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[Editor’s Note: The young woman referred to only as “she” and “her” in the following account is the author herself, “Meg,” but she has written it in the third person. The author was twenty-one years old during the events in this post. The following is a true story. Click here for Part One of Meg’s story, here for Part Two, here for Part Three, and here for Part Four.]
She lay back in the dentist’s chair and closed her eyes. Tight. Dentists had always scared her, and today she was having a wisdom tooth removed. It wasn’t infected, but occasionally it would move up and down. She told her boss, Bill Gothard, about it, and he had suggested that the dentist who occasionally came to Headquarters could take a look at it.
As she lay back in the chair and rested her head, she looked up at her boss, who was standing close behind her. He smiled down at her and squeezed her hand. She was nervous, and he knew it. Earlier, he had broken off a conversation with the head of a department to come with her to this appointment because she didn’t want to go alone.
One wisdom tooth wasn’t impacted, but the other one was. The dentist explained that he might have to shave some of her jawbone to get the impacted tooth out. Nerve damage was, technically, a possible risk.
Her eyes had widened in horror. She did not want to risk that for a tooth that wasn’t really giving her much trouble. She told her boss she didn’t want to have the second tooth out.
It was okay, Bill said, she didn’t have to if she didn’t want to.
“Can I have music playing? To block out the noise?”
Yes, he answered, anything she wanted.
So here she lay with loud hymnal trumpet music blasting into her ears. The dentist leaned over and began his work. She knew when the bad part came. When the drilling started, her boss, standing behind her, placed his hands on the earphones and pressed them hard against her head. She thought of his kindness in trying to block out the noise for her. His caring. His not wanting her to be fearful.
[Editor’s note: The dentist who anesthetized and performed a tooth extraction on “Meg” also provided medical care for ATI staff and students in Moscow and performed dental work on other staff and students at ATI/IBLP Headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois. Some staff and volunteers were led to believe that the dentist was unlicensed at the time of treatment simply because his credentials had lapsed, but the truth was far different.
Rather, it is a matter of public record that the dentist’s license had been revoked in his home state years before. In 1986 he was summoned by his home state’s board of dentistry to answer complaints that he had “failed to conform to the minimal standards of acceptable and prevailing dental practice” in the treatment of seven dental and orthodontic patients between 1979 and 1985, six of whom were minors at the time of care. After a two-year investigation that included introduction of additional allegations and the examination of the patients in question by board-appointed dentists, the state dental board in 1988 revoked his license based upon treatment of eleven patients. The medical errors are described in detail in the public record, and at least three involve unnecessary and/or mis-executed tooth extractions, leading to new, sometimes long-term dental problems for the patients. None of the board’s official finding of fact concerns technicalities of education or licensing; the final revocation of license cites only “below-minimum-standards treatment of the eleven patients.”
The dentist’s performance of non-emergency procedures, in a back room of a warehouse and office facility, with no Illinois dental or medical license, with a revoked out-of-state dental license, constituted multiple criminal violations of the Illinois Dental Practice Act (225 ILCS 25/11).
EDITORIAL CORRECTION 1/31/14: It has come to our attention that there was more than one dentist working at HQ during this time. While one of them was the above mentioned dentist with the retracted license, it is possible that he was not the dentist to have performed this particular work on Meg. RG desires to stay above board in what we inform our readership, and we believe that retaining accuracy is of critical importance to our readers.]
She was leaning against the big picture windows one Saturday afternoon in his office. Bill was talking on the phone and the other staff members were busy working on the computers. It was a beautiful afternoon, with a golden light washing over the trees, lawn, lake and gardens. A soft breath of wind kept the heat out of the afternoon.
As she gazed out the window a movement far off to the right, near the little bridge, caught her eye. There were people gathered down there. It was a bridal party, a woman in her wedding dress with her groom, and a man bobbing around them, taking photos.
