Summer had finally emerged and we were sitting out on my front steps, enjoying the afternoon heat and watching some of the other kids play out on the street. Â Some of the teenagers were casually tossing a football around, throwing it high and watching it bounce among the electrical wires, tree branches, and car windows before skittering along the pavement to be chased endlessly by the smaller children. Â Others were riding their bicycles for show, popping up the front wheel as they furiously pumped their pedals to maintain balance. Â It was idyllically urban, and I was thoroughly enjoying the leisurely scene after a month of long and hectic hours working at the hospital.
“Your parents must be rich, right?” Â It was an odd, abrupt question, and I pulled my eyes away from the street to take a moment and try to understand exactly what had just been asked. Â The twelve-year-old sitting next to me looked my way, waiting for a response. Â I stalled.
“Your parents, they must be rich right?” Â If there was any ambiguity in the question, he eliminated it. Â “For you to go to medical school. Â Your parents must be rich, right?”
It was not the first time we had talked about money. Â He lived down the block, and though we had come to be good neighbors and friends over the past year, he would say things that had a similarly peculiar way of making me fumble for words. Â Before, they had been questions or comments like, “Why would you want to live here?” or “I know a doctor makes bank; you must be making bank” Â One eight-year old quipped to me, “Nobody wants to move into the North side.” Â When I first heard it, I thought it was sad and troubling that a child could grow up knowing that his neighbors lived there out of obligation instead of choice. Â When I hear it now, I still think that.
But this question had a different flavor to it. Â “Why do you have to be rich to become a doctor?” I asked.
“Cause, school is expensive. Â So you need to have a lot of money to be able to get there, right?”
“Well . . . you have to borrow a lot, and then pay it back.” Â That answer didn’t sit well with me, so I tried to explain. Â “I mean, isn’t that why doctor’s make money? Â Cause they’re in debt, and they need to pay it back?” Â That answer wasn’t any better, so I shut up.
“Whatever. Â Doctors make bank.” Â He couldn’t be shaken from this thought. Â Neither could I.