Dr. Herbin says that the remedy to my problem is to scrape the whole area along the jaw, on the lengths of several teeth (maybe five or six) because generally those problems do not limit their spread to one tooth but infect the whole area. "That's true, I say, because when the pain was at its worst, I felt like the whole bridge was throbbing". He gives me a strange look. "So this is what we are going to do for you" he says. "That's surgery. Dr. Levine will do it, he's very good at it." Shit, having my gum cut open and the bone scraped, the blood, the pain, the discomfort, even with anesthesia, the days of recovery, and the count-down!
He puts his instrument away in a tired and disgusted way. I lean back and a blink later, he's standing near me, towering above, and says "Rense!" in a tense voice with a disgusted air. I'm surprised and ask him to repeat. "Rense!" he repeats. I'm taken aback by this commanding attitude and still don't understand what he said. I raise my head, incline it a little bit and closing my eyes a little I ask slowly "Whaaat?" He says the word a third time and this time, seeing that I still don't get it, he tells me to get up and rinse and gestures at his sink behind me. He has a look of utter disgust as if he had seen something really yucky and shameful in my mouth, although I know there is no suppuration and I don't have any solid matter to spit out. That's why in the first place I don't feel the need to rinse my mouth and that's why I didn't understand his order to "rense".
I finally understand that he told me to rinse my mouth. In the past, this function had been performed as follows: an assistant had proffered a paper cup in one hand and a narrow-mouthed funnel connected to a vacuum pipe that I could spit in after rinsing my mouth in the other hand, and this time the assistant and the apparatus were absent, so I didn't understand that Dr. Herbin wanted me to rinse my mouth, particularly since I didn't hear the "i" of "rinse". Also I was baffled by this sudden change of attitude, from helpful and comforting to threatening and rejecting. I would never have expected that a dentist could show disgust at his patient. Maybe he's in the wrong line of work.
After I get the message I get up and find a paper cup with blue water in it for me to rinse with and I rinsed twice. While looking at the myriad teeth around me I think about the tooth fairy as a kind of queen bee with a myriad of tiny fairies, each one accountable for one tooth from the birth to the death of the person. Each fairy must know the entire story of the tooth and do her best to preserve it and account for it to the Queen Tooth Fairy.
When I'm finished rinsing Dr. Herbin asks me to follow him to the office, and once there asks me to sit down on the client's chair. He says in a flattering tone that he's sorry he doesn't know the French word for the gum disease I have although he actually said it, pyorrhea and "pyorrh‚e" being the same thing and I say it doesn't matter, I'm losing my French myself. Then he asks the receptionist to schedule a half-hour appointment with Dr. Levine. The receptionist gives me an appointment at 11 for the 27th of June. While she's looking for a date, Dr. Herbin writes a few lines on my chart and I see my chart is several pages long. No wonder. After he's finished writing I ask if I could take a look at my chart and there's a brief silence and Dr Herbin says "sure." I see I started being treated by him in march of 87 and spent an awful lot of money on my teeth but before I can go any further I feel two taps on my right shoulder and dr. Herbin, standing behind me says "You should take better care of yourself". What am I doing in his office if I'm not taking care of myself? And haven't I done everything I could for my teeth short of implants? I thimk maybe I misunderstood him and repeat "Better care of ...myself?" and he says yes. Either he was saying this out of concern for my well being, or he was saying it with hostile intent. But why should he be hostile? So I take his words as well-meaning although I feel under attack, and it's this concern for me that starts me crying. I get up and say to him "You know what?... You know what?.... as tears sudddenly pour out of my eyes. He motions to me to follow him to his room. I say that I'm taking care of myself emotionally, that I've been taking good care of my emotional life for the past several years, and that anyway how could you expect anybody to take good care of themselves when their mother didn't teach them to do so? That people learn to take care of themselves from the way their mother took care of them when they were children. (It had popped up recently that it had made my mother feel angry and vengeful every time I did something that was positive, what could be called taking care of oneself, and on the contrary that she had silently approved when I was acting out self destructive and antisocial impulses.) "Nobody ever tells me to take care of myself, nobody cares for me" I say, reaching for the tissue in my pocket.
