My Father, the Dentist, and I

Lana Kristan

© Copyright 2022 by Lana Kristan

Photo by Rafael JuŠrez from Pixabay,
 Photo by Rafael JuŠrez from Pixabay,.

This story is about my struggle with my fear of dentists. I also tried to present my relationship with my father in the story and hope it doesnít overshadow the representation of my greatest fear. I struggled with finding the topic for this story when I remembered this day from only a week ago.

The glare of my eyes was internal, though my feelings could have been read from my features if my father had known me at least a little. He knew the version of myself that I presented to him; obedient, quiet, and pretty. He didnít know that under the mask I put up for him was a fierce girl with ambition and full of chaos. The one thing that didnít slip past him, that I tried very hard to hide, was my anxiety.

We climbed up the stairs of the small rundown-looking mall, which was filled with bars and stores. My pace matched his, even though he huffed while he struggled to ascent. He had problems with both of his knees and getting rid of his beer belly. It remembered me of the time when we still understood each other, the time when I would snuggle up to him as a little girl and pat his stomach.

A lot of things had changed, our relationship and his status of only having two children. What didnít change, was his love for cheap alcohol. I wasnít the youngest of his children anymore, which was why I was surprised he was finally giving me an ounce of attention.

When we finally arrived at the upper level, where the dentistís office resided, we had to walk down another hallway to arrive in front of the wooden door. The white paint on the walls was peeling and the stone floor was filled with small ants, which I hadnít noticed, but my father later pointed out.

ďOh, I used to go to my therapist here,Ē the words escaped my mouth before I could have stopped them. I remembered the first time he noticed the scars on my forearm on a trip to grandmaís house. It was three years after I stopped cutting that he finally noticed the white lines staining my arm. He stared at me for only two minutes after I told him that was ancient history. We never spoke about it again.

My father only grunted after my words, almost as if he was angry that I mentioned going to a therapist. He hadnít even known I went to one and honestly, I didnít even remember my therapistís name. I only went into the dark room three times, before I decided I was going to heal myself. Those days were long behind me.

We only sat on the soft bench in front of the dentistís office when I already started shaking. My irrational fear of dentists ran far deeper than into my soul, it had reached into my childhood too. I was later surprised that my father shared my fear of the dentist. It felt weird being on the same side as my father after so many years of feeling like he was a stranger.

ďYou could put a tattoo over that. I saw one of a zipper that would fit,Ē my father pointed toward the place where I had to get five stitches. That scar was on my right hand and was there because of a removal of a birthmark that would turn into skin cancer or something. I never really listened to adults when I was younger, I only did what I was told with voiceless nods.

I ran my fingertip over the scar, ďI quite like it like this. I think it gives me more personality.Ē I shrugged as if his words hadnít affected me. They had almost gone over my head, but I tried to focus on anything other than the dentist behind the door to our right.

ďThatís not what I meant. I saw a picture of a zipper tattoo over a scar like yours and mine. It looked cool.Ē He didnít smile and even if he did, his smiles never gave me comfort. They were almost mocking, thin-lipped and taunting. He even turned to his right and made fun of a woman that walked past us, saying something about how old she looked. With his salt and pepper beard, he didnít look young either, but I didnít say anything about that. I only scolded him for his behavior, surprising him that I spoke against him. My older sister was the one that took over the role of the backtalking rebel in our family and had to face my fatherís angry episodes. I was lucky that he didnít snap over small things or my words would blow up in my face.

The door of the dentistís office opened, and a woman walked out. After the door closed, I finally let out a breath I didnít know I was holding. My glare focused on my trembling hands before I clenched them into fists. I turned back to my father to focus on something other than drilling sounds and a light in my eyes.

ďThere are so many ants on the floor, do you see that?Ē My fatherís complaints snapped me back into reality. There were no drilling sounds, the door must have been soundproof. It was all in my imagination. I glanced down at the floor, no ants in sight. His vision had been better than mine ever since I hit puberty and was in need of thick glasses.

