Each stone sits there every day as thousands of students walk by. Thirty-two stones. Thirty-two of them. They watch us laugh and run by. They watch us ride our bikes by, totally carefree. They watch as the whole line of Blacksburg transit carries thousands of students by each day. They are stuck. We are free.

I can’t believe this has happened to us. I can’t believe it. It is unimaginable. I remember columbine. I was young. I was dumb. I thought, oh what are a few lives lost in the thousands lost each day? I thought, no big deal.

I saw those balloons rise into the sky. Thirty-two white balloons danced into the heavens. We hokies watched as thirty-two of our own danced away out of our grasp. Thirty-two of them. Too many balloons for me to count before they were gone.

The representative for each stone lined up. I looked and saw thirty-two of them. Thirty-two of them. They all stood there and the number thirty-two came to meaning. There were thirty-two living breathing souls standing there.

No longer was this thirty-two a number written on a running bib, or a collection of stones, or candles. No longer was it just a number. Thirty-two humans died by the hand of one man on April 16, 2007. Thousands of students, alumni, families, and caring people’s lives were forever changed by one man’s rage.

AIDS, cancer, genocide, 9-11, tsunami, hurricane, sniper. Columbine, neVer forgeT.

I’m tired. I’m tired of this. I’m scared and I’m tired. So I stand there, watching thousands of candles being brought above head to symbolize our strength and resilience. I stand there, fighting tears for people I never knew. I stand there wondering, are there others who feel this scared? Are there others who are so uncertain about life right now? Is everyone faking it. Is everyone faking being carefree? Or has everyone else figured something out that I have not. My sharp dress is to cover up my feelings.

I remember the Blacksburg sunset. I remember feeling like the world was a puzzle that was complete. I remember the movie Elf, and Finding Nemo, and It’s a Wonderful Life. I remember everything working out in the end.

But now I feel it’s a big mess and the pieces are scattered everywhere. I remember the thirty-two. And they are gone. And I am still here to interpret what happened.

The Ultimate Goal

A summer between two middle school years, my dad took me on my first bike tour, Bike Virginia. At an average of forty miles a day, me and my dad, my best friend Nat and his dad Tim, enjoyed an week of spandex and saddle sores. Nat and I sported mountain bikes for the tour and it was slow going. Not wanting to creep at the pace of prepubescent boys on mountain bikes, our dads took turns riding with us while the other enjoyed riding at a faster speed.

The next year, I begged my dad to do the tour again with me and so we did. Other than getting sick from e. coli in my water, the trip was awesome. I loved it. I loved the thrill of seeing the countryside at the perfect pace. Not so fast you miss the views and not so slow you never get to any views: the perfect compromise between running and driving. I love the thrill of hearing wheels whirr when I felt strong. I loved the dehydration and fatigue and the end of a long day in the saddle. And I especially loved lying down in a bed after a good hard ride. The pain from cycling brought a unique sense of pleasure I had never felt before.

I was a chunky kid when I was little. To give you a sense of measure, I weighed 140 at 5’1”. I am the same weight now, just five inches taller. My goal for 10k’s was to not walk. I enjoyed my food but I was not yet exposed to exercise. After the right combination of exposure to exercise from my dad and drive for healthy eating habits from my mom, I was on my way to being one of the fittest adolescents there was.

Multiple years later, the summer before my sophomore year in high school, Nat, my dad and I returned to complete the ride again. This time however, Nat and I came with road bikes, some strong legs, and full intentions of completing our first ever century, one hundred miles of biking in one day. This year the burden was on me and Nat to wait for my dad. No worries, the old man did the same for us.

After years of trying to whoop my dad’s butt at anything and everything, I finally knew I was better than him at something, even as superficial as it was. I was happy even though I still knew I could never match him at brains, basketball, golf, soccer, maturity, and basically everything else.

And for the century, my dad waved the white flag and chose to sleep in. Nat and I pushed each other the whole day. One of us would get down and feel tired, but the other one would feel great; it was a perfect combination to get us through the day. The ride was in essence a figure eight with another loop on top. We had the option of cutting miles off twice, but we kept going. We ended up riding 104 miles that day due to a small detour. We didn’t care. It just made us feel tougher.

As for my dad, I was finally better than him at something. He is always the standard to me. And although he was not in the NBA, or a professional at anything I wanted to beat him in, he was always my toughest competitor. I had to work for it if I wanted to beat him.

