[Editor's Note: This is an essay from one of the finalists in our scholarship competition. I have no financial relationship with any of the finalists, except the eventual winner, who will get a big check from WCI.]
My Favorite Shirt
The alarm sounds! I’m greeted by the replenishing feelings of restfulness, achieved by eight hours of uninterrupted sleep. I stretch my arms towards the eggshell-colored ceiling to kick start the chemicals of cellular restoration as my cold vascular pipes begin warming. I observantly listen while slowly scanning my room from side to side. It’s quiet. In the vacuum of my room, the rays of the morning sun beams against the wall and partially against my neck, in the shape of a distorted window outlining an elliptical silhouette of my head. The warmth feels nice on my bare skin. My drawer sits on the far end of the room, next to the closet containing a large black suitcase with a missing left wheel, the content of which remains unpacked. On the ground lies my favorite solid blue Hanes T-shirt, with two gaping holes and a large red stain near the collar. Although everything appears uneventful, something about this day is aberrant. On this morning, the dangers of East Oakland seem to stop abruptly against my walls, like a cocoon protecting me even from the stray bullets of a drive-by shooting that may find itself presenting on my street.
In fact, my childhood was a mess, like an old rerun episode that played every night on your television at 7:30 PM. It always began with my parents’ voices in the kitchen, elevating until the shattering of a whiskey glass that my father angrily hurled against the wall, signifying the start of that night’s main event, like a starting pistol before a race. The sound of fragmenting glass always sent a screeching terror down my adolescent spine because I knew the wave front of the same recurring thunderstorm rapidly approached.
He was an alcoholic, an angry one. I lived in fear as I anticipated these explosions every day and met incalculable relief when we survived the night without conflict. However, when it did occur, I remember sitting in the corner of my room, with my arms clutched against my knees, crying as my fragile sense of security was yet again disassembled. I desperately yearned for a treaty that never emerged at home, and so I looked elsewhere.
Rolling with the 24 Crips was my escape. Although they sold drugs, flying under the wings of my best friend DeMarco always gave me a sense of community and belonging. Slightly older and infinitely more experienced, he taught me how to survive. Of all of his qualities, I admired his confidence most of all. He seemed to always know what was going on, and so I followed him everywhere. Wherever he went, I went. Like a brother, we spent our time together. I didn’t enjoy slangin’ dope on the corner, but I liked hangin’ with him. I felt important, like I belonged in our group. Sometimes the cops chased, but we always got away. He always knew the fastest exit routes in case things got out of control. Soon the other guys knew me as DeMarco’s protégé, which was an honor that I proudly internalized. Afterall he was the guy that I aspired to become.
Things made sense for a while. We kicked it everyday, usually chillin’ in front of Jackson’s Liquor until the others arrived. On this morning, however, something seemed off. Somehow your amygdala intuitively senses your surroundings, like a flock of birds flying away from an impending natural disaster. A black SUV slowly approached us, quietly creeping up as the tinted windows started descending, revealing two bandana-masked Bloods holding semi-automatic Uzi’s. “Get the f*** down,” shouted DeMarco as he pushed me through the front door of the convenience store. As I stumbled into the shelves of assorted candies, a flurry of shots sounded behind me. Almost as suddenly as things started, the sound of screeching tires blazed down the street.
I’ll never forget the sound of DeMarco struggling to breathe during his final moments, as he desperately attempted to respire despite the pleural pressure equalizing through his punctured lungs. I tried comforting him, listening to the high-pitched wheezing while his fingers gripped my shirt near the collar. I screamed his name as his life rapidly depleted in my arms while I tightened my grip around his body. His shoes desperately scraped against the cement, searching to cling onto land that continued to dissolve with each passing second as he sank deeper in. His jeans continued grinding against the ground, until legs stopped moving altogether. He died right there…
I hop out of bed to freshen up and prepare for the approaching day. I assemble my usual outfit, which consists of a pair of stonewashed blue jeans, a button-up shirt, and a jet-black pea coat. After buttoning my coat, the aroma of Columbian hazelnut infiltrates the room through the slight opening under the door. I run downstairs to eat breakfast, a tradition that I hope to start every day with, now that I’m in medical school. They say, that medical students don’t have time to eat in the morning, but I’ll soon find out. I pour the freshly brewed hazelnut coffee and place the mug beside my plate containing two sunny-side eggs and two slices of whole-grain toast. The vanilla soymilk mixes into the aromatic coffee until the optimal light brown color is achieved. Cautiously sipping, being very careful not to burn my lips, the taste of my steaming coffee is delicious. Taking the piece of warm toast, I penetrate a corner into the inviting egg yolk. Immediately after breaking the membranous layer, the yolk oozes out like yellow lava down a hillside.
After breakfast, I run upstairs to grab my backpack, fueled to start my first day. As I close the door to my bedroom, I notice my blue T-shirt, with the two gaping holes near the collar, resting on the dark carpet. I take off my coat, unbutton my dress shirt, and slip on the tattered Hanes before assembling my outfit again. This is an important day. Although my opportunities are life changing, I will never forget where I came from. My memories are a component of the cement that forms the foundation of my career as a physician. I only hope that this next chapter in life doesn’t change me so much, that DeMarco won’t even recognize me anymore. I wonder if I will ever see my friend again? As I slowly close the door of my small bedroom, being careful not to wake my sleeping roommates, a reassuring thought crosses my mind, “I think so…I think so.”
What do you think? What were you doing with your life before you decided to go to medical school? What experience convinced you to dedicate your life to the relief of the suffering of others? Comment below!