Society spends a lot of effort belittling kids who delay having sex. We say it's about personal choice because we're liberal, and then let MTV dictate.
Come be one of us at Wesleyan.
I was twelve and knew. He'd slapped me twice, but I wasn't crying from that. I wasn't even crying from the pain. I was crying because I was going to die.
My parents, the nurse at the hospital and the policewoman were the only ones with whom I ever talked about it. The officer was nice, but they never caught the man. I was glad, as I'd have had to talk some more.
It's a long time not to talk.
Some of my classmates went to places like Ohio State or Purdue, but Wesleyan was right for me. Smaller classes; Dad researched the statistics. Safer, my Mom's prod. Both true, but from the perspective of a 20-year-old, also more fun. Hayes Hall was definitely the place to live, not in some snotty sorority. We did stuff as dormies, made popcorn, bought a six-pack one time. A half-can was enough to give me a hangover, sort of a headache, anyway. People who think Wesleyan's pretty straight can think that, if they wish.
Junior year was when I'd have to decide between English and History. Or even a double major if I chose enough classes that counted both ways. Maybe I'd go to graduate school in American Literature, but if I did that, wouldn't it be smart to have the background in American History? Keep thinking ahead.
The problem with Liberal Arts, of course, is that it's liberal. Science, for example: a full year of something. In my opinion, a semester of Intro to Astronomy, followed by, say, Intro to Environmental Awareness is "Liberal". But something both 101 and 102? Punishment.
The survivable sequence was Chemistry. I'd aced it in high school and everybody said that Chem 101 was the same material, balancing chemical equations and learning to use graduated cylinders. 101 would bring back what I'd learned in high school and I'd be more-or-less set for 102. I'd memorize my notes, of course, and probably hardly jeopardize my grade-point. But who really cares about valences?
I probably should have knocked off science my Freshman year, but what Freshman thinks ahead? It's, where's the bookstore?
Plan of Study: Chem 101, Fall Semester. Chem 102, Spring. Science requirement, goodbye.
But the first 101 lecture made me realize how old I was. I'd just come from "Writing in Postmodern World". Really interesting and there were Seniors taking it too! I'd hardly known an author in the reading list, and I read a lot! Postmodern would be so much fun!
Then this! Almost everybody in the Chemistry lecture was an underclassperson. (Not "underclassman". Wesleyan women are not "men". Am I already a postmodern writer? Maybe not, as I see I said "Freshman" a couple of paragraphs earlier. )
The smirks of fellow note-takers when the professor defined "chemistry" dispelled my hope of academic advantage. Half these kids were probably just out of AP class last year. I wrote down the definition, "the branch of natural science dealing with the composition of substances, their properties and reactions." She'd probably ask it in a test.
At least the text appeared to emphasize current issues. Global warming, reproductive health in Africa and aquaculture merited mention in the first chapter. No electrons, though they'd be coming. When I thumbed up to the diagram of Nitrogen doing different things with Oxygen, it looked sort of familiar.
Lab was once per week. The first order of business was safety: Safety glasses; Reagent labels; Never suck a pipette; How to light a Bunsen burner; Excess chemicals don't go down the drain. Maybe I should have tried Astronomy, I wondered? Telescopes are pretty safe and a lot less boring.
Only at the end of the session were we told to pair up for locker assignment.
I looked around for a girl, realizing too late that the candidates were vaporizing. By the time I'd figured out that much, it was down to me and a guy in a red and white Wesleyan sweatshirt. Why would anybody wear one to class? He was still looking around the room.
Well, it's just once a week, I figured. "Need a partner?"
When he looked at me, I saw it. It's not something most people catch, because they don't know. It's your flash of relief when you realize that you're not totally alone. You got chosen, at least this time. If you're not alone a lot of the time, you wouldn't know it. It's not about being where nobody else is. It's about even if they're there.
"Sure. I mean if you need one."
"Why not?" It wasn't as if we had much choice. "I'm JoAnne." Being a Junior made me a little more socially adept.
"I'm Arthur," sticking out his hand as probably his parents instructed him. "At least I had this stuff last year," he added, "You?"
