One summer when I was younger, I got extremely sick. I’ll never forget it. It came, seemingly, out of nowhere. I remember having a very high fever, with chills, a sore throat and I was congested. I was terrified because I didn’t have any idea why I got this sick. I felt terrible and lightheaded. I could barely move. My mom took me to the pediatrician who prescribed antibiotics for the bacterial infection that was attacking my body. Within a week I was back to normal.
Asia was one of the funniest girls I knew. She was always making me laugh; she was always smiling. She was accepting of everyone no matter how they looked, or what others thought. She loved to have fun, and people loved to be around her. Asia was smart and wise for her age. She took care of herself and her younger friends, including my younger brother, Jay; she looked out for him like she was his older sister. She was quiet sometimes though. Occasionally she would zone out as if she were thinking about a million things at once. Sometimes, she would just sit by herself on her porch for hours.
I was with her the same day she committed suicide. We talked on Facebook the same night she died. I said I would bring brownies to school for her upcoming birthday. And I went to bed thinking I would see her the next morning at our bus stop.
When it finally hit me that she was gone, I didn’t know how to deal with that type of pain. I stopped going to school. I stopped caring about a lot of things that once had meant so much to me. I tried to numb my emotions. Above all, I tried to hide my feelings from everybody.
It was the way my family functioned, withholding information. It seems it was the way that Asia functioned too.
For years my family kept secrets from my younger siblings and me. Since I was a little girl, I only knew that my grandfather died when my mother was only two years old, no explanation, nothing less, nothing more. When I recently lost my father, the truth about my grandfather finally came to light. He had been shot and killed by a police officer. Not only had my family devalued my capacity to process this terrible event, they had robbed me of the opportunity to know anything about him. That was why Asia’s act had hurt so much. She had lacked the faith that her friends and family could have helped her when she most needed us.
It took a brutal year before I was able to see these revelations more clearly. I was at the doctor’s for my annual physical. Nothing out of the ordinary. But for the first time, I became fascinated by all the different diagnostic apparatus in her office that recorded every possible way of measuring: height, weight, blood pressure, temperature, the chemical and electrolytic composition of blood, urine, and stool, that detailed the efficiency of my invisible internal organs, and countless other variables, all based on the assumption that we cannot reliably know the fragile threshold between sickness and health unless we transform ourselves into forensic detectives- just as sometimes you have to really dig down deep to solve a math problem or to grasp a complicated scientific principle in school. That the true picture always lies beneath the surface. After Asia’s suicide, I had begun to question how anything that happened in my future could ever be meaningful when I, everybody, had been so completely blindsided by Asia’s incomprehensible action. Now it began to occur to me that Asia had surely left clues – every action has a cause – only no one had had the right tools to diagnose them and prescribe a potent cure.
Suddenly I wanted to know everything possible about the doctor, a young black woman who ran her own office, who was conducting my “routine” physical. How long had it taken her to become a doctor? (“About six years.”) What was medical school like? (“Very challenging; I had to keep focused on the big picture.”) Was she actually nourished, sustained and inspired by what she has to do every day? (“YES!”) The more questions she answered, the more questions I had, and will continue to have, on my way to myself becoming a pediatrician – especially if my questions at first refuse to easily reveal their answers.