My novel, JUST WHAT I ALWAYS WANTED, is completely fiction.
In the book, Cynthia (the main character) listens to her sister Angela’s remembrance of one long-ago Christmas.
Out of 92,000 words, this little anecdote – less than 800 words – is the one little bit of truth. A not-so-fictionalized account of the Christmas when I was five. The parents are my own Mom and Dad, and I am the little girl who received a fabulous present.
“Is my life a waste if I am good at selling clothes? What if this is just what I always wanted?”
Angela smiled in that serene way that makes me want to kiss her on the top of her head. She leaned back in her lawn chair and said to the sky, “What was the best Christmas present that you ever got?”
“The Snow White doll. No question.”
“Do you remember the story of the Snow White doll?”
“Just vaguely,” I answered, although I knew the story like I knew my prayers. But, oh, to hear it again, especially Angela’s version.
“Well,” she began, “that was the year that Mary Ann and I both had whooping cough. Mom wouldn’t leave us, not for a minute. It was just before Christmas, and she couldn’t shop. She had to send Dad out to buy the presents. Dad, who was hard pressed to buy a birthday card for Mom. Remember the time she sent him out for more bows for the Christmas presents and he came back with Hanukkah bows? Mom was beside herself, but he said that they were very pretty and on sale too, and so the Christmas presents that year had red and green paper and blue and white bows…now that I think of it, it may have been the same year…
Anyway, she gave him our Christmas lists that we had written to Santa, and told him to do his best.
On Christmas Eve, it got to be quite late before Mom and Dad started putting our presents under the tree. Mary Ann got the right side, near the piano, and I was on the left, near the door, and your presents were right in the middle, right under the center of the tree. Mom counted every present and made sure we all got exactly the same number of gifts.
‘They’ll count,’ she said, and you know we always did. She actually put away one present for Mary Ann that she saved for her birthday, so it would all be even-steven. She put out books, and games, and lacy socks, and ribbons, and a little horse with hair you could comb for Mary Ann, and a pogo stick for me. Remember that pogo stick? That was my all-time favorite. After everything was laid out and looked so beautiful, Mom sat admiring it all. Then she saw what was missing.
‘Where’s Cynthia’s doll?’ Mom asked Dad.
‘What doll?’ he said. ‘Look at all this great stuff!’
But no, Mom said, ‘Cynthia has to have a doll. She just has to have a doll.’
Well, you were five years old. You had never had a Christmas or a birthday without a doll. And Mom made Dad go out again late Christmas Eve to find a doll. It wasn’t like now, where there’re huge stores all open twenty-four hours. No, everything was locked up tight, and Dad drove around the deserted town looking for any store that might be open. And he finally saw a light. It was Noveck’s Pharmacy, and they were open for ten more minutes. And he bought the Snow White doll.
And he came home with this doll, and Mom gave him cocoa. And took away your crinoline slip and gave it to you for your birthday, so it would all still be even.
The next morning was the best Christmas we have ever had. Dad had interpreted our lists very liberally, and so we got what we had asked for, but in very unexpected ways.
Mary Ann had wanted a Liberace record and a jigsaw puzzle, but she had written it on one line, and Dad actually found a jigsaw puzzle of Liberace. And I got real seashells, when I had asked for seashell barrettes. Oh, we were delighted!
And you! You saw that Snow White doll and it was full-blown love. And when you opened the box and took out the doll, you saw that the cardboard scene behind the doll lifted out. And guess what was behind the cardboard? Why it was all the seven dwarfs. Dad didn’t even know that he hadn’t bought one doll, he bought eight!”
“I’ll love those dolls till the day I die.”
“Do you remember what you said when you saw them? You said, ‘This is just what I always wanted.’”
“It was true.”
“But you had never seen those dolls before. How could they be just what you always wanted?”
“Because I didn’t know it until I saw them.”
“Exactly,” said Angela.
On December 1, I wrote about my pressing need for Patience.
The cause of my patience deficit was, of course, my puppy.
Theo and I had not had a good week. His emerging leash skills had retreated back into the weird cave he seemed to share with Satan. He nipped constantly at the backs of my knees, and for the life of me, I couldn’t understand the fascination with that part of my anatomy. Neither could I fathom his desire to gnaw on my hands, as I had spent a considerable fortune on seven kinds of squeaky and smelly chew toys. He’s gotten bigger, and so has his barking – louder and shriller. And after he had finally seemed reliable on the peepee front, he had suddenly regressed to an attitude of “I think I will pee wherever I happen to be no matter where I am or how small the urge.”