Tears are flowing down my cheeks but I'm not falling apart. I say: "Do you know what I've found out? Do you know what I've found out? "What, what?" he says excitedly. I say "I found out that when I was three or four years old my mother took me to the dentist several times and she had the dentist drill under my baby teeth and damage the germs of my adult teeth." "How did you find out?" he asks excitedly. "By putting together bits of information" I reply, "and because my adult teeth turned bad as soon as they grew and my parents didn't allow me to receive the care I needed." I say that I've had tootache all my life, that I didn't dare to complain, that my parents forced me to start working as a low paid clerk and that I couldn't afford... "Yes, you couldn't afford the expense of dental prostheses!" he put in. "...and they wouldn't help me financially either" I added, still wiping the tears from my eyes. "Yes, he said with a firm voice, but you must forgive your mother and get on with your life." "But I can't get on with my life because she's still doing it, she's still harming me. She pays people off to harm me, even today, I can't trust anybody, because every person who is in a position to help me, she pays off to harm me. And as I'm saying this, I vaguely wonder if this applies to him too. If a dentist could do what Dr. Capron had done to me when I was three, why wouldn't another dentist do something else now that I was forty?
I think about telling him about the "accident" but I decide not to. I tell him my father has died and he says "Oh, I'm sorry to hear that." but I continue about how my mother and siblings won't let me have my share of my father's estate while I'm living in bad conditions here in New York and if I had the $300,000 I could have a much better life and take better care of myself. "Yes, he says, but you must forgive her because she's your mother." "But how can I forgive her? Some people go to jail for that, because what she did to me is a kind of ...mutilation." Now I was made to feel guilty for holding my mother responsible of the horrible thing she did to me. The concept of responsibility was turned inside out and what the law considers aggravating circumstances to an assault, when the offender is a parent and the victim his or her child, was used against the victim to make her feel guilty.
He moved towards the door and said "Well, maybe you need a lawyer." "I can't have a lawyer, I say, because all the lawyers I've had, she has paid them off to advise me against my interests. She pays off everybody around me so I am all alone, I have no boyfriend, no work relations, nobody who cares for me, you understand, nobody who cares for me." And I keep weeping. "And the reason I left my country in the first place is because my parents wouldn't let me live." "Well, maybe you need a psychologist." and I say that I've had a psychologist but that my mother had paid her off too to give me advice against my interest. He tells me that I don't need a personal psychologist, but that I could go to some service that's available to people like me... "Who don't have money, you mean?" I ask and he starts speaking about some service and mentions Roosevelt Hospital on 59th street." In other words he's telling me that (a) I should accept the situation of not having money and (b) that by going to a service that's free, it's going to eliminate the pay-off problem, which is no guarantee at all. I regain my composure and stop weeping. "But I've been working on my problems on my own. You know, I'm crying now because I never said this to anybody before, but otherwise I am able to see the situation clearly and dispassionately. I know what's going on." He remains silent. "Well", I say on a practical tone, to end the exchange. "You've said that it would be Dr. Levine who would do the job? and Dr. Herbin said yes. "OK, I'll see you then" I say and leave.
Once on the sidewalk, I'm disoriented, I don't know whether to go right or left, I'm dizzy and start towards Central Park, towards some silence and greenery, thinking I'll get home through the park. But then I'll have to fill my prescription for antibiotics at the drugstore on 104th and Columbus where the people are mostly hispanic and the store is not too pleasant. But I prefer to have it filled at the same drugstore I went to the day before and I retrace my steps and walk to the drugstore still weeping behind my gilt five dollar shades.
The people in the drugstore don't seem to notice my weeping or at least they know how to handle a weeping customer, and a woman I have seen the day before comes to ask me the usual questions and she says there will be around fifteen minutes wait but in fact the prescription is ready in around five minutes. So maybe they expedited the matter out of sympathy for me. I wondered if it happened frequently that one of their customers would be weeping while having their prescription filled. It must happen every time people have just been diagnosed with some bad stuff. Maybe they thought I had just been diagnosed HIV positive.
After all, maybe you could think so from my face, although I didn't have any active or upcoming pimple at the time. The three of them were in a stage of dessication and healing, althought there always was the occasional hard-as-stone matter that would come out, announcing itself with pain, coming up from unsuspected depths in the dermis. I mean there was no inflammation at this point, no red angry head threatening to burst out and spill its hatred around, just scars, old ones and newer ones still reddish.
