Pre-Med, 1998

I was talking to my sister on the phone,
the little one,
and she said,
“I don’t think I want to be a doctor.”

And I thought,
“Oh, no.”

Now, you gotta understand,
we’re Asian.
South Asian, actually.
Sri Lankan, specifically.
And the thing about Asians is,
we’re *all* supposed to be doctors.
We all *are* doctors.

My dad’s friends are doctors.
my mom’s friends are doctors,
my dad’s *friends’* friends are doctors.
and all of their kids
are in med school right now,
planning to be doctors.

My middle sister is planning to be a doctor,
fourth year Johns Hopkins, pre-med,
volunteering at a local hospital,
studying for the MCAT’s.

And I had thought the youngest was safely on the track,
a few years behind,
a freshman in college, pre-med,
taking Biology, Chemistry,
studying all the damned time,
going to be just what the world needs,
another Asian doctor.

And you gotta understand — I was happy about this.
They’ll be successful.
They’ll have money; they won’t have to worry,
They’ll be able to pay the rent on time unlike their big sister
who’s dumb enough to try to make a living as a writer,

but best of all
it’ll make the parents happy.

After all — *someone* had to to do it.
Someone had to make the parents happy,
and it certainly wasn’t going to be me:
black sheep,
dater of white boys
writer of pornography,
destroyer of her parents’ happiness.

So the little one says to me,
“I don’t think I want to be a doctor.”

And I panic.

And I ask why.
And she says,
this sweet kid says
that she wants to make a difference in the world,
do something good, unselfish,
help people.

I get the impression that she has vague ideas
of working in a soup kitchen somewhere.

She’s eighteen, remember?
Remember eighteen?

And I want to cheer
I want to stand up and say,
“You go, girl!”
I want to start telling her about activism,
about civil rights
and queer rights
and human rights
I want to tell her to do whatever the hell she wants,
’cause there is a whole big beautiful world out there,
and it doesn’t need *her* to be a doctor.

But I do not say this.
I do not say any of this.

Instead, I tell her,
“Well, doctors can do good, too.”
“Well, you don’t have to make piles of money.”
“You could work in an inner city clinic.”
“You could even go work in a third-world country;
risk your life among dangerous diseases,
working with inadequate facilities, equipment,
for people who can’t afford to pay you.”

“Doesn’t that sound great?”

And she agreed, hesitantly, that that might be okay.
She agreed, quietly, to not give up on medicine quite yet.
She agreed with her big sister, who she adored.

And all of those things I said to her were true.
This way, if she burns out on goodness,
she’ll have a decent job to fall back on.
And I *am* tired of hurting my parents, and it would be so easy
so easy
to convince myself that I did all this
for my sister’s sake,
and for them,
so they wouldn’t be hurt anymore.

But I don’t buy it.

‘Cause remember — I panicked.
Remember — I’m the black sheep.
Remember — the black sheep always gets blamed for everything.

And if my little sister had left medicine,
had given up being a doctor,
I wanted to be absolutely sure;
I wanted them to be absolutely sure, that I
had nothing to do with it.

Which is a small
petty thing
to have to admit.


M.A. Mohanraj
June 7, 1998