"Three years ago and never thought of it since," I admitted as we headed toward an open bench.
"No sweat. So how come you're in here," acknowledging my seniority.
"English major," seeing no reason to note that it might be History too.
"Pre-med," he confessed. "My Dad's a doctor."
"Cool." My dad sells Ford tractors, but I didn't say it.
"I guess," his halfhearted response, then changing the subject. "Know Barbara Kingsolver?"
He read her? "Absolutely. You wouldn't want to study American Literature if you just had to study Washington Irving."
"I sorta feel like she's writing about me, in my head, I mean." He paused, probably remembering that I was in English. "But maybe I missed some stuff."
"Prof. Gillespie uses her in Creative Writing. You see how her characters make each other real."
"But my dad's a doctor," explained my Lab partner as we practiced titration for the instructor check-off. He looked around. "You got a calculator? We can figure out how much of this stuff we'll use and just write that many milliliters in our books. Not exactly, just close."
Arthur seemed sort of like whom you'd want for a Lab partner.
"I bought one for this class. It says it does exponents," I was pleased to reveal. I wasn't that sure Chemistry used exponents, but it didn't cost any more.
My acquaintance indicated his sweatshirt. "Need my lab coat so I don't mess it up. Graduation present, free from this place for doing early admission."
Maybe once a week in Lab would be enough, I realized. A Junior wouldn't in a million years admit she'd done early admissions.
The semester chugged along, Chemistry Lab being a manageable part: "Formula of a Metal Oxide", "An Equilibrium Constant", "LeChatelier's Principle". Not that I understood LeChatelier, but I'm pretty good at reading. Chemistry was just a requirement, nothing related to my life.
But maybe I liked Lab just a little bit. Lab was where we'd do something more than take notes and balance electrons and protons. Lab was where we'd see things happen.
"Partners" was how the instructor named us, not our doing. All it meant was that we did a job together. But Arthur's being there was a thing I came to appreciate. Doing something together is more than doing nothing alone, if that makes sense. Arthur and I were good partners, taking our turns measuring and note-taking, adjusting the flame, washing our glassware. Despite his insight into fabrication of believable results, we always did the whole experiment to make sure we had the technique. We'd always wear our safety glasses.
And maybe he didn't mind my presence. Sometimes it's just nice to have someplace to go, knowing that somebody's counting on you to do your half.
Once Arthur brought two brownies. We might get hungry "waiting for the precipitate." Why was that so funny? His mom had sent the brownies by mail, a mom-type thing. I ate mine, even if it was a bit dry, and told him we could maybe brew herbal tea in a beaker. But we didn't want to jeopardize our grade, the instructor being serious about glassware.
One time we were recording temperatures to see if energy was being released ("Exothermic", the answer to a certain quiz question) and I ended up with Arthur's pen, one of those ballpoints that make you want to doodle.
"How 'bout you keep it and write a story about Chemistry someday."
Anyway, I kept the pen. Nobody had ever just given me their pen before. Birthday presents, sure, but not their good pen. ("Nobody" and "their" are grammatically incongruent, according to Prof. Stewart, but an acceptable alternative to "his or her". Want a fun assignment? Inclusive Hemingway! I got a 94.)
I put the pen in the inner pocket of my backpack where I'd not lose it. How'd anybody write a story about Chemistry? Na plus Cl makes salt.
"Thanks," I replied, rather pleased. "So here, you keep my yellow highlighter, then." I couldn't think of why he'd need it, but suddenly I wanted him to have something of mine.
He didn't ask why, just seemed pleased as well.
We were converting a carbonate to a chloride, according to the handout, when Arthur and I bumped, an accident on both our parts, me leaning to get the flask, him reaching for the stirring rod. It couldn't have been more than a second.
But it didn't take the second for me to jerk away, so quickly, in fact, that I nearly spilled the solution.
It took Arthur more than the second to register my reflex. By the time he linked having accidentally bumped my breast and its consequence, I was appallingly embarrassed. JoAnne once more the fool!
"I'm sorry, I didn't realize..." he volunteered.
.... There is more of this story ...