The teeth lady fills me with rage and then pity. She’s the teeth lady because two times a day (there could be more we don’t know about) she cleans her entire mouth in the office bathroom. My co-worker will pass by my desk and say “Teeth Lady’s in there.” It’s a kind of warning, but it’s also a signal to stare at each other and shake our heads, “Some people!”
Sharing the bathroom with a large law firm has been hard for us to adjust to. We used to have the floor to ourselves, and all the ladies had a favorite stall. We joked about getting name plates. Now you can’t frequent the same stall reliably because someone might have soiled it, so to speak. Also, I can’t unbutton my pants in the hall anymore. Intimacy with strangers is always fraught (I’ve written about it before), and these law people, it was decided, have no decency. One woman likes to stand by the sinks and comb her long weave with her fingers, watching it shed and form a pile around her. Then she leaves the pile so the hair can roam free, and for the rest of the day, I find her hair on me. But Teeth Lady is the worst.
She is in her thirties and mouse-ish: she treads lightly and looks at you like you might run at her. This of course makes me want to run at her. She knows she’s doing something unusual, but she can’t help it. At first I gave her the benefit of the doubt. I thought maybe she’d just had oral surgery and needed to clean after eating. Like really clean. First with the flossing, then brushing and then with some sort of gum picks. It’s a full scale attack, and she finishes with mouth wash that always sprays and splatters a bit on the marble counter. She also takes up half the counter with all her tools. You try to politely dodge around her and make your way to the sink without getting sprayed. Ironically, she keeps her dental tools in a Coca Cola toiletry bag, which always makes me think of the Science Fair in elementary school where I saw a tooth dissolve in a jar of Coca Cola.
The travel bag beside you at the sink, you feel like you’re about to spend the night with Teeth Lady. I’ve always almost said something like “Your dentist must love you,” but something about her guilty demeanor holds me back, and I’m glad I haven’t said anything because one day I heard her in the bathroom stall.
She was spinning the toilet paper roll over and over again, making this loud clanging sound. I stood there frozen. When would it stop? What could she possibly need all that paper for? Was she bleeding from her gums? Later I saw the paper stuffed in the feminine hygiene trash can (is there an official name for that wee trash can?). She also left the toilet seat cover on the toilet. This was germaphobia and probably OCD. Now it was all obvious. Since this realization, I’ve witnessed her hover by the bathroom door before leaving. When she does leave, she uses a paper towel to open the door of the bathroom and then her office.
Rather than feeling sorry for her I immediately wanted to confront her –maybe put threatening notes up in all the stalls. I felt like someone was shooting heroin in our communal space. We were all witnessing a major illness. I wanted to let her know I wasn’t fooled. Also if you ignore germaphobia it only gets worse as you age, so I would be helping her, right? I see her coworkers all the time: we’re strangers who see each other everyday. But even though I’m very practiced at ignoring them, I want to ask them if they’ve noticed Teeth Lady. Are they as concerned as me? What should be done about it? Maybe instead of staring at the ground or desperately grabbing for our iPhones, we could discuss while we wait for the elevator.
I know I can’t do anything. There’s nothing socially acceptable for me to do which apparently makes me want to rebel. I’ve fantasized about covering the bathroom in a green slime that would freak her out. Today she left her toiletry bag unattended, and I wanted to put it on the naked counter, removing it from it’s protective paper towels. I want to force things to a boiling point. I’m tired of pretending like I don’t see what’s going on. But I say nothing, and I will continue to. I see her five days a week, and I worry about her like she’s a friend, but I don’t even know her name. Maybe one day I’ll introduce myself. Of course we can’t shake hands.