My husband and I tagged-teamed the dog. When I was at my breaking point, he would take over. “Calm” is not a word that I would use to describe my husband, but somehow he found some measure of calmness when I was completely on the edge of berserk. But still, twice that week, I sat down and had a good cry.
Why had I not been satisfied with cats? Even with the smallest kitten – you just show him the litter box and you are done. Training complete.
And they are quiet.
Last week, we went to our fourth puppy kindergarten class. Theo is the oldest, biggest guy there (at five months and 25 lbs) but he is hardly the star pupil. But the teacher has been training dogs for 27 years. She’s a little better at it than I am.
So instead of my usual overt show of cheery optimism – (no matter how I really feel, I always have an enthusiastic “Great!” when anyone asks me how things are going in any aspect of my life) – I confessed to the trainer that I was terribly discouraged.
We stayed after the group class, and the trainer watched me walk around the yard with Theo. He started out great (the little liar) but soon reverted to pulling at the leash, nipping at the backs of my knees, and barking.
And the trainer said,”You don’t have a behavior problem. You have a relationship problem.”
Yes, it seems that Theo and I are not communicating. He wasn’t really Satan. He was a little boy who couldn’t understand what he was supposed to do. So he was confused and frustrated. And making me anxious and angry. “Walk faster and talk slower,” she advised. “And Theo doesn’t want to play rough and tumble with you – he wants that from your husband. He wants gentle hugs from you.”
She showed me (again) how to walk with him. How to soften my voice and use simpler language. What behavior I shouldn’t tolerate, and what I shouldn’t fret about. What touch Theo liked. What he didn’t.
I felt bit better.
We got home and hugged. And played Fetch. Which is boring, but Theo seems to like it – and he does look awfully cute trotting back with a slobbery ball.
We discussed it. Theo and I. I said, “We have a relationship.” He put his nose in my crotch.
And this week, he walked a little better on the leash. Not perfect, but when he even came close to adequate, I lavished my praise.
“We are in a relationship,” I reminded him.
He slept late several mornings this week. I got a little more sleep.
And last night!
I was Christmas shopping online. My husband was playing a game on his cell phone. And Theo was chewing away on a bison bone. (We have a bison farm nearby. Yeah, in Connecticut.)
We weren’t paying much attention to Theo. He was quiet. Which we love.
And I suddenly realized that he had wandered away. I heard him in the kitchen. I was just about to call him (okay, yell at him), when he came prancing back. In his mouth was his leash. He dropped it at my feet.
I was amazed. I clipped on his leash, put on my coat, and took him out. He peed. He pooped. He wagged his tail.
I feel a little like Annie Sullivan.
Last week was Goldie Hawn’s 70th birthday.
I’m about a medium when it comes to celebrity infatuation. I’m not overly obsessed with the famous, but I am not above enjoying People magazine in the doctor’s office.
I like Goldie Hawn. She always had a unique look, and seemed to accept herself just as is. She appears to be at ease, embracing even, the character she created – the ditzy blonde who’s intelligent and shrewd underneath the giggles. And she even produced a couple of movies – like “Private Benjamin” – that exploited (in the best sense of the word) her rather adorable persona.
And on top of that, she has lived her life on her own terms.
So I like her.
And I became mildly incensed – is that possible? – mildly AND incensed? – it seems like a contradiction, but that description feels right – when I saw TWO internet articles recently about
“Stars Who Have Let Themselves Go”
And there she is: Goldie.
In the most unfair way possible.
First these articles show a photo of Goldie in her most youthful loveliness
And then they jump to this:
This pisses me off.
The first photo is a glamour shot – taken by a professional, with hair and makeup and lighting just perfect.
And the second is probably the result of some paparazzi with a telephoto lens shot while Goldie was taking out the garbage or something.
And that’s called “Letting Yourself Go.”
Why wouldn’t they compare the first photo to a comparable contemporary pic? Nicely dressed, hair and makeup done?
Like this one:
Or perhaps, let’s do the opposite.
