My childhood dentist’s office was located in a tall downtown building, one of the only tall buildings in our small town. I bet half of the kids in town went to Dr. Korns for their dental needs. He was a familiar face at the country club- swinging a golf club, playing cards in the lounge or grabbing a meal. He was loud and boisterous. I knew to brace myself for a big bear hug whenever he saw me. He had a bright, friendly smile and a warm laugh. He was awesome…until he had those dental tools in his hands.
That office was a place of horrors for me. Imagine your worst fear. A visit to the dentist was that for me, compound it if I had a loose tooth. To this day, I can still see the look of glee on Dr. Korns’ face as he flipped my loose front tooth out of my mouth and onto the little round tray in front of me. He thought it was an amazing trick. I was traumatized. I once locked myself inside of our metallic blue Chevy Nova with the keys thinking that I could somehow get out of my trip to the dentist if no one could get to me.
My mother resorted to keeping my dental appointments as secrets. She would pile me into the vehicle on the pretense of some random errand. We’d pull into that parking lot and the wailing would begin. As much as I hate to admit it, this wasn’t just when I was a little tiny kid. It was the general rule for my dental check ups well into my teen years. My mom would try to talk to me about how smooth my teeth would feel after the cleaning. She read the jokes from the Reader’s Digest aloud, hoping to get a chuckle from me. The promise of the chalk figurines available as treats following the dental exams didn’t do it for me either. Somehow, it didn’t really matter if I could paint the clown or horse or bunny when I got home. It didn’t outweigh the trauma I would endure while I sat in that chair.
There was a silver lining, even though it was pretty small. The one thing that could grab my attention was the possibility of a walk down the stairs. This old building had a magical staircase. The top floors of the building had the standard linoleum stairs, nothing fancy. But, the last two floors had a grand marble staircase with a wooden and metal bannister that curved as it led the way to the ground floor. That staircase was the only thing that made a visit to the dentist even remotely bearable.
My mother made a deal with me. She promised that I could walk down that gorgeous stairway if I behaved well for the dentist. That basically meant that I couldn’t scream or cry while in the chair. There was a time that I had myself in such a crying fit over a visit to fill a cavity that I actually threw up at the dentist’s office. Definitely couldn’t replay that scene. Flinching or whimpering, well, I had no control over that if there was pain involved. Those things didn’t count. You might think that something as simple as walking down a staircase wouldn’t hold any power over a kid confronted with her biggest fear. You’d be wrong.
This wasn’t just any staircase. It looked like stairs from the movies. I felt like a princess as I walked, no–sashayed, down those stairs. There was something regal and elegant about them. I’m sure my shoulders were straighter and my head held higher as my feet lightly touched the marble. They certainly didn’t seem like the kind of stairs that would lead to a place as terrifying as the dentist’s office. That’s why it was fitting that I was allowed to leave that chamber of horrors with a waltz down these incredible stairs.
As I descended the regular part of the stairs, I’d kind of hop and jump, eager to get to the good stuff. Once my foot hit those marble stairs, my pace slowed down to deliberate steps. I grasped that bannister and tried to make the trek down take as long as possible. When I reached the bottom step, I would turn around to re-do the last few stairs. Sometimes, I did that more than once. My mom was a good sport. She just stood at the bottom and waited for me to finish my fantasy walk. Small price to pay for having a kid who didn’t come unglued in the dental chair.
My fear of the dentist was very real. I hate to admit it, but I was a young adult before I felt kind of okay sitting in that chair. It’s funny to me that a beautiful staircase was all if took to help me face my fears. It wasn’t really anything that special to walk down a flight of stairs. But, those particular stairs allowed my fears to slowly release with each and every step. It was a simple way for me to feel brave and free. All I had to do was walk those stairs.
Sometimes, we just need that marble staircase to find our way down from the dark places in life. They may be hidden or smaller than we expect, but our marble stairs are always there. It just takes a few steps.