March 16th, 2015
“You have to start taking responsibility for yourself, start acting like a 30-year-old,” my mom scolds over some petty infraction. “First you won’t go to J. Crew with me to return the suits, suits we ordered for you, then you won’t even order food for yourself…” Either she trails off or I walk away mid-sentence on my way to slamming the door dramatically. “The reason I didn’t go with you is because I’m exhausted, I’ve been through a lot,” my voice wavers. And I’m determined to nail the dagger in, crookedly, before it gives way completely, “You fucking insensitive cunt!” Not quite making it to the door-slam climax I envisioned, my eyes churn ablur, like a washing machine stirring into the sudsy cycle; I toss into tears, high-pitched heaving. In the vacant hallway between our side-by-side apartments, I fiddle frantically with my dangling keys, holding on by the string of a lanyard, shaking them into the slit of a hole with the dexterity of a three-year-old pushing a hexagon through a shape sorter. Just quick enough to deny our mutual neighbors the time to trickle out and gawk, at the commotion, my lack of hand-eye coordination.
Her bitchy accusations trigger a cascade of emotions. “You have to act like a 30-year-old,” the cruelest thing you could say to your daughter who has long been incapacitated due to illness, dependent on you like a newborn child, sometimes contained to a person-powered wheelchair and sometimes in diapers, stuck in her body and unable to move on with her life, barely able to move in the literal sense. If only I could meet the facebook-ready milestones people my age famously achieve, if only I could be healthy consistently enough to hold down a full-time job, move out of my parents’ apartment, be independent.
The most serendipitous of life opportunities doomed before launching, shopping for suits for med school interviews was a production, an ordeal. Boxes and boxes of merchandise rejected, packages piled up like shoddily stacked bricks waiting to collapse.
Most colossal was the inauspicious timing. Lying in bed groggy on prescription painkillers, 2 weeks into my 4-6 weeks of projected recovery for spinal fusion surgery, I swiped my phone open to an e-mail informing me I’d been selected to interview for a seat in the 2015 entering class of a prestigious Irish medical school. Which I had applied to on a whim, supposing what is another 400 dollars and extra essay shipped off into a sea of hopelessness, only to sink spectacularly with the rest of the lot. I should choose one of two interview dates, the email instructed, one right after the other, both three weeks from then, when I still would not be permitted to BLT. You see, post-surgery, I was unable to Bend over to put on my own socks or feed my little kitty, could not Lift more than three pounds, must not have Twisted my torso when rolling over and out of bed. With so many movement restrictions in place, even if stores stocked suits in my size, I wouldn’t have been able to travel on my own to try them on.
Everything about the interview process became an onerous challenge, many hours of logistical and physical effort put into perfecting a conservative costume that would ornament me for one-half hour, while gauged in caliber and gait. There is the issue of my being petite, sizes “P.” With no business-formal clothing for truncated bodies available in corporeal stores, I’m relegated to the realm of slow-acquisition internet purchases followed by requisite tailoring. Inconvenient considering my limited time frame for finding. The bigger issue, har har, is my boobs. Structured jackets unintentionally repurposed as straight jackets, how do I button while remaining free to gesticulate my arms? If only suits came in deep-plunge v-neck style, giving my ample babies room to breathe. So frustrated and flustered I became with the stiffness and misplaced darts, my mom grabbed hold of the reigns and ordered extra options behind my unbendy back.
One night she admitted, “I know you said absolutely no Talbots. But I ordered you two suits from Brooks Brothers. Very classic pinstripe in summer navy, skirt and pants version. Shipping was free, you can always return if you hate.” “Echh, okay.” I resigned. “Stuffy central. But it’s doubtful a Brooks Brothers suit will fit me, anyway, forgetting the uptightness factor. They’re cut for boobless gentiles from Connecticut.” “No, not the Classic Cut. I specifically avoided ordering the style with that in the description.” “It said ‘For Boobless Gentiles’?” I jested. “Pretty much.” Perusing the website, I exclaimed, “’Trim Bust’!” “That’s it.” “Well, I don’t want to trim them before my interview!… though I did shadow that plastic surgeon.”
Fit problems, so man wrong ways to fit and only one right one. Minor sartorial crime a boob-hugging jacket it tempted to commit: the fabric gapes, blouse peeks out between buttons. Crime against humanity, fear-provoking possibility: the top-button hangs on by a thread, flies off mid-interview. Since the inception of this high-stakes Dressing The Part game show, me, the bumbling contestant, I’ve had recurrent nightmares aping the plotline of a Friends episode. The one where Ross got hit in the head with a hockey puck and went to the hospital for stitches. Sitting impatiently in the waiting room, the compact culprit jumped out of his clasped hands and knocked out the nasty intake nurse, had it coming, har har. Only, in my version, I lean forward innocently over the perfectly polished stained-oak round table, answer a question passionately, taking special care to sustain direct and animated eye-contact. So engaged I am in my interaction, I fail to notice what is coming to pass inches below my virgin eyes. The boob-button rips from my chest thread-by-thread and cuts the air sideways like a Frisbee aimed bullseye at the Olde Irish Man’s pert nose. Dumbfounded, he is struck.
After my post-interview blowout with my mom, wherein she implied how useless I am for fucking failing to meet expectations, I stay up all night weeping hysterical, feeling fucking useless like all my effort has been for naught. Each memory recalling the next, they snowball upon each other, I tumble under the slip-slide of their avalanche, crushed by the current of weight and chill. The following morning at 2 p.m., nights dragged on and days truncated by depression, I wake up bleary-eyed, puffy, drained. Strain to bloat my sleep for as long as I can pretend I don’t exist—until my head beats as if I’m banging it against the wall over-and-over, when is this life gonna be fucking over, and summons me out of bed toward my kitchen.
I plod through the swampland of drudgery that is my beige living room, dragging my baggy pajama pants as if they’re weighted down with a dip of mud. Arriving at my kitchen with my earplugs still in, I assess the daunting array of equipment, plop all my morning smoothie ingredients into my trusty all-tasks-in-one blender, and mentally prepare for the utilitarian whir-grind, a noxious noise dissonant to my head beat.
Pound Pound, a loud thud at the door startles me from my smoothie preparation. “Go away,” I Oscar The Grouch, assuming it is my mom to nag me some more. “It’s important,” my dad says shortly, with urgency or annoyance, I don’t know. Money matters, must have been sent as an intermediary to intimidate me. To recoup tuition money from NYU, for a class I had to drop because my surgery was postponed and the recovery time seeped into the semester, couldn’t even lift my textbook, surely greater than 3 lbs. Because my parents refused to pay for my surgery, my body too much of a burden, and I became reliant on insurance, the endless paperwork and bureaucracy of it all, one more application submitted into a sea of hopelessness, a cubicle cubby, somewhere.
Last night begins flooding back into my washed-up head, my parents, their indifference, their demands. “What!?” I yell back, suspicious. “I have a Fed Ex envelope. It came for you.” Blocking my runaway cat with my foot, I creak the door open ever-so slightly, propping it with the dead bolt. And there it is, a thick envelope. Another package. I rip it open as he waits, irritated by my dismissal.
“What is it?” he asks, impatient.
“An acceptance letter.”
“I just got into med school?” I mumble into my shirt, unsure or embarrassed, perhaps.
“I got into med school,” I affirm, looking up at him and locking eyes.
We hug, perfunctory, then leave my apartment, a clamoring procession on our way to tell my mom. Down my hallway we stride, a few paces closer to independence. This package, not for the reject pile.