LA Affairs: I was in love with my new dentist

There was a time in my life when I wanted to be in love more than anything, although I wouldn’t have admitted it. My mother died on my 16th birthday and I hadn’t seen my father since I was 4 – after my parents’ divorce and before he went to prison for drug-related crimes. I thought being in love would heal my grief and make me feel like I wasn’t abandoned because I wasn’t worthy of being loved. I looked for love where I thought I could scrape it, like the gum glued to the sidewalk I tried when I was a toddler.

While working my way through college as a hairstylist, I found a handsome dentist in an ad in a gay magazine in LA called Frontiers. I was neurotic about my teeth and had them brushed every two months. Knowing that the dentist was gay and cute was motivation enough to make my first appointment with him. I told myself I was too young, skinny, and unwanted to become a meet-cute, but that didn’t stop me from donning the role of ingenue. (I was mistaken before.)

I wore a fitted, low-buttoned navy blue shirt I recently bought on Melrose Avenue, along with tailored Diesel jeans, black Frye boots, and an innocent smile. I was polite and didn’t talk too much (me not). When he finished inspecting my mouth, he lifted my back off the chair and said, “I really like your shirt.” To score. The shirt was worth the money. “Who is the designer?” he asked and proceeded to check my label by looking inside my shirt.

“I don’t know.” I was shocked and flattered that he felt comfortable prying under my clothes.

“Krush,” he said after finding the label. “I bet a lot of people are in love with you.” He smiled and stared into my eyes.

Any impropriety that he saw through my shirt was justified by the idea that he—who I thought was not on my level—thought I was crushing. I blushed, got up from his chair and quickly planned my next cleaning.

“Hey, your next appointment is on my birthday,” he told me after hearing the receptionist announce the date.

My heart raced out of control as I left the office and headed for the parking garage. How could I make his birthday so special if he just made me feel? Dear Lady Jane. I’d bring him a triple berry cake. effortless. Who wouldn’t want a birthday cake from Sweet Lady Jane? The hardest thing would be to wait two months for my next appointment. And of course I needed a nice shirt.

I lived on the USC campus and decided to go shopping at South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa. I wandered in and out of every luxury store and ended up in Gucci. I found a fitted, almost transparent, long-sleeved T-shirt. It was black, my second favorite color after navy blue. If it helped me fall in love, it would be worth every penny – all 40,000. I bought it.

I ordered the cake a week before my appointment. It cost $65. I bought high quality disposable plates, napkins and cutlery – plain, light turquoise, understated – and a funny card. I had to have a sense of humor about the whole ordeal. Everything had to be very casual. If my mission failed, only I would know the truth, and I could walk away sweet-not desperate.

I was scared and optimistic when I carried that cake to his office. Yes, it was an expensive gamble, but not betting on love would cost me more. I gave the receptionist the cake, supplies and card and waited for the hygienist to call me.

When I had finished cleaning, the dentist came in. He was all teeth, grinning cheek to cheek. He certainly loved the cake and would soon adore me.

“Hey,” he said. “Thanks for the cake. How did you know it was my birthday?”

“Oh, you said it the last time I was here,” I said. The fool.

“I like Sweet Lady Jane,” he said. Who not?

“No problem,” I said. He was way too cool. Why didn’t he look into my shirt? It was Gucci.

“Your teeth look great. Until next time, and thanks again,” he said.

Was that it? Where was my Meg Ryan moment? I thought he was just as nervous as I am or that he should stay professional. I told myself that maybe he would call after work and tell me how much he loved me and ask me out. We would fall in love. Sweet Lady Jane would bake our wedding cake, and we would retell our meeting-cute story until our friends wanted to throw up. The roughly $600 I spent would have been worth it.

He never called. Friends who were also patients of his told me he had a boyfriend.

Daydreaming about falling head over heels in love was fun. I was given a story to tell and kept going to him until he tried to sell me unnecessary dental work for $5,000.

I couldn’t make love, especially at $600 apiece, and I wasn’t defective or unloved. My mother didn’t die because she didn’t love me; she fought the disease long and hard, but her body eventually gave up. My father had his own problems, and I was better off far from him. I had a lot of love to give and to receive; I just needed a healthier way of expressing it. After many more adventures in love, I started to put as much energy into myself as I did with that dentist. I found an unconditional love in myself, even when I wore white Hanes T-shirts.

I also discovered Sweet Lady Jane’s Cherry Pie – and found one to love.

The author is a writer and photographer with an MFA in creative and performing arts writing from the University of California at Riverside. Find more of his work at treyburnette.com. He’s on Twitter and Instagram: @writer_trey.

LA Affairs chronicles the search for romantic love in all its glorious manifestations in the LA area, and we want to hear your true story. We pay $300 for a published essay. Email LAAffairs@latimes.com. The guidelines for submitting applications can be found here. Previous columns can be found here.

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