If you are going to show a bad “Old Goldie” – why not compare to a bad “Young Goldie”?
Or – even better, why not show “Bad Young Goldie” side by side with “Nice Old Goldie”?
And then you could say:
“Stars Who Just Keep Getting Better”
For God’s sake, Goldie is SEVENTY years old! She isn’t letting herself go. She is letting herself AGE. And pretty well, I might add.
And some nasty folks might be thinking, “She’s probably had some work done.” Well, sure. She works in HOLLYWOOD. Where you are not allowed to age, remember?
And while I’m at it, let’s defend Barbra Streisand too, who always makes these “shocking photos” lists.
Instead of showing her horrible aging process:
Wouldn’t it be so much nicer to show her fabulous aging process?
Holy Crap! She’s gorgeous!
Right now! Gorgeous!
In the U.S. there are 43 million people over the age of 65.
And in a few months, I will be one of them.
And we are getting more beautiful every year.
If you were born any time after 1970, you probably remember the energy crisis of 1979.
The revolution in Iran had curtailed oil production. In retrospect the decline in oil production was quite small, but no one seemed to know that then. The crisis was not due to a true oil shortage, but the Fear of an oil shortage. As often the case in history, fear creates overreaction, and overreaction creates panic.
Gasoline prices went up. Deliveries to the local gas stations were rationed. People panicked, and the whole situation got a lot worse.
We waited in long, long lines at the station. Often we wasted gas waiting for gas. A trip to the pump often meant hours away from home. Kids in the back seat fell asleep. Or worse, they had to go to the bathroom and you risked losing your place in line.
There were some displays of anger and frustration. But for the most part, people were patient. (except for the cutting in line part – you did NOT do that.) There was a kind of camaraderie at the pumps – a feeling we were all in this together.
I remember the ’79 Gas Crisis as I was thinking about Patience this week.
I have spent a lot of time in the past several weeks thinking about Patience.
Because we now have a dog.
Theo has just turned five months old. He’s the cutest dog in the whole world. I state this as a simple objective fact. Why just the other day when we were returning from Puppy Kindergarten, I said to my husband, “Theo is much cuter than than that other dog, Luca.” And my husband said, “Yes, he is.” So there.
But as adorable as he is, Theo is not yet what anyone would call a good boy. He pulls at the leash, gnaws on the rug, turns over his water bowl, whines at dinnertime, and eats the cats’ food (and occasionally their poop).
But we’re working on it.
That’s where Patience comes in.
Per our trainer, I need to better ignore the bad behavior and reward the good. But it is so hard to ignore a little boy who is tearing up the mail.
And thinking of the energy crisis and the gas lines, I couldn’t help but wish that Patience was a little more like gasoline:
1. During a Patience emergency, it would be so nice if someone would say, “Hey, I have a little extra. I’ll siphon some off for you.”
2. When you have half a tank of gas, your car will still run at 100%. If your Patience is half-depleted, you lose more than 50% your ability to count to ten.
3. During the energy crisis, if you happened by a gas station with a short line (or by some miracle, no line at all) – you stopped whether you needed gas or not. You took advantage of the opportunity to add just a little more to your tank. Likewise, you should be able to avail yourself of the opportunity to store up a reserve of Patience. A Patience Top-Off.
4. A Patience gauge would be nice. A little indicator that comes on when you are almost empty.There is no warning light for Patience. We need a red flashing sign:
“For your safety and the safety of your loved ones,
please step away from the dog.
Just take a nap.
Both of you.”
Happy Thanksgiving! Here’s a reprise from four years ago:
SECOND HAND ROSE
This Thanksgiving, I am thankful for my sisters.
That’s me in the middle on the first day of school. I was six, I think. That would make Christine (on the left) ten, and Claudia (on the right) just shy of nine.
I loved my sisters. Although my mother will tell you that we bickered constantly. And my mother is telling the truth.
Car rides were our particular battleground. My sisters each got a window in the back seat, with my baby brother between them. He played the role of ‘Fence’. I sat in the front between my father and mother. Because no one would sit next to me. Chris still says she won’t sit next to me in the car. She says it just wouldn’t be right.
I look at Christine smiling benevolently at me in this photo. Gee, I never remember her doing that. Her most common look was disgust. She was very grown up and I imitated (and annoyed) her constantly. I read her library books. I played her records (She had a 45 record carrier with Dick Clark’s picture on the front. And Paul Anka records inside.) I drove her crazy. She was the smartest person I knew. Probably still is. And she smiles at me now like that.