My eighth grade year I picked up basketball and every night my dad would challenge me to be better and better. We would play one on one in our driveway. Every night after dinner I would say “Come on old man.” Typically I would hear a refusal and the old fart would use the excuse of gout. Crystals in his joints, psh what a pansy. After calling him Sally or Betty or Elizabeth enough he would give in. Sometimes his ankle would be the size of his head so we would just play horse.

After battling him all year, I finally won. I won once more, accepted my goal had been achieved, and stopped playing. He will always be my standard. Someday I will try to match him at being a dad. I hope I will be able to make my kids laugh as much as he did us. I hope I can provide for them like he did for us. Maybe I’ll even try to match his business management skills. None of those goals will ever be fully achieved but if I can be half as successful as he was then I’ll be happy.

Last day in Blacksburg

After a sleepless night two nights ago I managed to sleep from 6:30pm to 10:30am today. Yikes. College knocks sleep schedules all kooky. My parents are coming up today, I am completely not ready for my chemistry exam tomorrow, and I’m moving out!!! It looks nice out today. Weather forecast says nice tomorrow too. That’s been rare here in Bleaksburg. Typically we only get one nice day of weather and then six days of rain. Huh, maybe god’s starting to fancy up to Blacksburg and not hating it as much as he used to. I feel very well rested. Rested and wanting to go play outside. Finally when the weather starts shaping up we all have to sit inside and study. Figures. Screw it. I’m going outside.

53rd Street

When I was a little kid, I spent the whole summer at my family’s beach house on 53rd street in Virginia Beach. My brother and I shared a room, bunked beds. I loved it there. It was euphoric, and to have euphoria at such a young age is something extra special.

Not having a surfboard, I learned to manage just fine on my body board. I would paddle out into the surf and jump on in on waves right along with the older surfers. Being so light, I could stand up and ride the wave just like everyone else.

Additionally, my brother and I learned how to use a body board as a skim board. We would run from the beach as fast as we could directly into a wave to see how much air we could get. One day my brother and I decided it would be an intelligent idea to play chicken in a pool of water up on the beach.

I ran at him as fast as I could and jumped onto my board. Last second, being completely content with being the “chicken” I made a futile attempt to bail out. I did not quite understand the laws of inertia and friction. I pushed off my board, my board went flying to the side as my head went straight at my brother’s head. As we lay there in the pool of our own stupidity, my mom came running up worried sick that we had done some real damage. Hard to hurt that lack of brains though. With a wicked headache, loss of pride, and a heart full of shame, my mom decided no punishment for our stupidity would be necessary. We were already punished enough.

One summer I remember enjoying one of the greatest thunderstorms of my life. With every bolt of lightning, the power would go off, and then come back on moments later. Our doorbell would ring every time the power would come back on. My dad, every time the power went off, would say “I bet someone’s about to come to the door.” And then the doorbell would ring and me, my brother, and my sister would laugh like crazy. He must have said it a hundred times that night, and it made me laugh just as hard the last time as the first. I still smile when I think about it.

Another summer at the beach, my dad decided it was time for me to learn how to ride a bike. He took me out to the calm street with my brother’s old bike and told me the basics. He then proceeded to push me around while holding me stable. An epic moment in the life of a father, right? Teaching his kid how to ride a bike. Well I turned around and said, “Can I just try it on my own?” So he let me and I rode. I guess I was born to ride bikes. Needless to say, that is not exactly how any dad would want that day to go. Whoops.

Long after we have left 53rd street behind, I reminisce about the beauty of that place and remember my first home away from home.


[sunset.jpg]My car is packed and ready to roll back to Richmond. Three bikes, two massive boxes-filled with my whole wardrobe and other crap, a set of golf clubs, a tent, sleeping bag, two backpacks, and still room for more! And I will still manage to fill the car my parents are bringing up on Tuesday. Goodness- where did all this stuff come from?!

I watched the sun set over top of a mountain in Pandapas park tonight. It was a beautiful surprise. I rode my original Schwinn Sting-ray to a local hill top, turned around and there was the most beautiful sky I have ever seen. Pink clouds streaked the sky and blue cloud-free sky laid above me. It faded quickly so I headed out quickly. I wish I had stayed to watch the stars appear one by one above me.

Wednesday may be my last exam ever. I fear college may not be right for me. Time will tell.

Tonight I rest, listening to Hand-me-down-tune by the Avett Brothers.

They may not be the most beautiful or most advanced band ever but they make music that I can feel.

Today I missed my workout but I made up for it with two scoops of ice cream 🙂 Both give the same temporary results, just different future result.

