I’m not a bad guy. I’m not a deceitful person in the least. I think honesty, in its truest form, is among the most noble of human qualities. Deception is a tactic wielded for the sake of winning, of gaining favor and saving face; it can (and often does) create false heroes, as the employment of deception is meant to hide the very darkest sides of our humanity, while painting a picture much greater than our true selves. Yet, honesty is different; it destroys heroes. Speaking the truth sacrifices perfectionism, it destroys idolatry and reveals the true nature of our humanity: we aren’t perfect. Pain is felt deepest when we must face the fact that we make mistakes; that sometimes our greed gets the best of our judgement; that our impatience can overtake our tolerance; and how often times, anger with ourselves can cloud our empathy for others.
But, that’s what true honesty is isn’t it? It’s not being the hero; it’s falling from grace; it’s coming to terms with our failures and surrendering to the reality that we are, indeed, human. Nothing more, nothing less. And yet, there’s exists, within that very surrender, a heroic act within itself. There is a selflessness in giving up our perfect heroic image for the chance to be human, for the chance to show everyone that, even within the flawed existence of being human, there are times when we can stand up and be more.
I’m telling you this because it’s what I believe. That’s why I’m hoping that you’ll understand why I did what I did; why I lied.
BECOMING A DOCTOR
I arrived at the track under the blazing beams of the midday heat. In the distance, through the black chains of the fence that surrounded the athletic complex, I watched the desperate pace of a young boy leaning into the curve of the track as he ran. It was clear that the bright green shirt he wore was soaked with effort as his body lurched ahead arduously, his feet slamming hard against the ground with the soft slurring of a shuffled pace. Having consumed a 40oz of beer at lunch with a friend only a hour earlier, I walked toward the athletic complex with the casual stroll of a high I wasn’t yet ready to give up. It certainly wasn’t the best condition in which to run 2-miles, but when another friend had asked if I wanted to go running, the guilt of midday drinking brought me to my knees.
By the time I had finished gulping down about two barrels of water from the public fountain, my friend arrived and we set out on the track for our workout. The pace was a little slow for my taste, but the beer and water in my stomach sent a clear message that I was at my physical limit for the day. My friend, on the other hand, had no trouble at all and began chatting away casually about his teaching schedule for the upcoming school year. As we rounded the bend into the straight away, the young boy in the green shirt came into view, chugging along ahead of us at a snail’s pace. Before we came within an earshot, I cut into my friend’s sentence and drew his attention to the boy.
“Dude that kid’s working hard. I love to see that stuff, people just trying their best. That’s awesome.”
He agreed. As we closed in on the boy, it was clear that he was a bit overweight and I became inspired by his dedication to his workout. All of these thoughts had generated a feeling within me that wished to connect with him somehow, so I decided to throw him some encouragement as we passed by, saying, “keep going man, don’t give up”. But, as I turned to meet his eyes, I didn’t see the determined look of a fatigued, yet motivated, athlete; I saw something else. There was a suffering in his eyes that, for whatever reason, didn’t match the situation. In that moment, I suddenly remembered the boy in me. Here was this kid—who couldn’t be much older than 10—sweating harder than I was (a full-grown man), with a countenance of complete agony burned onto his brow. More than anything, though, I could tell he needed water, fast.
Though the workout and the conversation continued, my mind’s focus became clouded with thoughts of the boy; I just couldn’t get his face out of my head. At that point, the blazing heat had invaded my awareness and a growing concern for the boy’s situation prompted me to tell him to take a water break as we passed him towards the end of our workout. He was walking when we came upon him.
“Hey man, make sure to get some water, okay? Don’t be afraid to take a little water break okay?”
He didn’t answer me. No, “okay”, “I will”, or even “just one more lap” was spoken. At my suggestion, he merely dropped his head a bit and continued his laborious breathing. Turning my head back in hopes of observing his compliance with my advice, I could see that he was touching his chest and beginning to nearly limp. A sense of desperation and resolve within me had now convinced me to insist that this young boy get water immediately. So, as we passed him on our second-to-last lap, I blurted out,
“You need water right now. I’m a doctor. It’s too hot out here. You have to drink water right now. Go now, okay?”
It wasn’t something that I had really planned to say. It just came out. Somehow, I felt desperate for this kid to believe in me so that he might save himself from the terrible effects of heat exhaustion. The young boy had made his way over to the side of the track by the time we finished our final lap. He was breathing heavily and trying to drink water when we walked over to him. Approaching him, I asked him if he was okay and reiterated my concerns.
“Drink some of that water and try to take deep breaths. It’s really hot out here, so you have to make sure you take breaks, okay?”
At this, there came a small voice from behind my right shoulder.
“He can’t take a break, he has to run 15 laps our dad said.”
There, through the links of the fence, was a small girl with brown hair and blue eyes. Her tone was authoritative and included the kind of sass my sister used to employ when conveying the orders that our step father had for my older brother and me. The implication was, “do this or else”. The “else” part I knew well, and it wasn’t good. The expression on her face and the body language she portrayed conveyed a sense of privilege and—in my opinion—a kind of sadist attitude. There was an inflection in her voice that signaled a kind of enjoyment being had from watching her brother run himself into a heat-related death. It was almost as if she was angry at me for stopping the show, for even suggesting that maybe her brother wasn’t having such a good time, or worse: that maybe she didn’t have the authority of being the slave-watcher anymore and that, from that point on, I was in charge. I hated her immediately, but for the sake of the boy, I kept my cool and refrained from insulting her explicitly—though truly, I wanted to. The saying goes, “don’t kill the messenger”, but it’s pretty easy to understand why they did. As far as messengers go, this girl could have fallen off a cliff and I would have just shrugged my shoulders.