The door opened again, the head of a man in his early fifties popping out. He wore glasses that made his eyes look three times bigger and his greying hair reached past his ears. He offered a silly grin to my father and turned his gaze toward me.

ďHow grown up you look,Ē his friendly voice made my shoulders slump in relief. For a second, I thought he would be the same as my last dentist, who shuffled bad music on his speakers and spoke about the bad quality of my teeth.

ďThis is the younger one,Ē my fatherís tone completely changed. He seemed different than the person I knew him as. I didnít remember the man before us, yet my mother informed me that my father was very close friends with him for many years.

I always knew that some people werenít meant to be parents and that my father was one of them, even though he had one child more than my nurturing mother. He may have been a good friend and maybe even a good father to my younger half-brother, but he had made a lot of mistakes with my sister and me before he became someone decent. At least I hoped he was different, because I only saw him once every month, maybe even less and I was still afraid of him.

After we entered the office, which seemed like an updated version of the hallway we waited in. There was green paint on the walls and the soft bench had polished gold detailing. I offered the unfamiliar man in front of me a wave and a smile, which might have been forced, but I was good at concealing my feelings.

He invited me into the room about which I had countless nightmares and only walked into when someone dragged me into it. I uttered a curse word, which was heard by my father, who let out a roar of laughter. He had always been the one who supported foul language, but I never felt comfortable using it in front of him.

ďSheís the same as me,Ē he spoke to his dentist friend. At first, I didnít know that it was a code. I didnít know he meant that I shared the fear of dentists with him. Which was why I turned around and glared at him.

ďWhat?Ē I asked my tone one that he had never heard. I tried to play it off as playful and he bought it. I guess he really didnít know me at all.

The chair in the middle of the room and the tools to the right made the scene look like one from a horror movie. Another thing I shared with my father was my love for scary movies, which my mother hated. My mom was a soft soul and had too much kindness in her heart, which was why it took her so long to divorce my father. Even though my sister was younger than ten, she had something close to a party when he left with his bags in tow.

ďWhy are you afraid of me?Ē I froze at that question. The dentist stared at me with those big eyes, his arms crossed over his chest. My hands started sweating, causing small tingles to spread around my palms. I rubbed the skin against the fabric of my army green dress and shook my head with a nervous laugh.

ďI donít know if itís a false memory or if I made it up, but I remember when they would pluck our teeth out in kindergarten. I remember waiting in line and walking to the table. The shiny silver pliers on the wooden desk, a tremble going down my spine.Ē I didnít tell him about another unfortunate experience when a woman drilled into my mouth and ignored my tears and whimpers. I had to be around seven. I never had luck with dentists. I had to change five dentists in the last year until my father finally caved and called his friend.

ďItís possible that happened,Ē a rock rolled off of my heart when he uttered those words. Someone believed me. Even my mother, who believed every single thing I told her, was skeptical when I told her the story. The kindergarten teacher asked us if any of us had loose teeth and pulled them out with the pliers.

After that, he told me I had a lot of holes he had to fix, though he had complimented my perfectly straight teeth and questioned if I wore braces, which I did for three torturous, depressing years. He even told me he had more seals in his teeth than I would have after he would be finished.

When I had to walk back into the waiting room in the office, with the polished golden seating bench, a small smile grew on my face. Not only because someone believed my story from kindergarten, but also because I felt safe with a dentist for the first time in my life. I was still sure that the dentist was on the list of the top most scary things in my life right beside math, sports, and my father, but at least my hands stopped shaking.

I am from Slovenia, which is a country right beside magnificent Italy. My nineteenth birthday will be in less than two months and I have been writing seriously since my freshman year of high school. My two best friends are my mother and sister, who will always be the first to read any of my short stories or novels. Sadly, none of my projects have been published yet. I am an average writer in my native language and a bit better in English. I have applied to college and will major in journalism. There are a lot of hobbies that I tried my hand at, I even competed in dancing and was pretty good, but writing has stayed with me the longest. Almost every night I fight sleep and read past midnight while listening to music. The best things in my life are my family, chocolate, my imagination, and trees.

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