“Have I mentioned that I am the preeminent Proust scholar in America?”-Little Miss Sunshine. I love that quote. It shows you that no matter what ‘status’ a person is, or whatever ‘level’ they are, we are all the same. We are all humans trying to figure life out. I am an entry level international competitor for triathlon and even if I was used to winning world championships or could not win my age group in local races the story would be no different. We are all human. We are subject to the same experiences, love, hate, sadness, happiness, and struggle. Its a ride, and I’m not ready for it to end so I’ll just continue on the crazy ups and downs and unexpected switchbacks because a flat, straight roller coaster wouldn’t be much fun.

I fell asleep to “It’s a Wonderful Life” last night. I wonder if I’ll find a girl like Mary. I hope so. “I’m shakin the dust of this crummy little town off my feet and I’m gonna see the world! Italy, Greece, the Parthenon, the Coliseum….then i’m coming back here and go to college and see what they know…”

First semester I bought myself a Big Wheel. Yes, I bought one of those tricycles that kids ride. I enjoyed the year riding it to and from class, around the drillfield, and sometimes just cruising for chicks. Chicks dig the big wheel. That thing was a chick magnet.

With the weight limit at sixty pounds, it lasted me at 140 a good long time. It recently became too unstable to ride, so I left it unlocked. That I know of, there were four attempts to steal it: one with fire, one with brains, and two with force. All failed. Then, yesterday somebody walked by, saw it was unlocked, and got a Big Wheel for no effort at all. I wonder how those failures of criminals would feel if they knew that.

The campus respected the Big Wheel. Well for the most part. People enjoyed seeing me ride by on a big wheel with my pink and black checkered sunglasses and a Greek fisherman’s cap. I enjoyed it too. I’m glad people accepted it. I guess many people enjoyed the mysteriousness of seeing a big wheel locked up around campus and rarely seeing the actual rider. Some enjoyed it the way I did. It made me feel young and innocent I guess. I fit on it too, and it fit me.

It’s mother’s day today. I wish my mom the absolute best of mother’s days. She’s the best mom. I wish I could have been with her. I’ll admit it, I have the coolest mom ever. No she doesn’t know how to text. No she does not have a facebook profile. No she would not approve if I threw a house party. That’s not what makes a mom cool. My mom doesn’t have to try. She knows exactly what to say and when I actually listen to her recommendations, it turns out she was right. And when I don’t listen, the result is still the same: she was right.

You know, there was no book on how to be a parent. There was no class. There is no way to get experience. There is no practicing. There are no second chances, and kids aren’t too good at forgiving and forgetting the mistakes of their parents. And yet somehow, my mom managed to do a sweet job. She did it right. And yeah she may have messed up sometimes (but the accusations against her were much more plentiful), but the mistakes were few and far apart.

I respect anyone who is willing to throw themselves into a challenge that they have no way of preparing themselves for. My mom and my dad are the best. I cannot imagine tolerating me, my brother, and my sister (especially my sister [girls, ugh]) every day for the past two decades. And not only that, they had to fund us, feed us, house us, and teach us how to stand tall on our own.

However, I am not yet ready to stand tall on my own. I don’t believe anyone ever is.

The next chapter

This coming August I will not be returning to Virginia Tech. I will be taking my first year in fourteen years away from classrooms. My intentions are to live life I have wanted to for the past few years.

In hindsight I appreciate the punishment of being sent to my room. I appreciate it for much more than the basic punishment. I appreciate it for learning that no man should be trapped inside four walls. I learned recently that walls were not meant to trap me. I want to be free. I want to be in the open, away from enclosures.

I will be setting out to attempt a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail in either late February or early March of next year. For somewhere between four and five months I will be without any human companion. I hope to learn more in the woods than I would encased within walls.

Between now and then I have a full agenda. This summer I will be racing for Kazane Racing cycling team. Additionally i will train with Endorphin Fitness junior triathlon team in the mornings every weekday.

My season started off slow with a 16th place finish at Smithfield triathlon. And then I placed fourth at Junior duathlon nationals. I missed qualifying for worlds. However, training has been going exponentially better recently. I feel at the Rockett’s landing triathlon this coming weekend I have an opportunity to redeem myself. We’ll see how it goes. With 5000 dollars in prize money I dream of a taste. Mind you the dream may be horribly unrealistic. We’ll see.

Hopefully I will begin the winter with an extended trip in Honduras. I would like to work with an organization that helps street children get back to normal lives after being left to fend for themselves.

For now, I have till Wednesday in this dorm room. Study for my chemistry final, say goodbye to my friends who are leaving early, and then move out of a place I have called my home for the past nine months.

Adventures of a medical student