Every day after school let out, my girlfriend and I would sprint back to her house to listen to Minnie Riperton’s “Loving You” (is easy ‘cause you’re beautiful). It was the number one song in the spring of 1975, back when I used to wear my hair in pig tails and skate circles in our driveway, trying to avoid the rainbow-colored oil stains. My dream was to be able to hit the high notes like Minnie did, but they came out sounding like my cat when we left her out at night.
It wasn’t until 1986, as an undergraduate voice major, that I learned exactly what Ms. Riperton was doing to make those sounds. She was using a part of the voice called the whistle tone. Turned out, Ms. Riperton was classically trained, just like me. I never did figure out how to get my whistle tone to sound as good as she did, but at least I knew what to call it.
You see, I like knowing things. I like answers. I’m thrilled to be living at a time when that I can type ‘“Loving You” 1970‘s’ into Google and within 0.65 seconds learn that Maya Rudolph (actress and comedian) was only two years old when her mother recorded those famous high notes.
When the doctor rang the doorbell, I was lying on my side in a puddle of my own tears. I had an earache—the third one this summer. It seemed so unfair that something as fun as swimming could cause me so much pain. It felt like that time my brother accidentally slammed my fingers in the car door, but inside my ear.
My mom tried to feed me dinner before leaving for her bowling banquet, but I was not in the mood. She was getting a trophy. Trophies had a special place in our house—the mantel right in front of the big painting of Elvis on black velvet. So far, my brother had three and I had two and now my mom was going to have one for coming in first place.
Earlier that day, I asked my Dad if we were going to buy a new shelf for all of our trophies, because we were going to run out of room on the mantel, but he just grunted and slid back under the beat up old truck he was always working on.
When I heard the doctor coming up the steps I flipped my damp pillow over and wiped my eyes and nose on the sleeve of my nightgown. He stopped just outside my room and talked in whisper sounds to my Dad.
No doctor had come to my house before. My mom told me that I wasn’t going to get a shot, so I wasn’t as scared as I usually am when I go to the doctor’s office. I’d give up lollipops for life if it meant no more shots.
When Dr. Clements walked into my room, he was carrying a doctor bag that looked almost exactly like the one I got for my sixth birthday last year. Mine came with a pink stethoscope and a tongue depressor and I wondered if his did too. He smelled a little like my grandpa and my Dad’s work shoes and he looked a lot like that man from “All in the Family.” I wasn’t allowed to watch that show, but my Mom said he was a stitch. I did not understand one bit why funny people were called stitches. I got stitches once and it wasn’t funny at all.
As he examined me, he spoke to me in questions, ending every sentence with “OK?” Mostly, I nodded and tried to be a big girl, like my Mom told me. I kept waiting for him to use his stethoscope or the tongue depressor, like I did when I played doctor. But he was busy feeling around my neck and chest for swollen glands. His hands were cold under the gloves, even though his brow had sweat bubbles.
The sound of my father wheeling himself back and forth under the truck and tossing tools around in the driveway seemed to get the doctor’s attention, because he kept looking out the window.
“I have one last thing I need you do to for me, little lady, roll over onto your tummy, OK?” he said.
I don’t know why, but something about the next exam didn’t feel right, even though he kept whispering I was going to be OK.
Years went by, forty of them, before I had the courage to google his name. In 0.55 seconds, I learned that Dr. Clements enjoyed 25 more years in practice after what he did to me.
I wonder if he regretted what he did. Google doesn’t have an answer for that.