Back when this picture was taken, Claudia’s whole mission in life was to make me laugh. Especially in photographs. How she could make me laugh! She was hysterical. At least I thought so at six. I was in constant peril of wetting my pants every time a camera came out. She was the funniest person I knew. Probably still is. She was born the day after Thanksgiving, and we always celebrated her birthday on Thanksgiving Day. For years she thought that we were giving thanks for the joy of her birth. I think we were.
We weren’t rich. But we didn’t feel poor either. We were just like everyone else in the neighborhood. Lots of two-family houses, lots of kids, lots of grandparents – many of whom didn’t speak much English.
With two older sisters, my wardrobe was predetermined. I wore mostly hand-me-downs.
I know many women who say they resented having to wear their sisters’ old clothes. I can understand why – but it’s funny – I never felt that way.
My sisters were my role models. I wanted desperately to be just like them. And I got to be like them a little bit when I put on their hand-me-downs. And it instilled in me the opposite of jealousy.
Oh, I was plenty jealous of my sisters. I wanted those thick curly pony tails. I wanted a later bedtime. But I didn’t have to want their clothes. I got them. And I wasn’t jealous when they got something new. I wanted nothing more than for them to have the prettiest clothes in the world. I was thrilled with every beautiful new dress they got. It was only a matter of time before it was mine.
And this was not only when I was a dumb little kid. I wore Christine’s bridesmaid’s gown to my Junior Prom. And I was delighted to wear that gorgeous dress.
Now that we are older, people constantly remark on how much we look alike. We will laugh about it again yesterday at the Thanksgiving table.
I wanted to be just like them when I was small. And now I am. Can’t do much better than that.
I have an image of Reincarnation that I would so like to be true.
I wish that Reincarnation was a chance to make the Other choices in your life.
I want to be born again in exactly the same circumstances to exactly the same family. But when I come to those pivotal decisions in my life – those “forks in the road”, so to speak – I want to choose the OPPOSITE this time around.
You know… just to SEE.
As I find myself growing older (and ‘find myself’ is the correct expression here, as I am both ‘finding myself’ in the ‘Self-discovery’definition, and in the ‘Holy shit how did this happen’ definition) I am also finding that I am plagued by What-Ifs.
I don’t really have too many big regrets in my life. I am happy and healthy and I have an abundance of good feelings and good stuff.
But I can’t help but wonder what my life would have been like had I chosen those other options? I want Seinfeld’s Bizarro World in my next life.
My Same Life. But not the Same. The Opposite.
In my first job after college, my company offered to pay for my MBA. What if I had said, “No thank you. I don’t want to be a business executive?” What if I had gone to grad school for Literature as I originally intended? Would I be living in a cottage by the sea now? Or in some brownstone in New York?
What if I had said “Yes” to that other guy who wanted to marry me? Would I have adult children now? Grandchildren with red hair?
What if I had tried harder to get a teaching position? Would I have been happier teaching high school English than doing financial analysis? Would I drink more?
What if I had stayed in Puerto Rico after I finished my student teaching there? Would I laugh more, dance with more joy? Or be all wrinkly from too much sun?
As I said, I am happy with Life as it is right now.
But how curious I am to try the Opposite too.
I have an image in my head lately that won’t leave me. It seems to be the symbol of my questioning regret.
When I first started to work, I lived in a tiny furnished studio apartment over the garage of some sweet elderly folks. And as I progressed in my accidental career, my income went up, and I decided that it would be nice to have a bigger place of my own, with my own things that I could choose and love.
So I started looking for a new apartment. And I found one. It was half of the first floor of an old Victorian house. Not a mansion, but oh so beautiful. This two-bedroom apartment had floor-to-ceilings windows. The hardwood floors reflected the sunlight that poured through those windows. The living room had built-in bookshelves and a spot that invited a piano. And a charming kitchen with a breakfast nook.
It was 1982. I had been paying $195 per month in rent. But with my raises, I had figured I could afford up to $325 per month. And this lovely apartment was $400.
I agonized and made the practical decision. I turned it down and found a simpler place to live within my budget.