For the past few days I had been wearing "spot" band aids to allow the ripest pimple to heal undisturbed by my nervous fingernails and thereby prevent the endless cycle of a new pimple appearing just as the previous one was healing.
As a matter of fact I had realized the enormous impact that this act of self-care had for me, because now, instead of covering-up the pimple with make-up, and pretending it didn't exist, by covering it with a bandage I acknowledged its existence and I was actively taking care of myself in the eye of the outer world. And just as I feel some pride and optimism about taking good care of myself, my dentist draws away from me with disgust as if my mouth stank unbearably and tells me I'm not taking good enough care of myself. Could this be mere coincidence?
But there is more to my taking care of my face. I realized that the skin problems that have plagued me are heavily charged with meaning. One of them being that by covering-up the problem, I was re-enacting the cover-up situation endlessly, with the desesperate hope that if I did it enough, I would finally convince myself that covering-up was the appropriate thing to do in life; I was re- enacting the way my family had always dealt with problems: pretending the problem didn't exist, and preventing anybody from speaking about it either by forcing them to participate or by threatening retaliation if anybody asked questions.
And the moment I decide to aknowledge the problem and deal with it corresponds to the period I understand the cover-up about my accident and decide to let the truth out. It is a strange coincidence that shortly before my toothache started I had been thinking about my siblings' alleged dental problems: Veronique who said she had pyorrhea, Elisabeth, Fran‡ois had all said that they had serious dental problems. And there was also this woman who was an immigration client when I worked at Kleefield's office. We had met occasionally and she had always said that she had bridges and she fussed a lot about special floss for her bridges, and I remembered clearly that once she had said to me that she had undergone oral surgery to remove a gum infection, exactly what Dr. Herbin said I had, and what I couldn't have because this problem could occur only to real teeth. At this point I wondered if it wasn't like the people who said they had had a broken limb when I was wearing a cast: to drown my problem in a multitude of similar problems. If it wasn't true that my siblings and this woman Michele had these dental problems, then they pretended to have them to make me believe that there was nothing special about my own, it was a manner to cover-up the truth, because the truth was that my mother had heinously created these problems in a fashion that made it difficult to lay the problem at her door.
Trouble is, I was born with a need to know the whys and wherefores of things and I finally understood the connection between the dentist's work when I was three and the endless problems that I've had starting around age seven. And at age three, I put my hand in hers for comfort while she betrayed me, while the dentist was officiating his criminal misdeed for her, and addidng insult to injury by ridiculing me for being nervous and calling me "la pile ‚lectrique". The fact that he compared me to an item that my father was selling in his appliance store confirms my belief that my early dental torture was necessary only to my mother's diseased mind. How much did she pay him to destroy my teeth? To ruin my health, my happiness, my social life?
Walking back home the mist of confusion dissolves and all the elements fall into place nicely. By acting disgusted, Dr. Herbin had made me feel rejected, unacceptable but most of all ashamed, so I was weakened to deal with what was going to ensue. His diagnosis of pyorrhea was erroneous. I had an inflammation but not an infection. So there was no need to scrape my jaw bone. And besides, my problem was not comparable to the skull's he had shown me, because the tooth where the inflammation was was supporting my bridge, therefore the problem, the alleged pyorrhea couldn't spread along. So that was why Dr. Herbin had given me this strange look when I had said that the whole bridge was throbbing. He wanted me to allow my gum to be cut open to scrape the bone around teeth that I didn't have.
But why did he want to deceive me, and make me undergo a painful procedure that was unnecessary? To prevent me from attending my case in court, of course. Maybe in addition to the oral surgery, Dr. Levine had been instructed to create a bit of infection so that with a raging tooth ache I would be in the worst possible conditions to deal with my lawsuit. Maybe I would have to return to the dentist's several times and in any event, the dental problem would take precedence over the legal problem.
