I’m fourteen years old and thanks to my cousin Al, I know the path my life is going to take. There is only one person in my family who has ever gone to college and it’s my cousin Al. Like me he did very well in school, and loved science and so about fifteen years ago he left his small Vermont town for Cornell University. After that he returned to Vermont to go to the University of Vermont medical school.
His story is helpful to me on a few levels. On the one, I finally realize that not everyone followed the same path that most people in my town do: Graduate from high school, work in a local business, get married, get a mortgage, have kids and eventually grandkids. There are options. I can do something exciting and interesting to me.
The other thing I get out of it is the knowledge that fitting in in school was no longer important. I may not fit in now, but I can count the number of years I have left in this town on one hand. There are places where people are interested in science, math, Douglas Adams books and food from outside North America and I will go there. No matter what happens, I just need to get through the next few years and then I can leave and find where I fit in.
And so, I know what I will do: good students in my family clearly become doctors so I will also become one.
One rainy autumn afternoon, my Aunt Iva, Al’s mom, invites me over to her house. I’m told that I could spend the afternoon in his room. Though he’s now living far from home, All of his textbooks from his eight years of school are carefully shelved in this room. I am over the moon.
When we get there I immediately run up the stairs to his room. The room is very neat and tidy, the bed is made with a crocheted blanket folded over the end. The wide venetian blinds are closed, shutting out the last of the grey winter light from the room.
I look at the shelves. They’re organized by subject: biology, biochemistry, chemistry, organic chemistry, calculus, Latin. I pick up a biochemistry book and crack it open. Paragraphs are liberally highlighted with yellow highlighter. I bring the book to my nose. It smells like the library.
I spend almost two hours poring over the books, so excited to see the next one that I don’t even have time to really delve in to the one in my hands. I imagine studying physics, biochemistry, Latin and psychology. The world has cracked open wide for me and none of it is in the tiny town I live in. On this day I realize that my days in this place are numbered. There are new places to go and new people to meet – people who don’t spend their weekdays dreaming of the moment when they can crack a beer on Friday after work and have hopes that stretch beyond a new snowmobile or the Red Sox winning the world series.
My mom calls up the stairs “We’re going to have to go in ten minutes!”
Some very young kids cry angrily as they’re dragged away from the playground. At fourteen I’m too old to kick and scream but as I reshelve a copy of the CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics, I swallow a lump in my throat.
Thirty-five years after that day, I am not a doctor. However, the path that led me to the happy life I’m leading today started on a rainy day in a small Vermont town.