This story was written for the August Monthly Short Story Writing Challenge held by our writing community at the EA Forums. If you write SimLit, we’d love to have you join us! We have a new challenge each month!
“I didn’t win,” Diane Oh said, as Dr. Jasmine opened the front door.
“Oh?” said Dr. J. “Were you expecting to?”
“Yes!” replied Diane. “My drawing was perfect. It was all the shades of blue and purple that I hear when I listen to Bach’s partita for solo violin. And I even included white dots and lines to represent the intervals and patterns.”
“It sounds spectacular,” said Dr. J. “I would love to see it. What did the winning drawing look like?”
“It was a cat,” said Diane.
“Well,” Dr. Jasmine replied, “people do love cats.”
They sat together in the kitchen, as they often did after school, filling the afternoon hours with conversation, chess games, and stories.
“I’ve never lost before,” said Diane. “I’ve always been first.”
“Well, it’s good to get a taste of losing,” said Dr. J. “It’s a part of life, after all!”
“But you’ve never lost,” said Diane.
“Certainly I have,” replied Dr. Jasmine. “Why just two days ago, I lost a chess game to you when you played that brilliant Queen’s gambit.”
“But that’s just a game,” Diane insisted. “You’ve never lost anything important. Anything you had your whole life staked on.”
“Had you staked your life on this art contest?” Dr. J. asked, and Diane nodded.
“It was that important to you, was it?”
Diane nodded again.
“Well, then,” said Dr. J. “Let me tell you about a time when I failed at something that was so big that it felt like I had staked my entire life on it.”
I was not much older than you when my father became very, very sick. My mother and worried that we would lose him. And we nearly did. But he had one doctor at the hospital who never gave up hope and who insisted that he could perform a surgery that would save my father’s life. And he did, and my father lived! My father lived to a ripe old age.
I was so grateful that as soon as we discovered my father would be ok, I ran out into the woods behind our house and fell on the ground beneath a big oak tree.
I cried and cried with gratitude. And when all the tears were done, I rolled over on my back and looked up at the patches of blue sky between the moss-laden limbs, and I promised that, out of gratitude and to pay back this kindness, I would become a doctor and save people’s lives.
“And did you?” Diane asked.
“That’s what this story is designed to tell,” Dr. Jasmine answered.
Back then, it wasn’t so common for women to become doctors, and we were always told that we couldn’t be. That we weren’t smart enough or strong enough. Just because we were women. It was total nonsense, of course, but few people believed it was nonsense, and everyone believed it was true.
So I became a nurse to start with, and I knew that as I gained experience, I would be so well qualified that I would be able to get into any medical school.
I was a little surprised to discover that I didn’t like medicine. The smell of the hospital made me queasy, and I disagreed with so many of the standard practices, and it seemed that, sometimes, when the hospital was very busy, the patients were treated like hamburger patties in a fast food assembly line. Nonetheless, every night when I lay in my bed, I looked out the window at the stars and I remembered the promise I had made after my father’s recovery.
Finally, it was time for me to take my exams to get into medical school. The results from these tests would determine my future. I studied so hard, and I felt I knew the material backwards and forwards.
There was also an oral component, and I thought I felt confident about that, too. But as the time came closer, I became very nervous. I felt sick with nerves.
I can’t remember any of the questions on the test. I know that when I looked at them, they seemed to be written in a foreign language. I even held the paper upside down, just to see if that would help me read the questions better. I didn’t understand why it felt so confusing to me when I knew the material so well. Was it a trick?
“And was it a trick?” asked Diane.
“A trick of the mind!” said Dr. Jasmine. “When one is very nervous, it is difficult to process questions and retrieve information.”
During the oral exam, I began to stammer. I bet you didn’t know that about me–that I used to have a stutter. It wasn’t that I was confused, it was that I was nervous, so I had trouble formulating and expressing my thoughts. I could see all the answers to their questions in my mind, the words lined up like little railroad cars on a track, but by the time they made it to my mouth, they jumped the track and came out in a jumble.
Dr. Jasmine laughed, but Diane Oh looked at her with such worry and concern.
“It didn’t go well, did it?” Diane asked.
“Most certainly not,” replied Dr. Jasmine. “I failed both the written and the oral exams. For a while there, I was left without my dream. And what made it feel even worse was that I felt that I had broken my promise.”
“I feel like I’ve broken my promise,” said Diane Oh. “To my mother. I didn’t tell her, but I made a secret promise to her, and that’s the same, isn’t it? She was mad because I had practiced the violin instead of helping her fold clothes, like she asked me to, and so I made a promise that I would do a drawing to show her how important music is to me and then my drawing would win first prize, and when she saw that it won, she would understand. She would know why I play my violin.”
“I see,” said Dr. Jasmine. “So this really was about something more than winning the contest, wasn’t it?”
“Yes,” said Diane. “Just like becoming a doctor was something more for you than becoming a doctor. So what happened? How come I still call you Doctor Jasmine?”
Dr. J laughed.
“Well, first,” she said. “I had to be very sad for a very long time. When a dream dies, especially an important one, like the ones that you and I have had, we must let the dream go. And then, we need to feel the empty space where that dream used to be so that we can notice what little seeds come up in it.”
“What do you mean?”
“When I let go of my dream to become a doctor, I felt so sad, because of the promise of gratitude I had made that I would help people. What would become of me if I could not give back in that way? So I sat inside my sadness for a while until the sadness slipped away and all that was left was quietness. At that point, I discovered that my promise–at its deepest core–was that I would help people, in the best way that I knew how. And being a physician was not for me. That much was very clear. But what was for me was listening to people. Talking to them. Helping them to look at their lives and their situations in new and different ways, and through that, helping them to move into happiness.”
“And so did you do that?” Diane asked.
“I did!” replied Dr. J. “I became a different kind of doctor. A psychologist! And I helped many, many people!”
“And did you save lives?”
“Well, I think I may have helped a few people learn how to save their own lives,” replied Dr. Jasmine.
“And that’s even better!” said Diane.
Dr. Jasmine pulled out her cell phone and began to enter something into it.
“What are you doing?” asked Diane.
“I’m scheduling a date. For us. One year from now!”
“What’s it for?” asked Diane.
“It’s for a party! The First Fail Tea Party! We will get together, and we will revisit today, and we will look at this first failure of yours, and we will see what good things have come out of it!”
“Will there be cupcakes?” asked Diane.
“Of course!” replied Dr. J.