• March 13, 2020 |

    846 castro st

    i used to be pre-med

    article by , illustrated by

    It took me all of freshman year and half of sophomore year to realize that I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, but that I sure as hell didn’t want to be a doctor. I ignored a lot of signs that the whole pre-medical thing wasn’t for me. I remember sitting in a stuffy CareerLAB office while an underclassman pre-medical advisor told me that I should shadow a doctor at the hospital over the course of the semester. I had to bite my tongue to prevent myself from asking her why I would ever want to do that. I remember sitting in Professor Zimmt’s office on the verge of tears while he tried to convince me that if I didn’t bother learning thermodynamics and instead got really good at memorizing orbitals that I could maybe get a B in his introductory chemistry course. I spent more time thinking about how I could take the fewest number of pre-med classes possible than I did actually studying for those classes. So the summer after my freshman year, when my computer scientist uncle told me that his graduate school friend needed an intern who knew some Java for his tech firm, I packed for San Francisco and never looked back. 

    ***

    I had known Peter for most of college because we both used to work out late at night in the Keeney Quad gym. We went rock climbing at the same place in Warwick, but we didn’t spend a lot of time together. He said that the most surprising things about living with me in San Francisco were that I was messier than any of his male roommates and that I ate more cherries than anyone he’d ever known. 

    We rented an Airbnb in the Castro District for the three-month period of our internships. For the first week, the kitchen table was piled high with company T-shirts, socks, backpacks, and water bottles which all screamed Tech Intern. Peter and I each had our own room; Peter’s had a little sun porch that sat above the back alley we shared with four neighboring flats. The renters were two married women, Julie and Janet, whose names Peter mixed up for the entirety of the summer. They lived downstairs and let us walk their daughter’s guide dog, Wilson, who loved us because we’d sometimes give him leftover noodles. Once, they left us with a bottle of white wine that we’d borrowed to make Italian food: Keep the rest! You must have wine with dinner! The side wall of the family room was made up of floor-to-ceiling windows that looked down Castro Street to the rainbow flags at the center of the neighborhood. On the rare mornings that weren’t thick with Bay Area fog, we could see all the way to the Financial District and the top of a little hill in Oakland. On these days, the light tan walls and area rug would heat up in the sun so that the whole place was baking by 9 a.m. Most mornings, Peter and I would just miss each other or mutter an uncaffeinated “Can I come into the bathroom to brush my teeth?” before I walked to the MUNI station on 17th Street to get to the Financial District, and he walked the other way to catch a bus from the Mission to Dogpatch.

    We didn’t talk too much about work, unless one of us accidentally broke the company website (Peter) or submitted code that prevented other developers from working on the company’s product (me). Evenings were usually spent rock climbing at snazzy gyms filled with Tech Bros and Beautiful Californians and then getting tacos in the Mission District or making 9 p.m. dinners while dancing in the kitchen. Afterwards, we would watch TV shows or read on the soft blue couch in the family room or eat jam-flavored ice cream at Salt and Straw. Peter is pretty specific about music, and my taste is copycat because my older sister has been making playlists for me since I was a junior in high school. So I let him pick the tunes while he’d stir the spaghetti carbonara: Peach Pit, Twin Peaks, Beach House, and Khruangbin. I had promised that I’d chop vegetables and do all the dishes if he did most of the cooking. By the end of the summer, we had playlists of the songs we liked best, had ranked our favorite burrito spots and taquerías, and had made almost everything that each of us could cook (even though my list was just toast and sauteed spinach).  

    On weekends, we’d eat fruit in Dolores Park or link up with the few other kids we knew in the city to go hiking up by Mt. Tamalpais. Our friend Catherine threw dinner parties once a month where everyone would bring a dish, drink red wine, and dance before and after dinner. We’d sit in mismatched chairs around the table or on pillows on the floor and talk over one another until we’d forgotten what time it was and the fact that Ubers are more expensive when it’s past midnight. One Sunday morning, Peter and I rented bikes in Golden Gate Park and cycled the couple of miles to the Golden Gate Bridge, where we thought condescending thoughts about the tourists taking family photos and not moving out of our way. Biking over the bridge itself was slow and windy and terrible, but we both screamed like banshees as we flew down the hills in Sausalito, wailing past fit cycling moms in Lycra and not realizing how sunburnt our shoulders were getting. Some mornings, I’d leave notes on the mirror in dry erase marker to let him know what time I thought I’d be home. He’d draw the sun wearing sunglasses. 

    ***

    And I’m not sure if things feel figured out now. I still eat a lot of cherries and don’t want to be a doctor. But I’m still subscribed to the pre-med email list at school, and I think I’ll keep it that way.