By: Vivian Qi
It was still dark outside when she woke up. The red numbers on her alarm clock told her that it was 5:30 AM. It took a lot of effort to get out of bed, to comb her hair, to pack her backpack. Even more of a struggle is putting on her uniform, which sent waves of nausea rolling through her stomach the moment her fingers so much as brushed the fabric. Still, she had no choice but to put it on and head out the door.
A long trudge in the darkness later, she opened the doors to the university where she studied medicine. Lights that were far too bright for sleep-deprived students, hallways filled with the same stale smell, and that hallway.
The hallway where students practice on real people. Her least favorite hallway. The amount of times that she has thrown up in the bathroom down the hall, or in the hall, or even just in the operating room because she couldn’t make it outside in time, she didn’t want to know. Learning all of this was either boring or terrifying, and most of all, something that she did not want to do.
She was a straight A student. Valedictorian of her class. Took too many AP classes to comprehend. Every teacher had told her at least once that she was going to have a bright future. By “bright future,” they were implying that she go to an ivy league school, complete medical school, and become a doctor. Or maybe that was just her parents.
They expected so much of her. They expected her to be just like them, but better. They lived their lives through her. Told her that they were “guiding her” onto a better path, told her that she should be grateful to have parents like them who had so much knowledge on how she could become successful, told her that she had better do everything that they told her.
She wonders what they would think if she told them how much she hated where she was, what she did, and how much she hated all of this in the first place. No matter how many times she told herself that they were being too controlling, that she had the choice to be whoever she wanted, a small voice in her head still told her that she was a failure if she didn’t obey her parents’ wishes.
No, she must tell herself over and over. She did owe her parents a lot. If she is at all grateful, she has to do this. Guilt tore through her as she thought about how disappointed and heartbroken her parents would be if she didn’t come home with that framed medical degree.
Well, she didn’t have to worry about that much longer. This week was the last week of school. If she passed her tests and accepted her medical degree, then that was that. How proud her parents would be of her.
But now, standing in front of the hallway where she must take her exams, she hesitated. All the times she has given up, passed out, or thrown up doing this thing that she hated. She knew she hated it. As noble of a job it is, she felt that she couldn’t keep doing it.
The clock on the wall told her that exams started in three more minutes. The hesitation didn’t last long, and she pushed through and stepped into the hallway and into the room she was assigned to. A classmate of hers inside greets her, a huge smile on his lips. Someone who was actually looking forward to this test.
A foul smell hit her as hard as if she had run into a wall. The dead corpse lying on the operating table was waiting for her and the other students to operate on as her teachers watched in the corner. Sweat began to slide down her forehead and pool on the nape of her neck.
“Are you all ready?” one of the teachers asked, tapping her pen on the clipboard on which she would take notes on.
“Of course!” the classmate that was always enthusiastic responded. He nudges her arm. “I can’t believe this will be our job one day. Saving people everyday!”
Everyday. The word spins around her mind. She cannot do this everyday. As she slides her gloves on, hating the feeling of latex and the sight of that sickening blue, she imagines what it would be like to do this everyday. Waiting to begin operating was causing her as much stress and panic as the tributes who were waiting by the Cornucopia before the bloodbath. Just hovering the knife over the sallow skin of this person was as intimidating as The Hunger Games itself. How could she do this to a living person everyday?
She reminded herself why she was doing this in the first place… to make her parents proud. Her parents, who were always so helpful and supportive of whatever path she chose. But, did she really choose this path? The slight shift in the connotation of words when describing other options, the passive-aggressive reactions when she had suggested them. All of that was her parents. No, she didn’t choose this path. It was her parents.
It wasn’t fair for her to do this for her parents’ sake. It was like she was trapped in an endless maze, not even sure if there was an exit. They were helping her, her parents. They told her to turn left, go back around, turn right. But no, they were like the game masters who put her there in the first place. They were hiding behind the guise of a helper, but were as chokingly controlling as the walls that confined her to the maze.
She knew she had to escape.
“I’m sorry,” she blurted out before ripping off the gloves that were slick with sweat. Knowing the consequences but feeling the burning desire to escape, she grabbed the doorknob and swung it open, walking into the hallway and turning to the exit.
There it was. The glass door that led to her freedom. A moment of hesitation– the sight of her parents’ disappointed faces flashed in her mind– but before she knew it, a breath of fresh air hit her, and she could finally breathe.
18 missed calls. 43 unread messages. Even a letter in the mail. She refused to look at any of them. Finally done writing her resignation from her medical school, she could now enjoy focusing on the bright future that lay ahead. Now, she could take time off. Enjoy a nice, relaxing trip to the nearby coffee shop. Maybe even apply to an art school if she was feeling ambitious. Now, she could do anything she wanted.
Someone knocked on the door. Harsh, angry, and urgent. She ran to open the door, and her heart dropped. Her father, arms crossed, hands in fists, and a furious scowl on his face.
He did not shout. He did not yell. He merely stepped inside, but did not shut the door behind him. Still, even though he was not screaming, he was still certainly very mad.
Fear surged through her, her heart pounding so quickly she almost didn’t hear the words her father was saying. And that itself almost caused her to faint.
Her mother? In the hospital? A life-threatening disease?
No, she couldn’t wrap her head around it. The few days after she drops out of school, this happens?
Her father holds up a letter. From her old school– an alert to them about her absence. According to her father, the moment they got this letter, her mother passed out. He took her to the hospital. Now her life is in critical condition.
It feels like she’s back at the operating room, a dead person lying on the table, ready to be cut open and saved. Except they were already dead. She feels the same kind of nausea now. Her decision caused this? Her mother was in critical condition because of this?
Please don’t tell me you’ve already submitted the forms, her father said. Your mother’s only wish is for you to become a doctor, to get that medical degree.
Art school. Being free. Days that she can actually enjoy. All of these things disappeared almost in front of her. She could physically see them leaving what could have been her future.
Guilt was too weak of a word to describe how she was feeling. She needed to make this up. She needed to do this for her mother.
And so she deleted all her forms and re-ironed her medical uniform. Tomorrow, she would make up her exams. Tomorrow, she would make her mother and father proud. For once.
After all… family first, right?