But now, thirty-four years later, I am haunted by those floor-to-ceiling windows. By that breakfast nook.
In my next life, I want to have breakfast in that nook.
Would my life be totally different?
In honor of Veterans Day, here’s a reprise of a post I wrote four years ago.
Thank you, Dad, for your service to our country, and for being the amazing father that you were.
THE SMARTEST PERSON
My father died this past Christmas. Yesterday was his birthday. He would have been 89.
My Dad was a man of great intelligence and corny jokes. As an engineer of precision gauges, he had a PhD mind and a high school diploma.
He sang dumb words to old songs. “It had to be stew. Meat and beans wouldn’t do.”
He was a true war hero; he fought in the Battle of The Bulge during World War II. And although he was proud of his service and loved the army, he hardly ever mentioned the two purple hearts that were stored in the attic.
He was good-looking, and I think in his younger days, he was well aware of it. (I look just like him. But that’s not bragging; handsomeness in a man doesn’t necessarily translate to female beauty.) He was perpetually cheerful. He woke up happy. I never heard him swear, and what is more amazing still–I never in my whole life heard him speak an unkind word about anyone.
On Father’s Day a few years ago, after two martinis, he said that having children was the best thing he ever did.
My mother was the advice-giver in the family. I wrote about her wonderful wisdom in “Beyond Clean Underwear-Advice From Mom.”
But my father gave me a few words of advice too. Very practical advice.
– “When you drive at night, keep your eyes on the shoulder of the road. You’ll stay in your lane, and you won’t be blinded by the oncoming cars.” Thirty-eight years later, I still drive this way. It works.
– “If you need a really big favor, go right to the top. People with only a little bit of power are often stingy with it. People with lots of power don’t have anything to prove. They can afford to be generous.” Just try this next time you need a week off to help a family member, or an after-hours delivery. It’s amazing.
Although I have a million memories, I have only one story about my father to share. I only need one, because it tells you everything you need to know about him, about my mother, about the home I was raised in, and the marriage I was privileged to have as an example.
About thirty years ago, I lived in an apartment with terrible and expensive laundry facilities. So even though I was no kid, I still drove to my parents’ house every other Sunday with a basket full of laundry.
My mother was a nurse, and she often worked on weekends. So that Sunday, I put my clothes in the washer, and sat down with my father to watch the game. (I am quite knowledgable about sports, because even as a little kid, I watched games with my Dad. I didn’t love sports; I loved sitting with him.)
Earlier that week, it had been my parents’ wedding anniversary. It may have been their thirty-fifth.
My Dad told me that they had gone out to dinner to celebrate. Still single at thirty, I had yet to find a man I could stand for very long, never mind marry, and thirty-five years seemed like forever.
“Dad,” I asked, “After all these years, do you still find things to talk about?”
He smiled, and his whole face lit up with pleasure.
“Oh yes,” he said enthusiastically. “There’s no one I would rather talk to than your mother. She’s the smartest person I know.”
Happy Veterans Day, Dad
When I was a junior in high school, I missed the same verb on two consecutive French tests.
This pissed me off – only I didn’t say ‘pissed off’ at the time – I don’t think anyone used that term in 1968. I think we were just easing ourselves into “bummed out.”
In frustration – and in the certainty that the word would appear again to screw with me – I wrote it on the back cover of my French text book. No, I wasn’t defacing school property. Back then all textbooks had covers. You usually started out with a cool blue cover provided by the Bristol Savings Bank, but if you were as doodle-prone as I was, by November, you were using brown paper grocery bags.
And I wrote on my paper-bag covered book:
And here it is, forty-seven years later, and I not only remember that Tenir = To Hold, but I remember the present tense conjugation listed below the verb.
This is an incredible example of how just seeing something every day for a period of time will make a permanent impact on one’s brain.
No studying. No effort. Tenir = To Hold has a hold on my brain. Tenir is indelible.
After all these years.
Why not put that subliminal power to work right now?
I don’t need to conjugate any French verbs at the moment.
But there are lots of ideas that would be beneficial if they ‘tenired’ themselves into my brain.
So today I took a sticky note and put it in a place that I visit repeatedly. My favorite spot, so to speak. My obsession. The bathroom mirror.
I gave some thought as to what would be the best message to subconsciously absorb a dozen times a day.
