One of the first stories I ever wrote was at St. Catherine’s, the British Embassy school in Athens, in response to an open assignment when I was eight. I started writing with no clear goal and got completely carried away with it, until I had covered pages and pages with my messy scrawl. In the story, I went to the dentist for what I thought would be a routine check-up, but little did I know that he had other plans. As soon the evil dentist had me in the chair, he anesthetized me, and I was kidnapped and sold into slavery in America. Somehow, eventually, I managed to escape and returned to tell the tale.
After painstakingly rewriting a fair copy, I handed it in, all ten pages of it. I knew that it was not a very ‘nice’ story, not quite what my teacher, Miss Tutte, had had in mind, but told myself that she had said we could write anything, and she hadn’t specified how long it should be. In fact, Miss Tutte was a little taken aback. Although she gave me good marks for the story, she managed to make it clear that they were based more on the sheer quantity than on the quality or content of the writing. And in her end-of-term report to my parents she noted in her characteristically nonjudgmental way that my compositions were “somewhat macabre at present,” adding, “doubtless this is a passing phase!”
I have no clue where my idea for the story came from, since we hadn’t learned about American slavery at St. Catherine’s (where we studied strictly English history, and somehow covered neither the British role in the slave trade nor the American Revolution), and I don’t think my parents gave me Uncle Tom’s Cabin until a couple of years later. And why the malevolent dentist?
Now I know: now that I have been immobilized, anesthetized, jack-hammered, and returned to myself swollen and in agony. I always wondered why other people dreaded and feared the dentist’s chair, but I had never before undergone a root canal; and never before had I been given a form to sign while in a compromised position—in the chair, under a floodlight, with the dentist and his assistant already masked and prepping—that waived my right to hold the dentist accountable should anything go wrong. When it did go wrong and I went back to the dentist with a face swollen to twice its normal size, his first words were, “Remember, I told you that this might happen.”
In my childhood story I got away. Now, having signed away my rights, I have no recourse but to take my antibiotics and, should the situation continue to worsen, to deliver myself back into the hands of the very same person who put me in this position to begin with, or to another member of his fraternal order—all of whom, I suspect, take a solemn pledge never to break ranks with their clan.
Paranoid, you say? I wonder.