There’s a spider inhabiting the dark crevices of my brain. A poisonous spider. A black widow. Retreats to its nest during the day to let me function. Idly resting until it’s feeding time, when I brush my teeth and turn out the lights and put my phone away and try to sleep. That’s when it comes out. Encases my brain in its sticky web like an insect. Retracts its fangs, venom dripping from the tips like the saliva of a basset hound, sinks them into the flesh. Injects the poison.
What if I blow it.
What if I don’t get the score I want – the score I need. What if the test is remarkably different from the prep materials I’ve been using, memorizing, devouring. What if my brain doesn’t work. What would happen? The neurotoxins rapidly hijack my nervous system.
I blow it. My advisor tells me I should strongly consider a different specialty. But I’ve always sold myself short. I went to college at the average state school instead of the college utopia powerhouse or the more prestigious school of my dreams because it was cheaper. It was only four years. Earned a pristine grade point average and crushed the MCAT but told myself I’d need to take a year off to bolster my application if I wanted a shot at the top med schools. Half-heartedly applied to one average state medical school just before the deadline. Got accepted and warily matriculated. It was only four years.
But this is no longer “only four years”. This is my career, my life. No longer will I sell myself short. No – this time, I will pursue my dreams. Follow my heart. Foolishly apply to a competitive specialty because I assume my relentless work ethic and charming personality will overshadow my mediocre board score. Monday of match week arrives. Email reads: We are sorry, you did not match to any position.
Encumbered by despair, I go to my bedroom and lie in bed and deny the truths of my failures until my family and girlfriend become concerned. She comes to my side. Comforts me. Hugs me like a child. Tells me everything is going to be okay. I love you no matter what, she says. We’re in this together.
I fail to SOAP into an open spot because I’m too bullheaded to accept less. Friends and classmates ask me where I’ll be doing my residency. Too ashamed to respond to them. Throw my phone against my wall in a fit of rage. There’s a dent in the drywall – this will come out of my security deposit. Seclude myself from the world. Search the internet for employment opportunities for med school graduates who didn’t match into residency.
Tell myself I need a little break from it all; go to the liquor store to buy a fifth and a case and a pack of Marlboro 27’s. Sit at home and sulk and drink and cry. Follow through with none of the job opportunities. Need to do something. Stumble into my old bar, where I’m warmly accepted into my former college role of bartender.
The emails arrive. Two-hundred fifty-thousand dollars, seven percent interest. Pay up, loser. No genuine employment opportunities. Too depressed to try. After a few months grace period, she leaves me. It’s not you, it’s me, she says. This is a lie. Heartbroken, net worth far less than nothing, I move back into my mom’s house. She cooks me dinners and keeps me afloat as long as I cut the grass and take the trash to the curb on Wednesdays. I turn thirty. Friends have outgrown me. They have families. They send me Christmas cards with their wives and children wearing matching sweaters and their adorable golden retriever too. Can’t get a girl of my own because I’m thirty and broke and bartending and living in my mom’s basement. The hypothetical kids I’d always dreamed of having don’t exist. On my fortieth birthday I succumb to the realization that they never will exist.
Parents grow old and die. They’re all I had. I use my inheritance to pay off the remainder of my student debt so I can exist without a two-hundred pound dumbbell chained to my ankle.
Finally move into an apartment where the furnace makes noise throughout the night. The debt is gone but the bartending job and a used Honda is all I have anymore. Spend most of my days at the bar. Either serving beers or slurping down pints on the other side until someone tells me to go home. Share unsolicited stories of the old days to anyone who will speak to me. Tell them I graduated from medical school, top of the class. No one believes me. And why should they. I’m a drunk forty-something bartender who smells like Marlboros.
The gray hairs start to come. Not old enough to be a sage of wisdom. Not young enough to be cool. I’ve become the creepy guy. I mean well. But what else can you call a forty-something broke guy who’s still bartending. They eventually fire me for someone younger and more attractive. Can’t blame them. Ten more years go by. Chronic smoker’s cough starts bringing up blood. Go get checked out at the urgent care center. They order some x-rays and CT scans. Then a biopsy. Lung cancer, they tell me.
I think back to those days so long ago, those days spent memorizing the pathophysiology and epidemiology and of course, risk factors, of lung cancers. The days when I was a handsome med student with the world at my fingertips. A budding young doctor with a beautiful girl at my side. The oncologist explains the prognosis and chemotherapy options. I don’t hear what he’s saying.
Let’s not drag this thing out, I tell him.
With my last dying breaths, a nurse looks at me, annoyed, waiting for me to get it over with. I look to the ceiling. Directly above my hospital bed, the black widow hangs over me. Descending slowly. The death rattle escapes my throat. The black widow drops onto my hospital gown, does the Fortnite dance on my chest, and says; should’ve studied harder, idiot.