I remember the feeling after my mother died. It was as if the color had been drained from the world; it was as if the floor was made of loose rubber beneath my feet; it was as if everything in the world was merely a shell – like mannequins and cardboard cutouts and marionettes had suddenly displaced the real with the nothing; it was as if I had been transported to a pretend world of tiny people and tiny things yet no one else was the wiser. I was merely twenty-one years old at the time, and at that point, in the Spring of 2010, I was lost.
It was baffling to me, as the time went by – at first days, then weeks, then months – that I seemed to be the only one who felt this way. My father, being a doctor in the city, had patients to attend to. My brother, being freshly graduated from medical school, and remaining true to form, took off for adventures in Sierra Leone, distancing himself in foreign culture wrapped in radio silence. My friends, their “I’m sorries” paid, went back to their lives. Even the dogs seemed to be getting over the loss of this mammoth figure of feminine power and grace. Yet there, I was, Austin, the lost boy, missing his mother.
So, I did what anyone does when confronted with insurmountable grief. I binged some TV the good-old fashioned way: pirating it on the Internet. Yes, this was my moment – somewhere between graduating college, starting medical school, and taking enough acid to give Timothy Leary a scare – I could finally learn the fate of Tony Soprano; I could finally understand why The Wire was “one of the best television shows ever” according to everyone who knows anything. And so, I binged, and I binged, and I binged. Days turned to weeks, and weeks turned to months, and before long, it was August, and it was time for me to get my shit together, for real.
So, I did what anyone does when they feel like they need to get their life back on track: I went back to back to school – medical school to be precise. My mother, as she lay dying, I am sure, rested easy knowing that she had achieved the greatest accomplishment that a Jewish mother could: both of her boys were going to be doctors! A sentiment so stereotypical and pure, how could I not honor it? How could I not pick up my crusty self, put down the psychedelics, and launch myself into a successful career in medicine. Indeed, how could I not, being so lost?
Med school, was, well, med school. It is everything you ever heard it is and not much more: long hours, lots of stress, and more formaldehyde than a Brazilian blowout. Well, my determination to honor my mother drove me there, and it was my ceaseless desire to really feel her smiling at my great success, as she had done so many times before, that kept me cloistered away in coffee shops with my face buried in anatomy books and disturbingly dry power points lectures. It was that lifelong desire to feel her pride that kept me glued to a militaristic schedule of eat, sleep, exercise, study, eat, sleep, exercise, study, eat, sleep, exercise, study until my very dreams contained nothing more than biochemical pathways and CrossFit workouts. And it was in this twisted existence that I tried on my first wig...