Hadn't Dr Herbin spoken to me as if he was my mother's spokesperson? He had told me that I should forgive my mother because she's my mother, although he had an intimate knowledge of the devastation she had visited upon my teeth and by saying I should forgive he was laying a guilt trip on me. He was clearly acting on behalf of my mother. Maybe, with some devilish trick of hers, my mother had created the inflammation in the first place, to make me talk to the dentist, and assuming that I trusted him, to take his advice of forgiving her. And the more there is to forgive, the more guilt is imposed. Logical. So the victim is hurt twice.
So just as I was telling Dr. Herbin that my mother had paid off a dentist to ruin my teeth and paid off everybody in a position to help me, Dr. Herbin had already begun a process of infamous betrayal. Now does he think I found out about him? Does he expect me to submit to the oral surgery on June 27? Is he willing to go ahead with it in spite of the warning he has received?
After entering the building I go to the office to get the Law Journal. Robleto, the painter, is there;. His hair is must shorter than when I met him in the store-gallery. There he had a long, thick tress hanging in his back, now he only has a ponytail with much shorter and much less hair. My attitude with him, since I met him at the long-distance call agency-gallery and after he gave me his address on 111th street and then a few days later I saw he was living here, has been to ignore him, to act as if I had never met him. If he says hello I say hello but I ignore the past event. So Robleto sees I'm there and he says in Spanish to Joey that he thinks I have AIDS. Joey looks at me and my healthier skin and says to Robleto that I speak Spanish too. I say that no, I don't have AIDS. Robleto starts to say that I visited him the other day at his local. Then I interrupt him and say "Yes I have AIDS and I'm gonna give it to you". Joey sees that I'm half-smiling.
Fri. 06.17: I go to the bank to get a safe and a sealed set of keys. First I go to the manager, a fiftyish black woman. I ask her what is the exact procedure when one opens a safe deposit box. I speak about my experience at the 102nd street branch and about my experience at this branch, and I say it didn't go the same way. I say there must be a standard procedure that all the branches abide by so why was it different for me? She says that the standard procedure is to have one's keys given in two unsealed blue envelopes (and she pulls her own out and shows them to me) so that the customer can try his key to make sure they work, and that the guy at the 102nd street branch had done the wrong thing. I say that at the 102nd street branch I was given an envelope sealed by the locksmith and that I opened it in front of the officer and tried them, that the fact that they were sealed didn't prevent the customer from trying them but gave an insurance that there hadn't be any opportunity to make unauthorized duplicates. "But he did it the wrong way" she says. "Do you mean that giving me my keys in an envelope sealed by the locksmith was the wrong procedure?" She had no answer and I said that I would like to know if I'm in the computer because at the 102nd street branch they hadn't entered me into the system. She got up and told me to follow her and we went down to the vaults and the bank manager returned upstairs without talking to the safe-personnel. The same tall young man buzzed me in and I asked first to check if I was in the computer. I was but there was no box number. The young man was very cute and helpful. I asked what happens if I die and you need to know my box number. Of course there were the paper forms I had filled out but the young man said that they called downtown. I ask what is the number downtown and he says he doesn't know. "Could you find out?" I ask. At this point the young man gets up, asks me to wait one moment and disappears into the vault. He returns with the woman I filled the papers with the previous friday. I say Hi, maybe you recognize me from a week ago when I came to transfer my safe from 102nd street? She says that she sees so many people she can't remember them. I ask her how come I got a sealed-by-the-locksmith envelope at 102nd street and not here. She explains that she slits the sealed envelopes herself. "What do you do?" I ask, uncomprehending. "I slit the evelopes open myself and put the keys in the little blue envelopes to save time, because with all the people who moved their safes from 102nd street, I needed to prepare the job in advance so that people didn't have to wait too long." And she opens a drawer and shows me that there are some sheets with two blue envelopes clipped to each sheet, probably with the box number already written. It doesn't make sense. It certainly takes her more time to open the sealed envelope and put the keys in two separate envelopes, than it does to give the sealed envelope to the customer with the box number already printed. But there's no doubt that there are several sheets and envelopes visible in the drawer. "If I can't have a box with sealed keys, I don't want it." I say. I'm saying that I don't trust her and the young man, in other words, but the way I act is that I have a right to the standard procedure and I don't want any excuses not to follow them.