I chose this:
This is a perfect message to osmose into my soul. And I get a triple bonus:
1. Straighten Up!
Put away the clean laundry.
Pick up shoes.
Throw away the junk mail.
2. Straighten Up!
Walk with confidence.
3. Straighten Up!
And fly right.
This is Part Two of my apology to doctors. I have harbored a grudge for too long that medical folk are in love with expensive procedures. Because of course, I secretly think their number one goal is money, not my health.
But I’ve been seriously wrong a couple of times.
The first – my sweet dentist, Dr. Robert Rafaniello, who postponed some dental work so that my parents wouldn’t have to foot the bill. (See: Sorry, Doc. Part One.)
My second example of an amazingly admirable and ethical doctor was a plastic surgeon I visited more than thirty years ago.
I’m sorry that I don’t remember his name. But I remember his words.
I had dated a bit in high school. Not very much, but I did go to the Junior Prom with a very nice boy. And although I may not have been completely devastated, I will admit to being very disappointed that no one asked me to the Senior Prom. I spent Prom night in my bedroom, feeling horrible. (I wish I could go back and tell that sad young girl that she was prettier and sweeter than she – and those boys – knew.)
An interesting thing happened in college. I developed a shyness I had not felt in high school. I was a serious student, and apart from one rather deranged boyfriend, I never dated at all.
And things only got worse in my twenties. I worked hard and got my graduate degree at night. I hardly spoke to anyone of the male persuasion. I got shyer.
I finished my MBA when I turned 30. And suddenly – I had time. I had never had free time. I hardly knew how to fill it. The first week I read seven novels. And on top of all that free time I acquired at thirty – Holy Cow, I was thirty. THIRTY. How the hell had that happened?
I decided I wanted a boyfriend. Maybe even a husband.
But I didn’t even know how to date. Never mind how to find a date.
But I was a very logical young woman. I shamelessly and deliberately made friends with a very social, very pretty woman in my office. We started to go out on Tuesday and Thursday nights. And I watched her. She was a very accomplished flirt. I was a very good study. I just copied what she did, and by the end of the year, I could flirt. A little.
I didn’t have as much luck in the boyfriend department as my beautiful friend, however. I knew I wasn’t particularly beautiful, but plenty of ordinary looking women found spouses. I wasn’t sure how they did it, but I was determined to better my odds.
One thing my pretty friend had that I did not was boobs (Okay, two things). She was well-endowed. Men very much appreciated her well-endowedness.
I was flat-chested. I remember when I was twelve, looking at women’s bosoms and thinking, “Pretty soon I will look like that.” I believed it. I never thought to take a look at my mother and my older sisters. Boobs did not exactly run in the family. I was no exception.
It hadn’t seemed to matter much. But now that I was in the market for a boyfriend/fiance/husband, I thought it might help.
I chose the plastic surgeon because I liked the building where he had his office. If he appreciated the aesthetics of good architecture, he could perhaps create attractive breasts.
The doctor took his time examining me. I was self-conscious but I figured he looked at tiny breasts a lot, and it was probably no big deal. (literally)
“Why do you want breast implants?” he asked.
“Well, I thought I would like to look a little better. My clothes would fit better, and maybe I’d feel a little prettier. Nicer breasts might give me a little more confidence.”
“Go ahead and get dressed and we’ll talk more in my office,”
And when I sat down in front of his big desk, the doctor had some bags of clear thick liquid in front of him.
“These are implants. They look nice and soft but they often get pretty hard as your body forms scar tissue around them. So they will make you look bigger, but they won’t feel like real breasts.” (Note: Maybe they do now; this was 1983.)
He had me hold one in my hand.
“That would make you about a B cup,” he said.
“It looks big,” I said.
“Here’s the thing,” the doctor continued. “Most women come here for breast augmentation because they’re miserable. They hate the way they look. Their self-esteem is so bad, they can hardly function. Their whole thought process is focused on how bad they think they look. But I don’t see that in you. I see a basically happy woman who would like to look a little better. And this is a pretty serious – and expensive – way to look a little better.”
I had to agree.
And the doctor said, “Why don’t you buy yourself a few really beautiful padded bras? And then come back in a year if you still want the surgery.”
That was half my lifetime ago.
I’m still flat-chested.
And it hasn’t matter one bit.
