I started seeing my current dentist in 2001 after getting a recommendation from a colleague. I picked him because the internet told me he’d gone to school in Nashville (where I grew up), and because his office was a couple blocks from the Bank of America tower where I worked. His office was pretty shabby, and his practice seemed to be geared toward lower income patients. I was the only guy in the waiting room wearing a tie. Several of the folks sitting around me looked like the guys who’d ask for spare change outside the Shakespeare Tavern across the street. I was uncomfortable and didn’t want to stay.
I was called into the back and met the hygienist, Johnny. He too had been schooled in Nashville, at an HBCU instead of Vanderbilt like the dentist. We talked about college football, landscaping, and his family. He laughed at my self-deprecating humor. I liked him.
Over the next few years, Johnny saw the following milestones through updates every six months while I had my mouth open:
-changing jobs (and seeing their dentistry office had moved to a nicer office)
-deploying to Iraq
-graduating from law school
-buying a new house
-passing the bar
-getting my first job as an associate attorney
-eloping (and learning Johnny’s wife had been killed in a car wreck)
-having my first child
-building a new house near his family’s (but never selling ours, so we never moved into it).
-deploying to Washington, DC
-switching jobs to a new firm (and learning he’d remarried and gone from 2 to 4 kids)
-deploying to Iraq again
-having my second child
-quitting my job to start my own firm
-having my third child
-moving to a new house (a rental) after nearly 4 years of trying to sell
-moving yet again (a purchase)
The most memorable of these visits was when I came in after having my appointment rescheduled to allow for coming home from Iraq in 2003, and instead of waiting on me to come back to his room, he galloped into the waiting room where I sat and gave me a sustained hug. The dentist wasn’t far behind him.
After that visit, the dentist stopped lamenting how boring my 6-month visits were (because I never had cavities for him to fix), and we started enjoying catching up on one another’s non-teeth-related life changes since the previous visit. I’d leave and wonder aloud about such predictions as “I wonder if when you see me again, I will have passed the bar?” or “I wonder if when we next meet, I will have sold our house?” or “I wonder if I’ll ever get married or have a family of my own?”
My visits are in September and March. Today, I got to tell them we’d finally moved into the house in which we plan to stay 20 years and raise our children. And, oh yeah, I need a new cap put on that tooth that got chipped during the fist fight at Whitewater on a church trip in 1986. It was getting discolored.
When I finished, my bride had her cleaning. We scheduled the precursor-to-braces teeth extraction for the 16-year-old and the first cleaning for the 5-year-old.
I gave Johnny one of those “handsome black man handshakes” that includes a hug before paying the bill. On the way out, I told the receptionist something I’m sure she doesn’t hear very often: “Can’t wait to see y’all again!” And then I tried to imagine my life in September 2012.