Bill asked what was going on, as he finished his call and came over to the window. They told him there was a wedding party having their photos taken down on the bridge.
“Oh.” He was frowning.
He strode out the door with a purposeful air and they watched from the window as he walked down towards the bridal group. He came back soon with the photographer, a tall, angular man, who looked to be in his early thirties, with thin, wispy brown hair. The photographer had two cameras slung over his shoulder along with a camera bag. The staffers jumped back from the window and tried to look industrious at the tables as their boss and the photographer came into the room.
He introduced them to the photographer, who apologized for his presumption. He’d thought the sweeping lawn was a public park, and looked so beautiful at this time of the year. The photographer had agreed that, as a kind of payment for using the grounds without permission, he would come back and take some photos of the staff.
So a few days later, they gathered on the front lawn, where the photographer cheerfully arranged them in a group with their boss. She stood in the back of the group of five. He was in the middle surrounded by them. Then the photographer took individual shots.
“You look very beautiful,” the photographer said to her as she sat on one of the seats. She was wearing a light, summery dress, with the pearls Bill had given the staff girls at Christmas. Her hair was tied back in a loose knot. He told her to turn her head slightly, as though to look over her shoulder. He shook hands with her after he had snapped a few shots, and said he had enjoyed photographing her. “It must be an amazing job you have here,” he observed.
“Yes,” she said, “It is. I love it.” She blushed a little, but she knew he was only making light conversation and flattering her.
Her boss had been watching them and now walked up, shook the photographer’s hand, and sent him on his way. He then frowned at her and asked what the photographer had said.
“Oh, nothing much, really,” she answered.
“Well, I didn’t like the way he was looking at you. He was flirting with you.”
She laughed again and said she knew, but it was harmless.
A few days later the photos arrived and the group gathered around Bill’s desk, peering over his shoulder, enjoying the fun of looking at them. She liked her photo. She thought it looked pretty. Young. Fresh. Feminine. Her eyes were soft and bright. She held her hand out for it. He had given the others their photos to take away, and she wanted to take hers. She thought she might send it to her grandmother. He looked up at her, the photo in his hand.
“I’ll let you have it soon. I’m going to hang on to it for now. Okay?”
Sure, it was no problem, she said, but she was a little disappointed. She didn’t even think about why he wanted to hang on to it for now. But she never saw that photo again.
When she finally closed the front door behind her, she leaned against it and sighed with relief. It had been a long, long day. The clock on the wall in the dim living room showed the time at 11:55, nearly midnight! And she had been up at 5 o’clock that morning. He was planning a trip overseas and there was always more work leading up to that. This time, she and a few others would be accompanying him on the trip to Taiwan, Singapore, and Indonesia. They would be leaving in a couple of days, and there was so much yet to do.
She kicked off her shoes. It felt so good to get them off! The house was dark apart from the small lamp in the living room. She tiptoed up the stairs to her room, not wanting to wake anyone. Flicking on the light in her bedroom, she threw her bag on the bed and started to get ready for bed. She was pulling out her hair clips when the phone on her bedside dresser rang. Wondering who would be calling her a this time of night, she picked it up.
“Hello,” she said, almost whispering.
There was silence on the other end.
“Hello,” she repeated, a little louder.
There was still no reply on the other end. She was about to hang it up, when faintly, in the background, she heard a soft breathing, getting louder and louder.
“Hello? Who is this?” she demanded.
The breathing got heavier. Long, drawn-out, husky breathing. Breathe in. Breathe out.
“Who is this? I know you’re there. Tell me who this is!”
The voice said “Hello.” She didn’t recognize it. It was a young man’s voice.
The breathing began again. It continued in its methodical, ominous breathy rhythm.
She slammed the phone down on the receiver, but in her haste she missed. She picked the receiver up again and slammed it down into the cradle. Slam, slam, slam — she was determined to cut that caller off. She was shaking. The call had unnerved her, this late at night in this lonely house. The nearest house was a good few minutes’ sprint away, and her boss had already left the nearby office and would be home by now.
