“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.” – Confucius
Today marks one full year of writing on this blog. One full year of stories, uncertainties, adventure, loss of motivation, re-invigoration…all those things, and more. Given the rain, you’d think I was making this a somber occasion. On the contrary, starting this blog was one of my proudest moments, among many difficulties this year.
While I wrote like a woman possessed for many months, there are still many goals I didn’t accomplish, namely completing my novella. But there are many, many things I did accomplish, like taking a writing class, submitting my work to publications, and most importantly, finding joy in something that is challenging but oh, so much FUN!
I have another flash fiction piece to submit to my instructor. It’s a different structure than I’m used to, and I took some chances. I’ll post the version with her recommended changes in a week or so. But for now, enjoy this bit.
ONE YEAR DOWN…??? TO GO.
I loved the way you handled mice.
The lab was a lonely place back then. Dr. Rubens always in his office with the door closed, applying for grants and drinking cold coffee. That fluorescent light that always flickered. You and I running the lab on our own, like a couple of camp counselors. The conveyor belt of unpaid interns, scribbling notes on stainless steel tables.
The mice. You were so gentle. Calling each one a hero for giving its life to a higher purpose. Naming each one, despite being told it wasn’t wise. Petunia. Carl. Mad Max. Spock. They gripped your fingers with their chubby pink hands. You let them weave in and out of your sleeves and pant legs, and giggled when they reached your neck. Then you’d sober up and get to the task at hand, which was to test them until they died.
Every Friday night we’d share pitchers of beer and argue about which research breakthrough would get us the cover of TIME. Every Monday morning you wrote a fresh quotation on the dry erase board:
“Give a man a match, and he’ll be warm for a minute, but set him on fire, and he’ll be warm for the rest of his life.”
“One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one’s work is terribly important.”
Every other week I’d bring around some new idiot I’d been dating, and you’d sniff the air and tell me they were unworthy of my affection. One night I called you for drinks after a particularly gruesome date with a manager at J. Crew.
After five beers you said “I wish I could flex my brain like a muscle, then maybe you’d be impressed.”
I kissed your cheek and drove you home.
I thought about what it would be like to lie naked in bed with you, to trace constellations on your freckled back while you recited compounds and formulas. You, thoughtful and nervous and I, patient and poised.
There was the day you met Henry. How you spotted his red eyes in a sea of wriggling white bodies. You softly pressed his tiny head between you thumb and forefinger and pronounced him your son. While tickling his belly you told me that microphones had recorded almost inaudible chitter in mice and rats, and that chitter was certainly laughter. We decided then and there that Henry would be our lab mascot, and would be spared the gauntlet of horrors that the other mice endured.
You started buying him cheap seasonal outfits from the drugstore – a tiny sombrero for Cinco de Mayo, rabbit ears for Easter. I taught him tricks.
It’s still hard for me the pinpoint the moment that you gave up. The moment you realized that our work was always unappreciated and hardly revolutionary. That we would never have the funding to cure a cancer or uncrack the common cold. You started questioning the value of human life, and if we deserved to be saved. You wondered how many mice equaled a human being.
One morning I unlocked the doors and walked to Henry’s cage to refill his food and water. He was stiff and still atop a pile of sawdust. There was your note taped to the cage:
“Henry died. I died too. I love you. Goodbye.”
I held Henry in my cupped hand. He was heavy now that he wasn’t scrambling between my fingers. I kissed his snout and eyelids and later watched the hazardous waste truck drive away, his and a hundred other little souls inside it. I wish I’d buried him.
I asked about you.
I heard you moved to Boston, got a job at MIT. Dr. Rubens wrote a glowing letter of recommendation, despite your sudden departure. Then I heard it wasn’t a good fit, that you’d thrown a tantrum, destroyed a lab, then skipped town. Your mom hasn’t heard from you. Neither have I.
I’ve written this letter, but have no address. Maybe someone will hear from you, and that faint ‘ping’ will disclose a location. Then I’ll send this letter, and you’ll remember all of it – Henry, late nights at the lab, the smell of our starched white coats, what we shared. But you’re still light years away.