I’m down to one of my last sessions with Sonya, my speech therapist.
Sonya is great. I adore her. I think I am a little bit in love with her, but not real love. The kind of love like when you fall for your third grade teacher or something. She’s married anyway. Has a kid.
She’s helped me so much. She’s very patient. She’s taught me tricks to compensate for my memory problems, like writing things down and setting alarms on my watch. She’s also helped my speech a lot. She’s taught me tricks for what to do when I can’t think of a word, like to describe the word.
I had a session with her today. We were about halfway through our time when I stopped the exercises we were doing and said, “Sonya, do you think I sound normal?”
She looked surprised. “What? Why?”
“I went on a date a couple of days ago,” I admitted.
“You did?” Her eyes lit up. “Noel, that’s wonderful!” When we first started, that would not have been possible.
“It wasn’t too good,” I told her. “I felt like the girl could tell I had a brain injury the second I opened my mouth. I mean, how noticeable is it?”
Sonya hesitated and I took that as a bad sign. Finally, she said, “Honestly, Noel, if I met you today, I don’t think I’d be able to tell.”
“Really?” I was surprised. When we first started after I got out of inpatient rehab, my speech was pretty bad. I spoke slowly with very little intonation and I also had trouble enunciating. I know I’m better, but sometimes it’s hard to know how much better.
She nodded. “You sound really good. I know you still have memory issues and problems with numbers, but your speech is great. Very clear, good intonation.” She grinned. “I’m very talented.”
I looked at her and before I could stop myself, I said, “Sonya, do you think there’s any chance that a girl would ever…”
I couldn’t finish my thought because I started to feel like I was choking. Sonya’s eyes filled with sympathy. “Oh, Noel,” she whispered. “Oh, honey. You’ll find someone someday. Come on, you’re so wonderful.” She added, “And you’re very cute.”
“I’m disfigured and I can barely walk.”
“Chicks dig scars,” Sonya said with a smile. “And yes, you’ve got a limp… but so what? I promise you, Noel, you’ll find someone. Did you really expect your very first date to be a success?”
“Not really,” I admitted. Especially not with a girl my mother set me up with from her church.
“Next time you have a date,” she said, “you call me and I’ll give you tips.”
“We might not be working together anymore by then,” I reminded her.
“I don’t care,” she said. “You call me. We’re still friends, right? You stick with me and I’ll turn you into a player again.”
I laughed. I was never a player or even close. But I used to be confident, at least.
Anyway, like I said, Sonya is so great. I’m lucky to have had her as my therapist. I’m going to miss her.
The tests have been graded and placed in our mailboxes.
The entire class has been nervous and subdued since the exam. There’s a rumor that nine people failed and eighteen people got honors.
I’m sure Graham got honors. I think he’s pretty sure, but I can tell he’s worried. He’s been a little distracted. There’s a vulnerable side to him that most people don’t get to see, but I catch a glimpse every now and then. He’s not a bad person. I mean, who really is a bad person? He just cares about his career more than a normal person probably should.
He’s been agonizing about every answer on the test. It’s kind of painful because most of them are hard questions that I’m sure I got wrong. So he’s basically pointing out my wrong answers to me. He knows I’ve been failing the quizzes. He should be more sensitive. But then again, I can’t say I’m surprised.
Graham stiffens when Dr. Conrad announces the tests are back. He reaches out and takes my hand. I give him a squeeze.
After lecture, everyone races to our mailboxes to get the tests. I hang back a little. I don’t want to push my way through crowds. Also, if there’s a failing grade circled in red, I don’t want everyone around me to see it.
When I’m about thirty feet away from the mailboxes, Olivia bursts out of the crowd. She runs over to me and hugs me. “I passed!” she squeals. She’s crying. She was so worried.
All the confidence I thought I had before now flies out the window. I start thinking about all the questions I wasn’t sure about. I could easily have failed. I’m scheduled to see a surgery with Elizabeth in another week, but if I fail this test, what’s the point? What can I do? It’s not like I have some boyfriend who will tutor me through this.
I go to the bathroom and wait in a stall for the crowds to die down. Every second takes about ten minutes. Finally, I come out of the bathroom and approach the mailboxes. It looks like there a stampede of elephants came through here. There are stray papers everywhere, chairs are knocked down, tables are overturned. Nervous med students are one of the most destructive forces in the world.
I bend down to get to the mailbox labeled ROSS. I see the test paper inside. I reach for it. My grade is….
I feel like I’m going to faint from relief. I passed. I didn’t do amazing, but I passed. I passed. I passed! I PASSED!!!
“Nice job, Chloe.”
At first, I think it’s Graham behind me. I muse at how sweet he is to stay behind and see how I did. But then I turn around and it’s Noel. He’s smiling at me and I can’t contain myself. I jump up and wrap my arms around him. “Thank you! Thank you!” I say.