The boy chimed in, “that’s my sister. My dad said I have to run 15 laps. I can’t stop or have water until I’m finished…”
“Well, you have to take a break and drink water. It’s too hot out here today,” I said.
The sister butted in with her bullshit tone again, making it clear that she was used to controlling her brother as well as other adults (not on my watch, bitch). “No, No, our dad said he has to finish. He can’t take a break”
I put my hand up and looked her dead in the eye, “Listen, I don’t care what your dad said.
“No, but our— “, she desperately tried to talk over me.
I cut her off and spoke slower, waving my hand back and forth in front of my face. “I don’t care what your dad says. I’m a doctor. It’s way too hot out here and your brother needs to drink and take a break. Your dad might not understand how hot it is out here. Where’s you’re dad now?”
She finally submitted to my authority. “He’s over there”. She pointed to some place off in the distance where the shade of trees separated the track from the basketball courts beyond.
“Okay”. I then turned to the boy, “let’s walk around the track and get under the shade, okay?” He began to walk slowly down the straight away. Beside me, I could hear his breathing quicken and noticed that through the sweat on his face, he was actually crying. He pressed his hand to his chest and veered of the track toward the inner turf and bent over at the hip. He vomited.
“It’s okay to throw up. No problem, buddy.” I bent down close to him, “but listen, this is your body telling you that this is too much for you. You can’t be running like that in this heat. Your dad might not understand, but I do. I’m a doctor.”
He spat. “Are you really a doctor?”
“Yes, I am.”
His breathing continued in the quick, frantic, pace of a child trying to recover from a crying fit. Just as he was physically ravaged, he was clearly suffering from the emotional dilemma of a son who had failed to obey his father’s orders.
“I want you to do something for me, okay? I want you to try to take deep breaths, and when you breathe out, I want you to push your stomach all the way out—as far as it can go. It helps calm your brain down so your body can relax.”
After a few attempts at deep breathing, my friend returned from refilling the boy’s water bottle and handed it to him to wash his mouth out. We all began walking together around the track towards the shade.
“What’s your name”, I asked.
“I’m Matt. Nice to meet you.”
We shook hands.
“Is your dad tough on you, Jason?” I asked.
“Yea…” he replied with his head down, still trying to catch his breath from sobbing.
“Yea, I know what that’s like. My step father was tough on me too. But, maybe your dad doesn’t realize how hot it is out here. I’m gonna talk to your dad when we go back, okay?”
He said nothing.
Before reaching the end of the track I decided to switch gears. “So, what are you training for? What’s your sport?”
“Basketball, awesome. And what about dad, what’s dad’s favorite sport?”
“Cool, so dad likes basketball too, huh? I could never play basketball. I don’t have the talent in my hands, haha. My favorite sport is soccer, though. I love soccer. My friend here is a great wrestler.”
As we rounded the final curve in the track and headed for the exit, I addressed the boy once more.
“Okay, listen Jason. I’m just going to talk to your dad for a second. You don’t have to say anything, okay? Maybe he’ll get angry with me, but that’s okay. You don’t worry about that, alright? At that point, I walked slightly ahead of the boy and turned to my friend.
“What’s a famous hospital in New York?”
“Ummm… I’m not sure,” he said.
“Ohh.. yea. It’s Sinai, though. Sinai..” he emphasized.
When we reached the exit gate, his sister joined us.
“Where’s your dad?” I asked.
“He’s by the basketball courts over there”, she said, pointing again.
Crossing beneath the shade of the trees, we emerged into the sunlight that bathed the small grass lawn that led up to the courts and bleachers that surrounded them. There was a group of racially mixed men—black, white, and latino—playing a rather uneventful game of hoops. I could hear the little sister’s footsteps trailing me through the grass as we approached the entrance to the courts. It sounded as though she was speaking under her breath, but I hadn’t been paying attention to her. I was focusing on my approach to their father.
“Which man is your dad?”
“He’s the one in the purple shirt”, she replied.
A short, somewhat round latino man with brown skin seemed to know I meant to speak with him. He turned immediately from the game and met me at the gate as soon as I arrived. I was prepared for the worst: an argument, the middle finger, a gang-fight, or a simple invitation to “fuck off”. I didn’t care, though. All I cared about was keeping Jason from going to the hopsital. It was the right thing to do, and that gave me all the confidence I needed in that moment to straighten my posture and assume the role of Dr. Rosario.
“Are you Jason’s father?” I asked.
He leaned his head back and to the side, as if reluctant to give an answer he felt forced into giving. “Yea..”, he said in a soft tone.
I stuck out my hand to shake his and began in a friendly, but authoritative tone.
“I’m Dr. Rosario from Mt. Sinai Hospital. I just wanted to let you know that your son, Jason, was running pretty hard out there on the track and needed to take a break and drink water. He was telling me that you told him to run 15 laps. Look, I know how that goes; my dad was the same way, but listen, the sun is really strong today and the heat is causing him to enter the early stages of heat exhaustion, so he’s gotta be careful, okay?
He nodded politely and shook my hand again, saying nothing but “alright”.
I turned to Jason once more and put my hand on his shoulder, “Just take it easy, okay, buddy? Drink some water and rest in the shade for while.”
He nodded his head.
As my friend and I walked away from the basketball courts, I could hear the little sister saying something out loud that was clearly meant for everyone to hear. She was playing messenger again, trying to alert the audience to some information that they had missed during the last act. But, it didn’t matter. I couldn’t hear her. To me, she was simply an evil messenger whose arrow to the chest had not yet come.