Sometimes you can look at a child and say, “Man, he was meant to be a basketball star.” That’s what people used to say about me too, except instead of basketball star, they said lawyer.
I was born in a matching sweater set and shiny Mary Jane shoes on February 26, 1988. Rumor has it I climbed down a stack of reference books to accept the birth certificate. I have spent more recess hours in a library—more hours in a library in general—than probably most members of Congress. I have, on occasion, very politely argued my way out of paying for school milk (where else do state tax dollars go?). I started making study flash cards long before my teachers recommended it. When I became the only member of my rather large family to require a nice, thick pair of glasses, everyone just said, “Of course.”
It has always been my fantasy to one day wake up, don a matching pantsuit, pick up a leather briefcase, and go to court to defend a client.
I have always been deemed a nerd, a workaholic, a focused and highly ambitious person. I have always dreamed of going to school, and then another school, and then another school. It has always been my fantasy to one day wake up, don a matching pantsuit, pick up a leather briefcase, and go to court to defend a client. I have never wanted to be anything other than a lawyer.
Doctor’s visits are scary for children, period. The clean, white sheets on the examination table, the smell of antiseptic and lost hope—it’s awful. But as a logical little eleven-year-old person, I tried to see the usefulness of these yearly check-ups, saving up questions for my doctor that I had gathered throughout the months I waited to be weighed and measured, looked over and pronounced healthy once again.
This visit was required in order for me to enter middle school. So I abandoned reading on my backyard swing set for a couple of hours to go with my mom to Dr. Mendel’s. What a mustache that man had.
It was always too cold from the air conditioning in the waiting room during the summer, and my goose bumps gave me the creeps. Being young meant my mom had to come in with me (thank god), and after all the usual knocking on the elbows and checking my ears, it was time for the tuberculosis (TB) test. Another test to get an excellent grade on—I was psyched.
I was clear I was about to receive something other than an A+.
We were told to come back in a few days, so I waited patiently and practiced my acceptance speech for when he told me I was good to go. I abandoned another afternoon of reading and returned to Dr. Mendel’s. But within a few minutes of arriving and having him check my arm, it was clear I was about to receive something other than an A+.
“Okay, not that we should panic, but I’m reading this as a positive on her TB test. I’m thinking we should get her to the hospital—now.”
Car keys, purse, child. My mom grabbed the necessities, while I grabbed a lollipop. We jumped back in the car and booked it all of two blocks to The Scariest Place on Earth: the hospital.
That is how I found myself, on a very warm, very pleasant August afternoon, in an isolation room.
I tried to think of ways to argue myself out of the room, but infectious diseases weren’t high on my list of sixth-grade summer reading material.
People who looked like they were in charge filed in and out with masks over their mouths, making sure I was comfortable, making sure I was staying still, but not making sure I understood. I thought maybe I was in trouble, but the worst thing I had done up until that point was walk into the middle of the street by myself (and that was by accident). A nurse told me that being there was for my own safety, and also so I wouldn’t infect other people. I tried to think of ways to argue myself out of the room, but infectious diseases weren’t high on my list of sixth-grade summer reading material. I figured this was probably my life now, so I tried to get comfortable as the dark thought of never going to school again filled me with terror. How would I receive homework assignments? How would I eventually pass the bar? Would my future clients discriminate against someone who had TB?
I finally was asked if I needed anything. I requested paper and a pencil—I hadn’t yet worked my way into the Pen Club, what with my terrible handwriting. (I also had assumed that a secretary named Cindy, or even Chuck, would one day type up my lawyer notes for me when I made it big.) I wanted to write a letter to my mom telling her I was okay and to go on without me, but to please drop books off every few days.
I stared at the paper, and decided it was too gruesome a thought, living in this very white room forever.
I stared at the paper, and decided it was too gruesome a thought, living in this very white room forever, writing a note saying that things were okay. I thought about drawing, but there is nothing cheerful about badly constructed stick figures. I decided to write a story to take my mind off of the situation.
About three days passed, and I had written up a storm, relentlessly requesting extra pieces of paper from the nurses. I can’t remember exactly what I wrote, but there were definitely no hospitals in my stories.
I do recall the thrill I felt, each time a new thought came to me to further the lives of the characters I had created, none of whom had TB and none of whom were confined to a small, dull room. I wrote endlessly, and without any regard to time. I got lost inside the world I was creating, barely realizing that I was doing the work of creating it in the first place. It was the first project I had ever worked on that did not include a shred of truth; it was not a monotonous spewing of facts, but rather a story spun out of my head, with colorful people and insane layers that I got more and more excited about upon re-reading. I thought to myself, this is really fun. This might even be better than reading textbooks and memorizing data. If I ever get out of here, I’m going to be a writer.
On the third day, a doctor emerged, my mom behind him looking relieved. He said he was very sorry, it was a false positive, but they had needed to take more tests and monitor me for a few days to be sure. He said, "Amanda, you can go home now."
I looked around at all my stories, scattered on the bed with their numbered pages. I thought about all the characters that were relying on me to make things happen, who would be left to rot if I abandoned them now. I rubbed my left hand, which was happily exhausted from three days of furious writing.
I heard myself say, “I object.”