She looked over at her window, where the blind was drawn up. The black night was all that she could see, and she was suddenly aware that if anyone was out there, they would be able to see her. She hurried over and pulled the blind down. She was breathing rapidly and her heart was racing as she went back to the bed. The phone rang again and she jumped. She reached out and picked it up, but this time didn’t say anything, just listened.
The same breathing was on the line, heavy, rhythmic, ominous.
Bang. Bang. Bang. She slammed it down again.
What could she do? She was beginning to feel frightened. She fumbled through her bag for her address book, and found the boss’s home phone number. She would call him and tell him, and he would calm her down. She picked up the phone and put it to her ear, ready to dial the number.
But the breathing was still there. The mystery caller was still on the line, and still breathing heavily down into the phone.
Somehow her slamming it down had not cut them off! She put her finger on the little black button of the old fashioned telephone and held it down until she was sure that the caller would be cut off.
Then she phoned Bill at home.
“Hello?” his voice said, in some surprise.
Her voice trembled as she told him what had happened.
He told her that it would be okay, that they would get a caller ID put on her phone in the morning. He said that she would be all right for tonight, and if the caller rang back, “just tell them that all whoremongers will burn in hell.”
She laughed at this, and it helped to ease her tension. But she didn’t really sleep very well that night.
When she stepped out of the taxi in downtown Jakarta, the first thing that she noticed was the warm air that enveloped her. After the cool air-conditioning in the car as they rode from the airport, it washed over her like a heatwave. And then sounds, the smells.
She had been in Indonesia before. Two years ago she had come here with a missions organization for a few months. But she could not soon forget the smells of Asia, nor the sounds. Her senses alone brought so many memories back to her mind.
But how different this experience was from her last visit to Asia. Now she was staying in the best hotel in the city, would eat in the finest restaurants, and would travel in the comfort of air-conditioned vehicles. At the end of a busy day she would know that she had luxury and a nice bed to greet her. The last time she was in this part of the world she had lost too much weight because of the constant heat and the lack of good food. She was on rations with the rest of the village people, who were poor and had to be careful with their provisions. She had slept on a hard wooden floor in the back of a makeshift hut, where the window had no glass and where rats ran over her in the middle of the night. Malaria was a constant and very present danger and a mosquito net was a luxury. She thought of this as she stepped out of the car, her patent leather pumps tapping the concrete delicately as she waited for her luggage to follow her inside the air-conditioned, glitzy hotel, where a valet awaited her instructions.
Bill asked her to join him for lunch. He had to meet all these dignitaries, he said.
She said she was ready now and just needed to get her purse. She snatched it up from the sideboard and met him out by the elevator.
As the elevator doors slid shut behind them, he reached over and took her hand. He just stood there, waiting to reach their floor, holding her hand. The doors slid open and he let go suddenly, her hand dropping to her side. She followed him out.
As the lights of Jakarta faded into the distance, she pulled her face away from the window of her airplane seat and leaned comfortably back as the aircraft made its climb into the night sky. It was going to be a long flight back to Chicago, with a stop in Honolulu for a night.
He had a hotel booked there, about a 20-minute drive out of Honolulu. It was on the coast, and she was looking forward to it. She missed the ocean.
In Chicago there was no sea, only the lakes. And lake water is not the same as sea water. Lake water is not alive like the sea. It doesn’t ebb and flow and whisper and breathe and roar. When you’ve been born beside it, the sea somehow gets into your blood. After that, no matter where on earth life takes you, you can never get away from the pull that the sea claims on your soul. Mountains are magnificent in their grandeur, and lakes calming with their tranquil and deep waters, but the sea is powerful. It is alive. She thought of a room overlooking the beautiful beach of Turtle Bay, where she could hear the waves and feel the breath and scent of sea air on her face.
