Genocide

Lying in fetal position, turned to right side, on furthest edge of mattress.
Past midnight, room dark, neighborhood quiet.
Staring through frost-rimmed window at stark moon.

Anti-abortion activists on undergrad campus earlier today,
Decrying murder of potential lives.
If potentiality is the criterion,
Then every adolescent boy in history has committed genocide.
Nightly.
Into wads of Kleenex, old socks, and toilet bowls.

Future entrepreneurs, researchers, concert pianists, presidents,
Pulitzer winners–millions at a time–mercilessly flushed to the sewer
Or tossed
Among the banana peel
And Pop-Tart crust
From this morning’s breakfast.

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Soccer

Overcast Sunday morning.
Brisk north wind.
Two boys play soccer in practice field next to deserted high school.
One wears olive green hoodie, red mesh shorts, fluorescent orange cleats.
Friend wears grey beanie cap, black Adidas sweats, blue t-shirt over black long-sleeves.

Early teens, perhaps thirteen or fourteen years:
That tender age when child’s body stretches
Over a lithe, growing frame;
When youthful energy meets budding strength,
Resulting in effortless, tireless athleticism;
When cell phones and Snapchat porn
Vie equally with Legos and hide-and-seek matches;
When dreams begin their inexorable march
Against the onslaught of daily existence.

Hoodie boy scores goal against friend;
Yells in victory, voice cracks;
They switch places.
In ten, fifteen years’ time, where will the boys be?  Who will they be?
Will they remember this cold November morning?
Will they remember to dream?
Do I?
Would that I could talk to my fourteen-year-old self.
Why does it take us a lifetime to figure out how to live?

Russell

Our family cat Russell died this week.  He was eighteen years old.

My brother and I adopted Rus from a city animal shelter in the aftermath of the May 3rd 1999 tornado in Oklahoma City.  At the time, we were 9 and 12 years old, respectively.  Russ was three weeks old.  Over the ensuing two decades, we three boys grew up together.

When we adopted him, Rus weighed less than a pound and didn’t know how to drink water from a bowl.  My brother and I took turns dipping our fingers in water and letting Rus lick the drops.  For the remainder of his life, he “drank” by putting his paws in the water bowl and then licking them dry.  We build giant Lego houses for him in our bedroom.  We dressed him up as the Pope for one Halloween.  He was the reliable constant during our turbulent adolescent years.  He was fearless, intelligent, and fiercely loyal to his two boys.  He once chased a neighborhood kid into a bathroom because the kid had pantomimed punching my brother.  He slept in our beds at night, keeping some sort of internal schedule by which he rotated between my brother and me.  His favorite toys were rabbit foot tchotchkes.  We trained him to walk on a leash, and he loved going for long explorations outside.  He was the third son of our family.  We nicknamed him “Tubbs.”

By the time I was in medical school, Rus had developed diabetes.  Because he was otherwise healthy, we chose to treat him with insulin, and he thrived for another four wonderful years.  This week, the inexorable hand of age caught up with him, and he passed peacefully of kidney failure.  He fell asleep for the last time on his favorite blanket: a red Christmas tree skirt with white fringe.

It is hard to believe that you’re not here anymore, Russell; you were a constant for so many years.  I know you loved us as much as we loved you.  Thank you for everything.

I’ll miss you, Tubbs.

30

I turned 30 years old recently.  To mark the occasion, I want to reflect on my first three decades on Earth.

First, my regrets.  There are plenty.  From a professional standpoint, I regret entering medicine rather than law, as I feel I would have been better suited to the latter.  But of far greater importance, I regret the years I lost to depression.  From freshman year of college until well into medical school, I remonstrated myself daily over my own perceived shortcomings and allowed myself no pleasures or peace.  In doing so, I achieved perfect grades and exceptionally high test scores, but I missed out on everything that matters: reading in the park, laughing and drinking with friends, having a romantic partner, going on vacations, pursuing hobbies.  Instead of enjoying the halcyon days of youth, I despaired beneath a burden of intrusive thoughts, mental anguish, and physical exhaustion, a burden that nearly drove me to suicide in a dark Houston apartment.

My accomplishments and happy moments, I am grateful to say, far outnumber the regrets.  I enjoyed a sheltered middle-class childhood filled with the love of my parents and siblings, the company of close friends, and the support of great teachers.  Though it cost me dearly, I achieved academic success rivaled by few.  I have scuba dived in the Caribbean, have flown airplanes over endless stretches of wheat fields in the summertime, have helped thousands of patients at an inner-city medical clinic, have stood beneath the giant redwoods of California, have biked across the Golden Gate Bridge, have climbed the trails of the Rocky Mountains, have watched the crowds of Times Square, have sat upon the steps of the US Supreme Court, have sipped a latte at the original Starbucks store in Seattle, and have interacted with brilliant colleagues and mentors at top universities.  I have lived and worked in six countries across three continents.  In those travels, I have driven the Great Ocean Road out of Melbourne and seen the Twelve Apostles as a crimson sun set over Earth’s southernmost sea; have zip-lined through one of the planet’s only cloud forests; have visited humble Buddhist shrines and ornate Islamic mosques; have taken a centuries-old train up Mt. Victoria; have attended an F1 race under the lights and infinite wealth of downtown Singapore; and have smelled the roasting beans of coffee farms on the slopes of ancient volcanoes in San Jose.  I have advocated for LGBT rights.  I have taught chemistry and biology at a public high school and have impacted the lives of 150 students, helping them to think more broadly about science and about their world.

I have experienced much from life thus far, and I hope to experience more in the future.  I hope to write more extensively.  I hope to continue traveling and working in countries around the world.  I hope to better the health and lives of people around me through public health policy work.  I hope to return to teaching in some capacity.  I hope to find someone I love and who, somehow, loves me.

Here’s to the next 30 years.

 

Fires of Suburbia

Across the darkening park grounds,
The indistinct hillocks of which glow softly in the purple aestival dusk,
Tens of thousands of fireflies scintillate,
Their caudal luminations streaking upwards from the loamy earth
Like sparks borne aloft from the coals of a smoldering campfire.

We too arose from Wild Horse Green:
Alex and Trevor,
Taylor and Brent and tomboyish Stace.
The hillocks then were castles,
To be defended with stick swords and pine cone grenades;
The fields were African savannahs,
Teeming with housecat lionesses and Old Man McIntyre’s Labrador hyenas;
The elm copse was a military fort and, later, a shelter to adolescent trysts.
During college, the pavilions housed picnics and occasional, accidental, baby showers;
Now, graduation parties and wedding receptions and more baby showers;
Eventually, retirement celebrations and funerals.

The graveled path clicks and rasps underfoot.
Few of the entomic flashes crest the treetops,
For the park employs many wardens:
Bats and nighthawks,
Strategically spun spiderwebs,
Children with cheesecloth nets and Mason jars.

One flare breaks free, blazing—a reverse meteor—into the mauve twilight,
Adding to the starry firmaments
Its fleeting, chartreuse fluorescence.