He wasn’t holding onto his cane and he almost loses his balance, but steadies himself on an overturned table. As I pull away from him, he laughs. Have I ever heard Noel laugh before? I can’t remember.
“Why are you thanking me?” he says.
“You gave me the tip about the old questions,” I remind him. “I would have failed for sure.”
“You were the one who studied,” he says. “You earned this grade. Remember that.”
“What are you doing here anyway?” I ask.
“I, um, had to…” He blushes. “Okay, honestly? I wanted to see your face when you passed.”
Our eyes meet. I’m not usually quite this close to him. I never noticed before, but he has a light sprinkling of freckles across his nose. It’s cute. Sort of sexy. He takes a step toward me and my breath catches in my chest. I should stop this. I have a boyfriend. I’m not the kind of girl who cheats. Except I want this. I want this so much.
I jump like I got lit on fire. It’s Graham. Oh hell.
Noel is suddenly about five feet away from me. He’s looking down, fiddling with the handle of his cane. I don’t think Graham saw anything. Not that there was anything to see. Maybe there would have been if he came by five minutes later.
“I’ve been looking everywhere for you,” Graham says.
“Oh,” I say.
Graham looks at Noel. “Hey, elevator guy. What are you doing here? Don’t you know this isn’t the elevator?”
I see Noel’s good hand ball into a fist but he doesn’t say anything.
“Anyway, guess what?” Graham says. He puts his arm around me. “I got honors! 94!”
“That’s great,” I say.
He kisses me on the cheek. “Let’s go celebrate, okay?”
I look over at Noel. I know what he’s thinking and I’m praying he won’t say it. Except I already know he will. “Hey,” he says. “Aren’t you going to ask Chloe how she did on the test?”
Graham stops. He blinks. I don’t think it even occurred to him to ask me. I’m not even insulted. That’s just the way he is. “Mind your own goddamn business, elevator guy,” he snaps. “If Chloe wants me to know how she did on the test, she’ll tell me.”
Once we’re out of earshot, Graham says, “Can you believe the nerve of that guy?”
“Yeah,” I mumble.
“So, um, did you do okay?”
“Yes, I passed.”
“That’s great, Chloe,” he says. He kisses me again. First it’s just a peck, but then he suddenly gets more amorous. We start making out in the hallway and he’s sliding his hand up under my shirt. I guess he’s really excited about his grade of honors.
“Do you want to go back to my place?” he whispers.
I thought for a minute that he was going to suggest making out in an empty classroom. But Graham would never do that. He’s too scared of getting caught. It would have been really hot though. Oh well.
The food in the hospital cafeteria is terrible. And to add insult to injury, it’s also expensive. I’m paying… well, I don’t want to say how much I’m paying to go to this school. But let’s just say it’s a lot. I don’t have six dollars to spend on a soggy hot dog and French fries.
Usually I pack a sandwich for lunch, but today I forgot, so I make the trip to the cafeteria. It’s packed with tired and busy-looking people wearing scrubs. I stare at the food for a long time, packed into sad little metal trays behind a sneeze guard, and finally I pick out the fish filet.
“Rule number one of the hospital cafeteria,” says a voice from behind me. “Never ever get fish.”
It’s Elizabeth. She’s wearing her scrubs, but her hair is loose around her face instead of tied back like last time I saw her. “Benefit from my wisdom about the cafeteria,” she says. “It took me years to gain this knowledge.”
“Okay, I won’t get the fish,” I say solemnly and I put it back.
“Are you ready for the surgery next week?” Elizabeth asks me.
“Um, I think so,” I say. I’m going to be scrubbing in on a knee replacement. I wish I could say I’m incredibly excited over this. I’m not. But everyone thinks I’m like Elizabeth and need to follow in her footsteps, so I should give it a try.
A chubby balding guy in green scrubs taps Elizabeth on the shoulder. I notice the big cheeseburger on his tray, dripping grease into a little pool on its plate. “Hey, Liz,” he says. “Do you want a Diet Coke?”
“Yeah, sure,” she says. Elizabeth is way too skinny to be drinking diet soda. “Hey, Glenn, I want you to meet Chloe. She’s the med student I was telling you about. Chloe, this is my fiancée, Glenn. He’s an attending in the psychiatry department.”
“Nice to meet you, Chloe,” he says. He has kind of a soft, mild-mannered voice. He sort of sounds like I’d imagine a psychiatrist would sound.
I have to admit, I’ve wondered about the kind of guy Elizabeth was going to marry. And now that I’m meeting Glenn, I’m kind of disappointed. Glenn is so boring looking. I pictured Elizabeth with some kind of dashing fellow surgeon. I can’t imagine this guy can keep up with her.