She was on her own back here in the rear of the plane, but she didn’t mind. She would enjoy the quiet and get some sleep. He was up in the front somewhere. She settled back and closed her eyes. Maybe she had been asleep for an hour, maybe it was more than that, when a hand shaking her shoulder gently brought her back to consciousness. She looked up to see one of her male colleagues standing beside her, looking apologetic.
Mr. Gothard had asked if she would like to go up and join him.
She made her way down the aisle of the darkened cabin to the seats up front. She saw Bill there and slipped into the seat beside him.
“Hi,” she smiled at him.
He said she was glad she’d decided to come.
“Did you want to work on something, Sir?” she asked, getting ready to pull her notebook out.
He shook his head. “No. I just prefer your company.” She knew he was talking about his assistant, a kind, quiet guy who sometimes got only three hours of sleep just to get something finished for him. She let the notebook fall back inside her bag and she settled down into the seat.
He asked if she could ring the hostess to get a blanket, indicating the button on the seat between them. She pressed it and an immaculate air hostess came and smiled warmly as she filled the request, handing her the blanket. He took it from her immediately and spread it out over himself.
He asked if she wanted a blanket.
She replied that she didn’t think she would need one.
“Here, why don’t you share some of this with me.” He pulled the blanket over and draped half of it over her lap.
She thanked him and said that he didn’t need to share it, that she was warm enough.
“I don’t want you getting cold.”
He leaned his head back on the seat with the small pillow the hostess had also provided. That’s when she felt his hand under the blanket reaching for hers. She let their hands lay on the armrest between them, but he reached over with his other arm and pushed the armrest up, letting his hand fall onto her thigh. He squeezed her hand, massaged her fingers for a short while, then he slowly drifted off to sleep, the blanket covering the two of them. She dozed off too, glad to close her eyes.
When she woke, she was aware that as they had slept their heads had fallen closer to each other. His was now almost resting against hers. She could watch the rise and fall of his chest as he slept. She could see his face up close. He was frowning slightly. She felt pity for him in his fast-approaching old age. So loved by so many, and yet so alone.
He reached out for her in so many ways, not least of which was the physical touching and connecting with her, but it was in secret. If he was found out, his reputation could be in ruins, his ministry possibly shattered. So he sought her always in the dark, always behind closed doors, or after others had fallen asleep—or under an airline blanket.
She thought of all those women who had written to him, all the letters gathering dust in his file of received marriage proposals. And yet he had chosen a different path, alone and lonely.
She felt happy here, with him. She had cut her ties to the boy back home. He had helped her do that. If she left here, she didn’t know what she had to go back to. Her life was here now. She depended on him as much as he depended on her. She wanted to stay with him.
She was thinking about this as she looked up and saw the hostess coming down the aisle. She was handing out cards. She put two into her hand.
“What is this?” she whispered.
The hostess said it was an immigration form for each of them to fill out for when they landed in Hawaii.
She asked how far away that was, and the hostess replied that it was about three hours away.
Her hand was still raised from when she had taken the cards. She looked at them now, and as she did an unexplainable slow dread began to spread in her mind. She had the feeling that this was out of her hands, that it had been sealed, that she had no control over it, that the quick march of doom was snapping at her heels.
“What is it?” he asked suddenly, sitting up as he woke from his sleep.
She frowned and shook her head. She said it was nothing, that the air hostess was just handing out the immigration forms. They would be landing soon, and she guessed they were going to serve breakfast in a minute.
He took the card from her. He said that there was something wrong, that he could tell she was worried. What was it?
She turned and smiled at him, and asked how he could tell.
He shrugged and said they knew each other pretty well by now, didn’t they?
She said she was worried about immigration, and didn’t even know why. Everything should be okay, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something wrong, that she’d missed something.
He said it would be all right, not to worry about it, to think instead about how much work they going to get done in Hawaii.
She laughed, but it was a short, uneasy laugh.