another change of mind about Dr. Herbin and call Dr. Paley who welcomes emergencies and he gives me an appointment for 3:00. Now I have to cancel Dr. Herbin's appointment. I tell the secretary that I have scheduled my time in a way that I cannot change the original time of 2:45. She says "Then come tomorrow at noon." I say ok.
I pack my tooth in a Tic-Tac container and first go to the library to return books that are due today, then walk to Columbus and 96th and take the cross-town bus through Central Park, and transfer at Lexington. I sit in the front row against the wall, and I see three LPs that are wedged between the bus wall and the back of the seat in front of me. I pull them out. All three of them seem to date back to the sixties and one of them is a record of Carly Simon. Unlike the other two, it's the back cover that's facing me, and it is a close up of the singer with a broad lovely, happy smile, and perfect teeth.
Well she's a singer-guitarist just like me, but her dad is the publisher at Simon and Schuster. I suppose he didn't make her learn to type and take shorthand and he didn't see anything wrong with his daughter being what she was, and he helped her and here she is, with a twenty-plus years career behind her, successful records, and now she diversifies into children books or something.
Dr. Paley himself opens the door and there is nobody in his office but him. After seating myself I hand him the Tic-Tac container with my tooth in it. He says he's only going to make a stop-gap procedure and he puts my tooth back in with white cement. I ask him if he doesn't think that the root is decaying because it is not white but grey. He says that to take care of that he would need to completely rebuild the root but he can't do it today. He makes a fuss about my not touching my tooth while the cement is hardening and puts some cotton against my gum. "It's for your lip." I ask him how much it would cost to rebuild my tooth and he says $650. I am surprised and he says "That's my fee". But in his ad he said that his prices were reasonable! $300 more than Dr. Herbin!
Friday the 13th: I hadn't seen it coming this one, yet I should have but somehow it eluded me until some time in the afternoon. I knew it was Friday, I knew it was the 13th, but I didn't connect.
At 12 I'm at Dr. Herbin's. One of his assistants says she's looking for my chart and can't find it. There's an old man asking Dr. Levine something about hydrogen peroxide mouthwash (last July the Dr. had told me to wash my mouth with a solution of it) then there's a guy who comes out of Dr. Herbin's office and at the reception window starts speaking about his insurance. Next Dr. Herbin's assistant comes to see me and speaks to me behind her mask so that her voice is muffled. Then I'm asked to the tiny sanctum. I say I have seen another dentist who put the tooth back with temporary cement and I want him to do the serious work. I couldn't hide the fact that I had seen the other dentist since he had put my tooth back. I told Dr. Herbin about the root that doesn't look healthy. He said something about the duty of a dentist not to do the kind of thing like putting a crown on a root that's not healthy or treated, and that anyway it was against the dentist's interest to do that since it would bring him more money to do the job completely. Dr. Herbin looked at the tooth but I was not ready to go through a new session and I said I didn't want anything done today, but just wanted to discuss the matter.
As I'm leaving his room, he says something about my fancy suit. It's the hounds-tooth one with the pleated skirt. I say "You call this "fancy"?" He says he doesn't know, his father would call it a Philadelphia lawyer suit. "I don't know what you're talking about." I say. He has no business talking to me about my appearance. I come to see him about my teeth.
[In the New York Times Magazine one or two weeks later, in the “On Language” section by William Safire, there’s an explanation of the expression “Philadelphia lawyer”.]
In the waiting room I had started to read an article about the mob and how the young generation is fucking up and doesn't play by the old rules. For instance there was a taboo about murdering their blood relatives but now this taboo has been broken. Since the issue of the New Yorker is current, I go to the next news-store to buy the magazine but next week's issue is there already and the current issue has already been sent back. I complain about this state of affairs to a man who works there, protesting that the week isn't over yet, and a black man who was standing close to me, neither looking at anything nor buying, enters th conversation and after a few words he speaks to me I see that one of his front teeth is missing.
5.31: During the past three days I have realized the following: the Snow White episode when I was three years old. Mme Feminier who was babysitting me showing me the pop up fairy tale and mom coming to fetch me and apologized profusely for the inconvenience, against the lady's protest, and my feelings hurt, unable to speak about what had just happened to my mom and me realizing that mom was like the evil queen in the fairy tale I had just learned. Maybe from then on I distrusted my mother and was afraid of her and that was what gave her the idea of the dentist sessions.
* * *
1995 - FEBRUARY
Wednesday the 1st: 2PM appointment with Dr. Herbin. When scheduling the appt. I had asked him how long he would keep me and he had said one hour to one hour and a half. He had said he would need to make a two-teeth prosthesis. I don't think it's a good idea for front teeth and if he wants to go ahead I'll tell him I don't want him to do it.
Once I'm seated he says that he used a short post on the tooth that fell out because of the very hard cement used by the French dentists that he couldn't drill through. I feel like asking him "What is your drill bit made of? Marshmallow?" but I don't say it. He says also that it's because of a broken post that's stuck in the root canal that he couldn't dislodge. Then he pulls out my X-ray chart and where the X-ray of my tooth should be, the spot is empty. He says that it must have slipped, although the cardboard support is constructed to prevent such occurrence, and he doesn't even look inside my file to search for it. I ask him if the root is healthy because I saw it was grey and I'm concerned that it would decay further. He says the color doesn't mean that the root is decaying and I shouldn't be concerned about it. I ask him where does he think that the broken piece of post comes from, because the crown he put on my tooth was the first and only crown ever made for that tooth. He says he doesn't know and he sounds very tired. He removes some excess cement that is sticking to the top of my tooth. I ask what he intends to do now. He says "Nothing, I cemented your tooth with durable cement. You didn't have a problem for five years, so you shouldn't have a problem for another five years." I say I thought he had put temporary cement so that he could work again on my tooth today. He says I must have been mistaken. I say I had refrained from using that tooth because I thought the cement was temporary, I didn't even dare to brush it as vigorously as the other teeth because I feared it would fall off again, and I had chewed on the other side of my mouth. I say I don't want him to work on my tooth if it's not necessary and I'd rather not have to see him. "I don't take it personally" he says "So I can use this tooth normally then?" I ask. "Well, noooo...." Go figure.
I'm relieved that there is nothing to do and jump up from the torture chair in good spirits. As I put my coat back on, I ask him what is the problem with the gum inflammation where my tooth is and he says "Just brush it" and he sounds totally exhausted. So the inflammation was due to bacteria proliferation because I had refrained from brushing that tooth hard enough.
* * *
* * *
I read again the CPLR (Civil Practice Law and Rules)in the evening, with my tooth killing me, and I had the epiphany: "But of course!" I had read the wrong rule! As simple as that.
Saturday the 14th I could at last go to the dentist to take care of an abscessed tooth that had been increasingly painful. My palate was so swollen and tender it was torture just to swallow liquid. And the tooth in question is a bridge supporting molar, and the dentist says the reason of the abscess is that no root canal has been done on the tooth, although this is the second bridge, so two dentists have made a bridge, and none of them did a root canal. Unbelievable.
Copyright 2003 by Brigitte Picart - May be printed for fair use.
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