Several years ago, when I went on vacation with my parents, brother and sister-in-law — doctors, all of them — a pair of medical scrubs got mixed up in my laundry and came home in my suitcase. Since then, I’ve slept in the baggy blue garments at least a couple of nights a week, and I’m here to tell you, they’re more comfortable than any pair of pajamas I’ve ever owned. I should give them back, I guess. But the cotton blend is so smooth. Plus, the drawstring waist makes for easy on-and-off, handy when it’s time to change into something else.
Changing into something else isn’t always easy.
Following someone else’s path is easier — at least at first — than figuring out the other paths that might exist. No wonder I declared myself pre-med when I arrived at college. But after contrasting the misery of Chemistry 101 with the joy of Introduction to Poetry, I knew. I had probably always known. I knew it when I wrote knockoff fairy tales in kindergarten and asked my dad to “publish” them on the hospital Xerox machine. I knew it when I preferred diagramming sentences in middle school to dissecting frogs. This kid wasn’t meant for cutting up bodies; she was meant for stitching sentences together. Away from my family for the first time, I could finally see who I was — and wasn’t.
I became not a doctor, but a writer. And I discovered the excitement of forging human connections through words and the comfort of turning chaos into order on the page. Learning from more advanced writers and mentoring younger ones, I made a career I love.
Sometimes, especially after deleting a whole chapter and starting over for the tenth time, I think about the physician’s life I didn’t live and I feel wistful. But mostly I feel euphoric, in a near-miss way. Like I dodged a bullet. Or a scalpel.
I don’t set out to deceive anyone when I get out of the shower at the end of the day and put on my scrubs. But neither do I correct the delivery person when he hands over the pizza I’ve ordered instead of cooking dinner. He looks at my blue outfit and says, “Worked a long day, huh?” Yes, pizza guy, I did. I performed complicated surgery on a story. I almost gave up, but in the end I think I saved it. I’m proud.
Maybe you have some piece of clothing from another time in your life, a stage that was or wasn’t. If you’ve thought of throwing it away in a Kondo-inspired fit of organization, might I suggest you wait? Hold onto it, and be grateful for what it represents. I keep these scrubs — this uniform of my alternate universe — because they remind me of the almost-version of myself, the person who might have been had my younger self made different choices. I’m so glad she never existed.