It took until my late twenties for all of my excessive bad habits to catch up to me. And, it was two years after that before I started (trying) to improve my health in different ways; LASIK, Yoga, trying (and failing) to quit smoking.
These four essays reflect milestones in this process and they were published over the past six months in Human Parts. I hope you enjoy them.
I was working as a journalist in Saint Petersburg when the butt pain started. The doctor’s heavy Russian accent made me believe I had “gemroids,” which sounded like asteroids made of gemstones, which seemed a lot better than what I actually had: hemorrhoids. More than a month later, it had all gotten much, much worse.
A D.A.R.E. officer visited my high school and told us, “Young people think they’re invincible. This isn’t true!” I sat in the back of the room with my hands under my bum. A voice in the back of my head said, “But I am, though.”
After graduating high school, I spent the next 10 years unable to sleep, socialize, or exist past 5 p.m. without excessive amounts of alcohol or drugs. We called the drugs “cheat codes.” Want to sleep? Drink this or take that. Want to have fun? Drink that or take this. Want to socialize? Want to not be bored?
All of this drinking resulted in three years of on-and-off debilitating digestive issues, the pain of which I masked with (you guessed it) alcohol. It took months of blood and pain, ending in emergency surgery, before I finally thought, “Okay, maybe that D.A.R.E. guy was on to something.”
A typhoon tore through the city that weekend. In Seoul, South Korea, that means dark clouds, 30-plus mph winds, sideways rain, and falling skies. Survival involves dodging branches, skirting garbage, bracing for hail, and a whole lot of running. A typhoon is like pulling a fire alarm in the great outdoors. Think: friendly fire from God, a biochemical attack, and a weapon that targets a population’s umbrella supply.
You can imagine the locals’ surprise at seeing me strolling through this mess in drenched clothes and sunglasses with a world-class, dumb-fuck smile tucked under my nose. Why? Simple: A handful of Korean doctors had just shot laser beams into my eyes.
My watch alarm buzzed. I dodged a falling branch, skirted a flurry of garbage, braced myself against the hail, and ran into a semi-covered alley between two buildings. I lifted my sunglasses and squirted a generous stream of fake tears into my still-healing eyes. I blinked, looked ahead, and saw an old lady, stopped dead, staring at me. As my brand-spanking-new perfect vision cleared, I smiled. For the first time in my life, without contact lenses, without glasses, without squinting, I could clearly see the look on her face.
It said: “You are a fucking idiot.”
Dr. Lee is a startling woman. If I stood in the middle of a field with my mother on one end (a smile and open arms) and Dr. Lee on the other (rolled-up newspapers in each hand), and they both said, “Come here, boy,” without a second’s delay I’d bound my way over to Dr. Lee. Not for safety, not for comfort or health, and certainly not for a good ear-scratching. I’d do it out of pure, primal fucking fear. So when she told me it was time for me to quit smoking, I had a horrible realization: I was going to have to ghost my doctor.