When I was in residency in New Orleans, I met a remarkable boy. We didn’t have a relationship, in the normal sense, but I was deeply intrigued and felt drawn to him.
He was apparently the orphan son of very wealthy parents, and had been allegedly left with a large inheritance, enough to make him more or less independently wealthy.
Despite this beginning, which usually results in fairly useless, undisciplined people, this guy had smarts, and had gotten himself through med school and into a residency in New Orleans, where he was doing very well. That is where I met him.
I actually met him in Houma, Louisiana, a little shrimping bayou town just on the far side of the Intercoastal Waterway. Our residents were required to spend half their time there, when they weren’t working in the New Orleans hospital.
The Houma situation was as far from the New Orleans situation as could possibly be imagined. We worked there at Chabert Hospital, since closed down, called Little Charity, as it was a branch of the Catholic Charity Hospital system in New Orleans. The town was poor, the inhabitants were poor, and the hospital was poor.
The residents stayed in free apartment housing during their rotations there. The apartments were located behind the hospital itself, within walking distance, so you could stay there when you were on call. The apartments were ancient, and notable on my part for the fact that the entire ceiling of my apartment once fell in without warning, and for the fact that they had pulled a six foot alligator out of the decrepit swimming pool.
This guy and I met at these apartments. He was single, and the single residents sort of gravitated toward each other. He and his best friend, also a member of his residency program, tended to gravitate more towards strippers than to fellow residents, but I lured him in with my fabulous video game system, bought more on the “If You Build It, They Will Come Theory” than to my predilection for video games.
I got a lot of single guys to come over and hang out for beers and video games. I am no idiot. He was one of those guys, and we got to know each other during late night beer and video-fueled chats.
He was a pretty remarkable guy. He was very very bright, and good at what he did. He was also a big birdwatcher, which is an adorably geeky pastime, and guaranteed to draw me in, as my father was always a big time birdwatcher too, which made this guy instantly appealing.
When we walked around outside, he was always showing me birds. He pointed out a shrike one day, on a barbed wire fence. He explained how the shrike would catch food, usually some kind of insect, and leave it impaled on the barbed wire or a twig for later consumption. I thought that was amazing.
We seemed so close to hooking up. He used to hang out in my apartment, lolling about on the carpet in a manner that seemed to me to invite me to join him, but I never did. He was too handsome, and too cool, and too rich, and I was terrified of rejection.
This guy had an amazing car. I am a sucker for awesome cars, always have been, probably due to the fact that my father revered antique Chevys, which he worked on himself. They were all V-8’s, and my first car ever was a V-8 Chevy, around 1960 vintage, The thrum thrum of that awesome engine and the amazing speed with which that immense car got off the block left me loving automotive power.
So, the guy had a brand new red Supercar (unusual and expensive enough that I will not name the model here). Even had he failed to have any of his many other charming attributes, this one fact alone would have drawn me in. He and his friend and I would cruise out to the few clubs in town, not as a date, but to go dancing, and, for them, hang out with strippers. The best part of this for me, besides the clubbing, which I enjoyed, was the fact that when he and his friend became too wasted to drive, they would let me drive the car home.
The most intimate evening we had together was, at best, an oddity; one of those strange things that happens, but I will remember it forever.
He was hanging out in my apartment, and we were listening to music and drinking beer, and he remarked that he desperately needed a haircut. “I have a Swiss Army knife,” I told him. “I can cut it.” For some strange reason, he was intrigued by that idea and thought that was a good plan. I sat on the floor with him, and cut his hair with the scissors on my good old knife, and amazingly, it turned out great. He thought that was the coolest thing ever, and told anyone who would listen at work the next day about his haircut.
I guess maybe he liked me. I was in a dark time then and had just been dumped by a 5-year emotional terrorist, and had no self-confidence to make an aggressive move. I have always regretted that I didn’t.
For years I remembered him, how handsome he was, and how smart, and his love for birds and medicine and fast cars and video games and dancing, and I wished things had turned out differently. I wish I had pushed just a little bit to see where things might go.
For just a little while, I was left pinned on the barbed wire, regretting letting of go of something that never even happened; a foolish grasshopper on a pin waiting for the return of the Shrike.