*This is a work of nonfiction based on actual events as told to me by my mother, who experienced them firsthand; used with permission.
If you are a certain age, and you went to public school, then you may remember having an on-site dentist on the premises. When I was in public elementary school, I saw the old dentist’s chair in an empty room behind the nurse’s office, and I found the sight harrowing and strange.
I never saw it in use.
When my mother attended the same elementary school two decades earlier, the dentist’s office was always buzzing with activity. Parents could choose whether to have their children see the school dentist during school hours, which I imagine was both incredibly convenient for the parent and terrifying for the child.
The only thing I can imagine that would have made my elementary school experience worse would be adding a dentist to the mix.
One day when my mother was in elementary school, she skipped class. Since my grandmother neither spoke nor wrote English, my mother wrote her own note de ella excusing herself from school the previous day.
To whom it may concern: Please excuse my daughter for her absence yesterday. She was suffering from a toothache.
theremy mother thought, that ought to do it. She handed the note to her teacher the next morning, satisfied she had gotten away with taking a well-deserved day off.
My mother was relaxing behind her math textbook when the heavy black telephone on the wall of the classroom rang.
The teacher answered the phone. “Oh yes,” she said. “She has a toothache. It’s become a real problem for her. She even missed a day of school because of it.”
My mother felt like she would pass out from anxiety. She just knew the teacher was talking about her.
Spoiler alert: the teacher was not talking about her.
There was another little girl in class whose parents had authorized a visit to the on-site dentist to have a tooth pulled, but my mother didn’t know that.
My mother sat quietly in disbelief that her lie could have such terrible consequences and tried to become invisible.
“You can pull her tooth right now? That’s great news. I’ll send her to the dentist’s office right away,” the teacher continued into the phone before replacing the receiver onto the hook.
My mother trembled in her seat.
The teacher called a different student to the front of the class by name, and instead of breathing a sigh of relief, my mother thought, This is strange. Is she having the other girl walk me to the dentist’s office so I don’t get lost or run away?
My mother was confused and nauseated. Her heart raced. She slouched down in her chair and tried to disappear beneath her desk.
The teacher spoke again, once more addressing the other little girl by name. “Go right to the dentist’s office,” she said. “He is available right now. So don’t dawdle.”
My mother watched the little girl leave the room with tears in her eyes.
The teacher hadn’t been talking about her after all, and her baby teeth were safe.
My mother had learned her lesson about faking notes from her mother to excuse herself from school. From that day forward, she only wrote that she’d been “feeling ill,” giving no specifics that could lead to a visit to the dentist or a case of mistaken identity.