Without batting an eyelash the woman asks in a pleasant voice if I'd like to get a new box with keys that she hasn't unsealed yet and I say ok and she does just that. I see her slit open the ecru sealed envelope with the loscksmith stamp on it. And she actually slits it open with a sharp cutter. And then we proceed to the changing of boxes and the correction of papers and I leave thanking her very much. My number changed from 233 to 133.
I returned home very satisfied and decided that today was a good day to get a copy of my chart at Dr. Herbin's office. Besides if I got it today I'd have it for the week end instead of thinking during the week end that I should get it.
"Hello Ms. Picart" the receptionist says. "Hi" I say. "I didn't have the time to look at my chart the other day and I was wondering if you could give me a copy of my chart." "I have to talk to Dr. Herbin about it. I'll be right back." and she goes into Dr. Herbin's office and returns a few moments later saying that charts are not released to patients. "You mean, I say, that I don't have the right to know what I'm paying for?" she looks a bit embarrassed, then says that charts can only be released to another dentist, for instance if I change dentists, Dr. Herbin will transmit my chart to my new dentist. "If you'd like, Dr. Herbin can review your chart with you but we cannot release it to you." "I'm not asking for the original chart, I'm only asking for a copy of it." "The only copies we can give you are copies of your X-rays, for which there is a charge, but we cannot give you a copy of your chart. By law, we have to keep patient's charts in case something happens to you and your dental records are needed for identification, and we can only release your chart to another dentist, for medical reasons. "And what if I need it for legal reasons?" At this point Dr. Herbin enters the reception area and says to the receptionist: "Give her a copy of her chart, after all I don't care" then he asks me with a smile "You want to sue me?" "Not you, I say, I don't have any complaint about your work." (I want to add "so far" but I hold it back, not to arouse his suspicion.) There are several people waiting and they hear everything, how difficult it is for a patient to have access to his medical records and this could be bad for Dr. Herbin, although I say that I don't have any complaint about his work. "Oh, it's about what you said to me the other day?" "Yes" I say. Dr. Herbin stays around, fussing with the appointment book. He takes a look at me over his eyeglasses. I'm very well dressed. A long saffron dress and a silk kimono top with red, saffron, brown and black print. Black suede Clergerie sandals with painted toe nails. So much, I think, for not taking good enough care of myself. I sit down and look at Dr. Herbin, wondering if my hunch is true, that he's betraying me. He can see that I'm a beautiful woman, even when I look dead serious. Twice he looks at me from above the glasses he wears low on his nose, and twice our eyes meet. Finally the receptionist returns with the copies which she puts in an envelope and hands to me. I take the copies out of the envelope and compare them to the chart. The first page starts in 88. "There's one page missing, I say, I started with Dr. Herbin in 1987." Then she shows me that the pages are not in order for some reason but everything is there. "Very good, I say. Thanks a lot." and I leave.
Sun. 6.19: I spend all day with the anxiety of calling my mother and finally around 4:30pm (10:30pm in France) she's not home. I think that maybe she has realized that since my father's death she has given ample evidence that she had a motive to kill me, and that maybe she's in a panick.
Sun. 6.26: I try again. No answer. I call Veronique's to know where mom is. She's right with her. Here's the transcript.
Tue. 6.28: I'm wearing this sexy summer dress I bought in Paris more than ten years ago just before leaving. It has a deep v neck and a bare back. As I'm entering the building Bonarti calls "Brigitte?" I say yes and enter his office. He says I have this package and the Law Journal. The package is the RICO book I ordered from the Law Journal book service. As soon as he says this he turns his back on me and all I see of him is the nape of his neck. I look at his back with longing for a man who would look like him but who would be good to me. I'm thinking "It would be hard for any man to betray me more than you have betrayed me." and he knows exactly what I'm thinking and that's why he's turning his back on me. It's not because I'm wearing a sexy dress.
In the rare occasions I've seen him recently, he was moving away from me or turning his back to me and it wasn't like that before. As long as he believed he fooled me, he had this cheerful attitude, but since he stole the power tree from my room, he doesn't dare to show his face.
Wed. 6.29: Finally it's not possible to open a bank account in a foreign currency and I fax my account number to Me. Laurent for the transfer.
[July 94 1/2] [ToC] [Home]