I am confessing to a strong prejudice.
For a very long time I have held the opinion that doctors will always find something wrong with you, so they can treat you. That is how they make money after all.
A surgeon will of course think you need surgery. An ear specialist will think every kid needs tubes and every person over 40 needs a hearing aid.
And worst is the allergist.
My mother, who had a very long career as a nurse, always told me: “Never marry a doctor. They think they know everything. But if you MUST marry a doctor, marry an allergist.Their patients never die – but they also never get better.”
So I’ve always been more than skeptical at anything the doctor said. I remember once going to a dermatologist for a rash that my family doctor couldn’t seem to identify. My G.P. had sent along all the results from the tests he had already conducted. The dermatologist remarked, “That’s a lot of tests. I don’t exactly know why he did them.” And I replied, “To run up the bill?” The dermatologist did not laugh.
So there it is. I have a very bad attitude when it comes to doctors.
But I remembered two events – both happened quite a long time ago – that negate that bad attitude. And I don’t know why they didn’t influence me more.
But it’s never too late to say you’re sorry.
I’m sorry, all you doctors that have passed or will pass through my life. Some of you might be ethical after all.
Here’s the first incident:
When I was a kid, I had a horrible fear of the dentist. I had been badly frightened by a dentist who. let’s just say, was not great with children. My fear was so overwhelming, that for years, when my mother would take me, I would completely panic and refuse to open my mouth. Oh sure, you could pry it open with sheer brute force (which the bastard occasionally employed), but more often that not my mother would end up taking me home with both of us in tears and my teeth unattended.
But eventually I became a teenager, and I wanted nice teeth. And I wanted them to stop hurting. So one night while doing the dishes, I told my mother than I knew I needed to see the dentist but I was very afraid. My greatly feared dentist had a new younger associate, Dr. Robert Rafaniello, and Mom had heard he was very kind. So she called the office and made me an appointment, explaining that I was willing but terrified.
I went. By myself. My mother dropped me off, saying that I might be better off learning to handle it by myself.
While I was waiting in the chair, staring nervously out the window, I saw a guy in a dentist’s coat glide by – on a skateboard. How bad could he be?
Well, Dr. Rafaniello wasn’t bad. He was wonderful. Sweet and gentle and funny.
“Don’t salivate,” he told me once. “My spit-sink is broken.”
He was honest too. I needed extensive work – fillings and root canals. And when he knew it would hurt, he told me so. He said he would be as quick and gentle as possible, but he acknowledged my pain. And that made it bearable.
I had one tooth that was impacted. My jaw was small, and it seemed there had just been no room for that tooth to descend.
“We’re going to have to do something with that impacted tooth,” said Dr. Rafaniello.
And I think my teeth must have been as terrified of the dentist as I was, because that tooth came in the next month. I was sixteen and I had a new tooth. Only, there still wasn’t room for it, so it came down behind the other teeth. I had a brand new tooth on the roof of my mouth.
The next time I visited Rafaniello, he examined the tooth. “Son of a gun,” he said.
“Does it bother you to have that tooth there?” he asked.
“It did at first,” I confessed. “But to tell you the truth, I’ve already gotten kind of used to it.”
And Dr. Rafaniello said something that amazed me then, and still does now:
“That tooth will eventually give you trouble. It is so crooked, and the placement won’t allow for a good blood supply either. I don’t think that it will stay healthy. But you know, your parents have spent a lot of money on your teeth already, and their dental plan isn’t all that good, and now they’re probably saving to send you to college. Why don’t we just wait? It will probably be years before that tooth bothers you, and maybe by that time, you’ll have a job and your own insurance, and you can pay for it. Let’s give your parents a break.”
Eventually, I had to have that tooth extracted. I was thirty-one. My insurance paid for it.
Years later, when I was well into my fifties and Dr. Rafaniello was approaching eighty, I had him fix a tooth that my current dentist said was unfixable. Ten years later, his fix is still holding.
He knew I was a writer and he told me a little of his life story. He went to college on a basketball scholarship, but was injured and couldn’t play. He lost his scholarship. He thought he would have to quit school, but his adviser got him a job at the university’s dental clinic to earn his tuition. That’s when he decided to become a dentist. His parents didn’t have to pay for it.
And my parents didn’t have to pay for my impacted-then-crooked tooth.