Story and images by Ryan McGinnis
For many people, a dentist appointment is simply perfunctory; it’s an annoyance, or at worst, an anxious experience. We often take our dental health for granted, and only on special occasions – for the
That’s why an unlikely conversation the last time I was at the dentist, one that turned poignant and empowering, caught my attention.
When I sat down with Lorraine Garcia, a mother of four, the gravity of her anecdote outweighed the light, uplifting story I was prepared to write. I was on assignment to do a story about how Dr. Megan Dinh, the owner of Embrace Dental, was offering free dental cleaning as a New Year’s gift for Garcia’s kids and other children in the Safe Embrace program. Safe Embrace is a non-profit dedicated to helping survivors of domestic violence. Garcia has been part of the group for several months.
Nobody wants to talk about domestic violence
Immediately I noticed the awkward situation Garcia was in. She was sitting inside an orderly, hygienic dentist office on a Saturday morning describing to me how her battle with domestic violence is a “relentless door that won’t close” going into the new year.
There was a pensive rift to her words that made me pay close attention. She quickly described a far more admirable sense of charity than even what Dr. Dinh earlier had said she hoped to accomplish.
As I soon learned in our conversation, that’s because “nobody wants to talk about domestic violence,” Garcia said.
Admittedly, I, too, was shy to conduct the interview. I was under the weather and momentarily thought I could sneak out and rely on the one interview already in the bag to write the story. Maybe I didn’t want to feel uncomfortable.
But that was the point. Domestic violence is an uncomfortable topic of discussion, which is why Garcia had a special appreciation for Embrace Dental, or anyone, who is willing to stand up to a cause that is primarily in the shadows of public conversation.
After talking for a few minutes, a wave of unsettledness led to a few tears across her face. She told me her abusive partner gets out of jail this year, which could open another chapter of uncertainty in her family’s life. But she is not the kind of person to feel sorry for herself. She stands tall and says she prides herself on being a “fighter.”
“We have not been able to be in a stable place [to live] for three years,” she said, because her partner has found ways to harass and track her whereabouts, even from behind bars.
When people fall, that’s when you help pick them back up.”
Since she decided to flee the relationship, Garcia has found help at shelters like Safe Embrace, which have provided short-term living arrangements and a community of other domestic violence survivors.
The most arduous part, though, is finding hope when society at large doesn’t want to believe that this is an issue, according to Garcia.
A complex situation with few resources
She described how she found herself in the uncomfortable situation of having to ask for help in order to get her family’s life back into order. Institutionally, the reach of health insurance providers and outreach programs could only go so far in her financial situation, which led her to Embrace Dental so her children could get a basic teeth cleaning and fluoridation.
Ultimately, she described how the trickiest part of domestic violence is dealing with a problem with no clear resolution because, oftentimes, leaving the relationship is only half the fight. In the complexity of it all, there’s an overarching perception that people prefer not to help because it’s easier to ignore an uncomfortable and precarious situation like domestic violence. The effect is alienating.
“When you leave an abusive relationship, everything is chaotic…volunteers give you a sense of hope,” Garcia said, elaborating how this sense of hope is forged by a willingness to not obscure domestic violence in public/private activism because it’s uncomfortable.
That’s why a rudimentary dental cleaning today felt particularly significant. The mere act of generosity boasts a sense of good will — an emotive value that’s far more important than what a charitable act may accomplish on its own.
“This is probably the lowest point in our lives and it’s not easy to get up,” Garcia said. But optimistically she emphasized, “when people fall, that’s when you help pick them back up.”
When her daughter returned to the lobby, the tense air immediately lifted. They were quick to silently acknowledge the strained emotions and turned the talk to humor. They recounted a time when her daughter chipped her teeth while skateboarding — and how she tried to play off the injury to her mom. The polarity of these conversations reveal how the strains of domestic violence are normal to them now. And the swift change in conversation reminded me how acts of volunteerism such as this dental visit bring much needed ordinariness into their daily life.
Embrace Dental is a new dental practice that opened up in Sparks. Dr. Megan Dinh donated her time on Dec. 28, 2019. Visit online at https://embracedentalreno.com/
For more information about Safe Embrace and their mission, visit SafeEmbrace.org
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