Also—and I know this is going to sound really shallow—he’s so unattractive! He’s balding really badly and he’s got a double chin and a paunch. No wonder Elizabeth still keeps talking about that hot wannabe surgeon she dated in med school.
Glenn goes off to purchase their food. Well, at least Elizabeth is able to push him around. She probably likes that. She’s used to it.
“He seems really nice,” I say politely.
“Yeah,” Elizabeth says. She sounds a little sad somehow. She looks down at the ring on her finger, then back up at me. “I have another piece of advice for you, Chloe. If you can help it, only fall in love once.”
No problem there. If I get to fall in love even once, I’ll be pretty happy.
Class is over for the day. I didn’t sleep well last night. We’ve started biochemistry and I’m feeling overwhelmed. I’m studying kind of on autopilot, but I’m not sure how much I’m absorbing. I’ve sort of gotten in the groove of studying, but I still somehow have doubts in the back of my mind about the path I’m taking.
Graham catches up to me as I’m walking out of class. “Going to the library?” he asks me.
“No, home,” I say.
He looks shocked. “But we have a biochemistry test on Friday.”
I don’t know what Graham is worried about. He majored in biochem in college. He knows this stuff cold. “I’m tired,” I say.
“Okay,” he shrugs.
We walk to the elevator together and wait for it to arrive. “By the way,” he says. “I saw you talking to Elizabeth Woodhouse in the cafeteria yesterday. She’s a chief ortho resident, right?”
“Oh,” I say. Somehow I feel like I just got busted. “Yeah, she is.”
“How do you know her?” he asks. “I’m really interested in ortho and I’d love to meet her.”
“She’s my, um, mentor,” I mumble.
“Mentor?” Graham repeats. He’s incredulous. “She’s your mentor? But you don’t want to be a surgeon.”
My face turns red. “Well, I’m thinking about it.”
The elevator doors open. Noel is inside. I badly want to end this conversation, but I know Graham won’t let it go.
“I just can’t see you as a surgeon,” he says. “Especially an orthopedic surgeon. I mean, come on, Chloe.”
I don’t like the way he’s talking to me. It’s really patronizing. I know I’m not the god of the anatomy lab like he is, but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t be a surgeon if I wanted. I see Noel raising his eyebrows at me. “Why not?” I ask.
“Do I really need to tell you?” he says. He could be referring to any number of things: the fact that I failed three anatomy quizzes, my reluctance to do anything during anatomy lab, my total disinterest in surgery. I’m glad he doesn’t bring up any of those things.
“Well, what do you think I could do to make myself a better candidate?” I ask.
“I don’t know, grow a penis?” Graham smirks. Noel is gaping at him. “I mean, do you seriously want to be the only female in the orthopedic surgery department? They’ve got porn in the surgery lounge, you know.”
“Well, they shouldn’t have porn in the lounge!” I say. I remember the look on Elizabeth’s face when she saw it there, how she seemed like she might start crying any second. She told me that there were surgery residents who fought to keep her from being accepted to the program. They thought that if a female was admitted to the program, it would interfere with the traditional annual resident trip to a strip club. Unfortunately, it didn’t.
“So that’s what you want,” Graham says. “To be the spoilsport?”
I don’t know what to say. But before I can open my mouth, Noel mutters, “Sexist jackass.”
Graham blinks. “Excuse me?”
“I said you’re a sexist jackass,” Noel says, loud and clear this time. He’s shooting daggers with his eyes. “If Chloe wants to be a surgeon, she shouldn’t have to worry about not following her dream because a few male residents won’t be able to look at porn in the lounge. That’s bullshit. And you know it.”
Graham’s face turns so red, he’s almost purple. “What the hell do you know, elevator guy? Do you have any remote clue what it takes to be a surgeon? No, you don’t, do you? So why don’t you mind your own goddamn business? Work on learning how to press the right buttons in the elevator, for a change.”
The two of them are facing each other and for a second I’m terrified a fight is going to break out. Then the elevator doors open. It’s Graham’s floor. Without another word, he gets out and storms off to the library.
When the elevator doors close, I let out a breath I hadn’t realized I was holding. My hands are shaking.
“Seriously, Chloe,” Noel says, shaking his head and looking disgusted. “Why are you dating him? He’s such an asshole.”
“He’s…” I bite my lip.
Noel is looking at me, waiting for my answer. I’d been hoping it was a rhetorical question. I feel my face flush.
“Look,” I say, “you know, he’s right. About a lot of things. It’s hard to become a surgeon. And he’s right that… you don’t know what it’s like.”
Noel stares at me like I just slapped him. He doesn’t say anything for a long time and I wish I could take back what I said. I didn’t mean it. It just slipped out. I was embarrassed about Graham because everything Noel said was true. “You’re absolutely right,” he finally says. “I don’t know what I’m talking about.” The doors to the elevator open. “Goodbye, Chloe.”