There’s someone in the bathroom at night who tries to stop me
from getting in.
“He’ll get plenty of offers,” my father said to no one in particular as
he pierced the yolk of his fried egg with a piece of toast. It was a warm
Saturday morning in 1962, and my father gazed out the window, where
dogwood still bloomed and my mother’s ferns shimmered lush and
green in the light before he pushed the dripping toast into his mouth.
Sitting on either side of him at the breakfast table, my sister and I knew
he meant my brother, still sleeping, as Saturday was the only day—no
practices, no games—he could languish in bed. Though it was early September, college football coaches from all over the country had been angling for my brother, piling on coded compliments, sending him glossy
brochures and stats and discussing campus visits for later in the fall.
My father drank his coffee, scratched idly at his neck where dry skin
often flecked onto his collar, then turned to my sister, who’d gone back
to reading her book. “Now you,” he smiled, “should accompany me on
rounds tomorrow, and we’ll see what you notice.” My sister looked up
and nodded. “You finish the practice tests?” He meant the prep course
my mother had ordered. My sister gave him a sly smile, as if even the
thought of tests was a noisy intrusion into the sealed, blissful place of
her reading. We all knew she read only what pricked her interest, though
in the end, after extravagant dawdling, she’d rise to the challenge and
conquer the tests.
I was eating a second cinnamon roll, peeling it from the outside, attentively licking icing from my middle finger, cleaning it up quite well
and listening carefully, as if beneath the pitch and thrust of my father’s
words, something critical was at stake. As I pulled the soft, sticky dough
from the center, I surreptitiously watched as my father took a last sip
of coffee, crumpled his napkin, began pushing back his chair, and then
stopped. He gazed at me. “Honor roll,” he said, then got up.
In our family we knew too well my father’s priorities: success, to him,
was a transcendent ideal, a transformation that led only to applause.
And what he wanted was a grand slam, wanted his two daughters to succeed as much as his son, wanted my sister and me to have the grace and
beauty of women and the ambition and nerve of men, wanted us to be
persuasive and eloquent, clever and resourceful, to succeed beyond his
limits, and, of course, to be doctors. In many ways my brother and sister
complied with these terms, but I, well, I was too bound up in myself,