“Happy Birthday, Topher!” I’m half asleep at 7am as Mrs. Thatcher gives me a hug. I sit down to poke at my porridge (had to look up the spelling) and drink my orange juice. I turn to Kelly, “We’re working too much. If your mom hadn’t told me, I would have completely forgotten that today was my birthday.””You’ve turned into that guy.” I know it. Our plan was to return from the first two years in the islands and hole up in a library for two and a half months, studying furiously for the Boards. Coming from the Caribbean with the deck stacked against you, it’s not enough to pass this test; you have to destroy it. Regurgitating everything we’ve learned during two years (in an 8 hour test) sounds like fun.
We are studying at the University of Cinicinnati medical school library. It’s six stories tall with walls of glass, no furniture, and doors at both ends to let the heat out with everyone’s smoke break. We shiver underneath our long underwear, hats, fleeces, coats, scarfs and mittens. Since coming, I have spent $200 on layers. Not clothes; layers. If it weren’t for the desks, I’d study in the Thatcher’s front lawn and save the drive. We put in ten hours at the library, come home for dinner, and put in another three hours before bed. Saturday is not different from Wednesday. My week is seven Studydays in a row and I guess I wasn’t that surprised that I forgot about my own birth. C’est la vie.
We’re here more than any of the medical students, and people are getting curious. We’re learning names as they stop by to size us. Tim is my favorite. Tim’s skin is taught across his face, revealing the bug-eyed intensity that drives him to walk fitfully, arrange everything on his desk perpendicularly with one inch margins between objects, and has him sniffing around wondering why we’re sitting in the spot that he has clearly sprayed with his urine. Tim’s obituary will include the fragments “26,” “dedicated to helping people,” and “massive heart attack.” We really like Tim.
Then there’s Puss n Boots. If you’re reading this PnB, I love you.
The rumors have circled and everyone knows we’re from SGU. A few students stopped by for help with Pathology and Physiology, and we took some pride in being “the guys from Grenada who probably know the answer.” We’re wearing it on our sleeves. Our SGU sweatshirt sleeves. I guess I owe you that story too.
Kelly and I loved SGU and our time in Grenada. For my money, I’ve never lived so well and my life was never so rewarding and simple: wake up, learn things, sleep. Also tan. Like anyone proud of his school, we both wanted SGU tshirts and sweatshirts to wear back home and around campus. Problem was that the SGU bookstore didn’t carry things you’d want to wear and their prices made sure of it. Trying to change the world, Kelly and I contacted the main offices with ideas for shirts. Six months later, nothing had happened.
So we were in St. Vincent at this point with no bookstore and no chance to buy these shirts. “You know, we could just make them ourselves and sell them to people.” I looked at Kelly like he had two heads. “My brothers and I did it all the time. It’ll work.” So with that, Kelly and I searched the island for a tshirt printer, made a few designs on our computer, and did some market testing. Once we settled on a design and colors, we started paying people that were traveling to the US to fill oversized suitcases with cheap clothing. After a few rounds of this, we had the merchandise, the design, and the means. We invested $1000 of our loan money into the project and began selling them in class to students, faculty, staff, anyone.
We ran deals on buying three shirts at a time. We took custom orders for new shipments. We had all sizes, all colors, a cash drawer and a functioning inventory. We cleared an obscene amount of money and still managed to sell them for less than the bookstore in Grenada was charging. Illegal? Not in the Caribbean, mon. The profits paid for our rent and utilities for almost three months. Good times all around.
Back in the library, in what was turning into a pretty decent birthday, Deathmetal came by. Deathmetal is the skinny kid that plopped down for an early dinner in the library, put in his headphones, and proceeded to blast Metallica so loud that I could hear every lyric and sweet guitar lick from thirty feet away. Everyone stopped what they were doing to stare at him, waiting for him to figure it out. Each of them, so miserable being so polite. The pageantry was killing me. It was like a priest farted in church, was how hard it was to suppress my laughter right then. My schoolgirl giggling got Deathmetal’s attention and he looked at me with a question mark on his forehead. How he heard me, I don’t know. Guy’s got to be deaf from the volume.
I had his attention; what could I do?
I COULD ROCK. Slow at first, I began to lip sync every lyric as I heard it and began pantomiming Lars Ulrich’s thundering drum set. I didn’t half-ass this either; I could have been at a bachelor’s party three beers away from a canceled wedding for how committed I was to this performance. It was glorious. It took a few beats for him to realize that (a) I could hear his music and (b) this was inconsistent with the intention of earphones. He stopped the song, looked around, and sorry’d us. We laughed so hard after that, I thought I’d get sore.
I went to bed that night surprised to be 25 and totally oblivious to the fact that I had no missed calls on my phone as I set its alarm.
The next morning was the same as all the others. The day in the library the same as all the others. It was Studyday, just like last Studyday. It was not untill I came home and checked my email that I saw a few well wishes, and none of them belated. I went downstairs to see if the envelope from my parents had arrived a day late as my dad had promised (no luck). I then headed upstairs to see eight missed phone calls. I checked the date on my computer: Jan 30th, 2007. 8:40 pm.
Mrs. Thatcher had gotten the date wrong and I hadn’t realized it. This meant that twice in two days (in the same year) I had forgotten my birthday. I never thought I would be THAT guy. I told her and Kelly and we all had a nice laugh, but really I was feeling pretty disoriented. I guess I had it coming the next morning.
Half-asleep at 7am, I walk downstairs to eat my porridge. Mrs. Thatcher walks up to me, gives me a big hug and says, “Merry Christmas, Topher.”