In the movie Frances Ha, which I like more and more now that I think about it (and includes the line “Patch is the kind of guy who buys a black leather couch and is, like, I love it!”), Frances goes home for Christmas. There, temporarily escaping her precarious life in New York, she is surrounded by her loving family and does everything you do when you go home, including (not that this was shown, but you can picture it) opening the fridge and finding it bursting with food instead of, say, containing four jars of hot sauce and some wilted cilantro.
One very quick scene at home shows her at the dentist, and you immediately realize that she’s taking care of all the stuff you never do when you’re on your own and narrowly focused on trying to find work and/or rent. This is the moment (there’s always one) that I’ve had stuck in my head for nearly a week now and I couldn’t quite decide whether I was stuck on that feeling of coming home in the midst of chaos or whether it was merely the sight of the dentist.
I decided it was both.
Part I: The Dentist
I have probably mentioned before that I love talking to doctors of all kinds, and once many years ago I managed to have a fascinating conversation with a dentist whose name I have long since forgotten. It came up during the talk that he found being a dentist very stressful since, if you thought about it, your personal space was always being invaded.
He demonstrated by showing me the comfortable distance that people usually like to be from one another (at least, strangers) and then got in my face to show me how dentists spend their entire days. And it was clear that he was not concerned so much about invading other people’s personal spaces as he was about his own personal space being invaded constantly in order for him to do his job. But there really was no other choice, was there?
This reminded me that one of my oldest friend’s fathers was a psychology professor at a local college’s dental school and I always found it fascinating that he taught entire classes on the psychology of patients. Unfortunately, in the course of my talking about this, I found out that my dentist had actually taken classes with this guy and found him to be a terrible professor, brilliant but completely disorganized. This was exactly how I remembered him so it really did not surprise me.
Anyway, my dentist pointed out that he really needed time at the end of the day to decompress before going home and I was thrilled that he was letting me in on this frankly personal detail of his life. Then when he actually was looking at my teeth I could only feel a terrible sense of guilt. All I could think was, There’s just no other way to do this! I pretty much feel this every time I go to the dentist.
Part II: Going Home
When I was about 22 years old, but already living on my own, I returned home one week in the summer to have my wisdom teeth out (for this, I was unconscious, so I do apologize to the oral surgeon who performed this surgery for not at least recognizing how I had unwittingly invaded his personal space). I remember the shock of convenience of my mother’s apartment. If I was hungry, I could just open up the fridge and there was tons of food! If I was reading and needed more light, I simply reached over to my left and there was a lamp right there! The bathroom had clean fluffy towels!
I got to lie around for a week, reading books, half-groggy from painkillers, and I think this week basically ruined for me how the rest of my life would be. Beforehand it was simply taken for granted that living with a parent could be luxurious. During that week I was reminded of this and it felt precious to me. Afterward, it was a vague distant memory, one that I would encounter from time to time, but never with such astonishment and gratitude again.
Partly, I suppose, because I myself started placing lamps conveniently in rooms and filling up my fridge with jars of pickles and hot sauce. My house will never feel luxurious to me because I am always the one that has to be doing the lamp placing and hot sauce purchasing, but it’s very possible that my daughters will one day find it so. And in this way, which is yet one more way I witness myself growing not just older but experienced, I find that without really noticing it I have reached the other side. That is, the place where someone is maybe coming home for a dentist’s visit and finds it full of food, lamps, and clean fluffy towels.