The Adventures of Amolika Mangal
by Zeb Carbaugh
The first page was written in different handwriting from Amolika’s. In beautiful cursive handwriting and a much finer pen stroke it read:
“To my beloved granddaughter Amolika. No matter what your life brings, learn from it and write it down. Love, Poppa”
The next page showed Amolika’s chicken scratch, ball point pen handwriting.
My time in Cannes, France inspired me, possibly too much. On the flight home I found myself more confident and motivated than ever before. Six weeks of eating some of the best food in the world, drinking with friends on the beach, and swimming in the Mediterranean Sea had shown me who I wanted to be.
It would be foolish of me to write off medical school as something not worth my time. I have nothing but the utmost respect for the field, but it isn’t me. Healing others is a noble pursuit, but I’m convinced my calling is archeology.
When I think of the lost secrets this planet holds I feel compelled in the extreme. I’m no fool. I know heading down this path won’t lead me to Indiana Jones type adventures of punching Nazis and discovering the holy grail. But I refuse to believe all the mystery of this world has long dried up and is now kept on book shelves. There is still so much for me to uncover. There must be.
The non-stop flight from Nice France to Rome Italy took only an hour. Usually when I arrive home after traveling I am looking forward to staying somewhere familiar even if it is just for a short time before heading off somewhere else. My parents liked to send me all over the world. They say they want me to keep a global view. But this time, I dreaded coming home. It was sad when the plane touched down in Rome. No part of my conscious mind wanted my time in France to end. But alas, duty calls and something deeper than my conscious mind drove me to press on.
The warm air hit my face as I got off the plane. Familiar smells of street vendors frying suppli filled my nostrils and invigorated me with confidence. Something about being in a familiar place, being on my home turf, always makes me hold my head higher. A taxi took me to my parents’ home in the nice part of town. As I approached the front door I encountered something else that struck a familiar tune. This time it was the sound of my mother and father arguing.
My mother became so upset she started speaking in her native Hindi tongue when I decided to walk in the front door. I stepped inside with a forced smile as if I hadn’t heard anything. The two of them heard me enter and immediately stopped their bickering. They too felt it necessary to put on this act as if we were the perfect family, as if such a thing exists. My family loved each other dearly, but our opinions on many things differed.
Switching back to English my mother said, “Amolika you’re home from your vacation in France! We are so glad to see you.” I remember my mother speaking for my father as usual.
“I went for schooling mother. I went to learn French. It wasn’t a vacation,” I replied.
My mother was the most stubborn person in Europe. In her eyes, anything other than the pursuit of putting the letters “MD” behind my name was considered a vacation. She had spent her life working for the betterment of her family. Growing up I never saw her do anything for herself and she expected the same family-based altruism from my siblings and myself.
Avoiding the use of the word “vacation” again, my mother turned her sights to medical school within 30 seconds of me being home. “Well your finally done with your fun. The University of Milan is still accepting applications for medical school enrollment. You should get a good night’s sleep. There are plenty of admission essays for you to write tomorrow.”
Mother always liked to press medical school. She was always reminding me of that goal I was meant to accomplish. But France was the last stop on a very long period of travel. Before that I was in Oxford where I first discovered my love for archeology. She only agreed to let me go because of my grandfather, my father’s father. He seemed to be the only person who could convince her of anything.
According to my father, my Poppa had been preaching to my parents about me learning from around the world since the day I was born. He convinced them, or more importantly had convinced my mother that even Doctors benefitted from being well cultured. However, after a 6-year liberal arts degree from over 5 different universities my mother’s patience had seemingly run thin.
She wasn’t happy to see my pictures on social media of late nights out. It was as if seeing me smiling in those photos, seeing me happy rubbed her the wrong way.
I remember that night vividly. The memory of that conversation I had with my parents is magnified in my mind. My mother pressed me one last time as I was walking up the stairs to unpack my things from France. “We will see you bright and early in the morning. I will prepare breakfast for you and then you can get started on that application to the University of Milan,” she said.
Hearing my mother slide in that last remark, hearing her ignore my feelings of disgust for medical school that time pushed me over the edge. Walking up the stairs to my childhood room I froze. Standing half way up the staircase with my mother’s words still floating in the air around me, I was in a state of rage.
Looking back I don’t regret my decision that night, but I have no pride in my conduct. My entire childhood I had heard my parents argue with each other with fiery passion. But yet again, my mother spoke to me as a child. She spoke to my father as an adult by voicing her opinion and responding to his. Yet with me she just calmly told me what she wanted me to do and completely ignored my wants and needs.
After my stay in France I had felt fully myself. The warm Mediterranean sea had invigorated me, and I could no longer allow myself to be bullied by my mother’s passive aggressive tactics. I stood up for myself. I left.
Instead of climbing the rest of the staircase to my childhood room, unpacking my belongings, and facing the next day as a live-in member of my family, I turned around and descended the stairs. I chose to walk right out of the house without another word. It was doubtful they would hear me if I had spoken. I hadn’t even let my suitcase out of my grip.
“Amolika?” My father asked with concern in his voice. The bewildered words alerted my mother. She had already started in the kitchen to prepare for tomorrow’s breakfast no doubt.
In a shrill tone of panic and disbelief my mother called out to me as I started down the front door steps of my childhood home. “Amolika, where are you going?!”
With the force of my emotion fueled exit, the front door swung fast back towards the house and the handle made a clattering sound as it struck the exterior wall of the house. Rebellious rage inspired adrenaline to race down my neck into my back and down to my finger tips. Hearing my mother protest my departure only to have her voice drowned out by the loud bang of the front door’s metallic handle fueled my adrenaline even further. At the time it felt amazing. However, in hindsight I wish I would have said something along the lines of “I still love you.”
There is no need to dwell on the past. Hindsight is 20/20 and without that adrenaline I might not have chosen the same path for myself in the days that followed. The shell that covered me for my childhood had molted away. Leaving that night was the first stretch of a journey that would make me the person I am today.
That night I found lodging in a hostel on the edge of Rome. I slept on the bottom bunk under a complete stranger who’s feet smelled as if he had just finished the MOAB 240 endurance run and didn’t bother washing up afterwards. But I did not care about the stench. I didn’t just sleep that first night out from under my mother’s thumb, I slumbered. There was probably a smile laying across my face the entire night.
As cheesy as it may sound, I felt as if the next day was going to be the first day of the rest of my life. I felt I had truly left childhood behind me and was ready to find what kind of person I would be on my own.