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The Human Element, Part I
I sit in the science room, staring absently at the projection of the periodic table my perky Asian science teacher is blabbing on about. It’s baffling how interesting she finds it all—the alkaline earth elements, the metalloids, the metals, the nonmetals. I wonder if humans are made of elements too, or just a bunch of atom-sized adjectives swirling around. Fat. Skinny. Pensive. Athletic. Nose-too-big, eyes-too-small. Blonde, brunette, redhead. I suppose we are actually made of all the elements that things like sedimentary rock and nail polish are, just imbued with some sort of special magic that makes us human. Scientifically, we should all be exactly the same. But there are those tiny mutations—the birthmark on your tailbone, the index toes that are longer than your halluxes. No one really cares about those things except maybe you if you even notice them. If anyone loves you enough to explore the length of your big toe or the width of your nostrils, let me know.
Maybe I just don’t know enough about the world or about life. Perky Asian Science teacher does. She’s married to a graphic designer and they likely live in some posh apartment somewhere. There are probably pictures of them in small silver frames purchased for $4.99 in the clearance bin at Target, standing and smiling with their arms around each other’s shoulders in front of exotic wonders like the Great Wall of China or Big Ben. They have dinner parties where they chat with their friends, who are also cool things like children’s book publishers or mixed martial artists (okay, that one is a stretch), about the red wine that’s being served.
Perky Asian Science Teacher once had an affair with a slightly older coworker at the genetics lab where she once worked. Right after he broke it off because he was close to a breakthrough in discovering something about a genetic mutation in rats—funny, she thought, because he himself was one—she met her Cool Graphic Designer Husband.
They met at the New Years’ Eve party of her friend Eve, who she knew from the Liberal Arts University they’d attended. Eve knew Cool Graphic Designer Husband from an internship they’d done together at Sophisticated New York-Based Magazine right after college. Eve wanted Cool Graphic Designer Husband for herself, always had, and watched crestfallen as Perky Asian Science Teacher and Cool Graphic Designer Husband introduced themselves by the bean dip and proceeded to chat the whole evening. At least they didn’t kiss at midnight, Eve thought. But they did exchange cell phone numbers and promised to give one another a ring on their iPhones.
The next morning, Saturday, Perky Asian Science Teacher awoke and found her Anthropologie bedding wasn’t in a tangle at the foot of her bed as usual. She had slept pleasantly. Peacefully. She had two messages on her iPhone, one from Sleazy Co-worker Ex and one from Cool Graphic Designer Husband. The first was sent at 11:59 from the obviously drunk Ex.
Bnabe, I missddsddd tyouj. She scoffed disgustedly and nearly deleted it, but decided to keep it in a moment of weakness so she could prove to herself later that she was desired. She looked at the second text.
Nice to meet you last night. If you’re not too hungover, would you like to meet me for lunch around noon? It was the perfect text: not too presumptuous, slightly witty, and most importantly, from a guy she could see herself liking. She paused for a moment, replied affirmatively, and pressed send with a sigh of relief.
Her bulldog, Atticus Finch, scratched at the white door. He wanted to be walked. Sleazy Co-worker Ex had loved Finch; he loved all animals. They had met two years earlier when she’d begun working at Frischman Genetics Lab. He was charming, dashing, a Scotsman with floppy black hair, round glasses, and an accent he tried to hide. The two had laughed and joked at work about things no one but a scientist would find funny. Sleazy Co-worker Ex had never pressured her into a relationship though he was technically her superior. Maybe, in hindsight, that was part of his plan of seduction.
Their first day had been six months earlier, to a summer solstice party at Sophisticated Dance Club. Sophisticated Dance Club was full of men from the world of finance and their wives. Sleazy Co-Worker Ex was a passionate man, she discovered, a suave dance partner, and a cliché. She was disappointed but thought she could get over it.
Their second date was a month later; the wedding of his cousin, Sadsack Spinster. Most of the conversation that night revolved around the fact that none of her relatives thought Sadsack Spinster would ever marry. Sleazy Co-Worker Ex introduced her in a way that made it seem like their relationship was much more serious than it actually was. Plus it was a secret from all of their co-workers at the lab.
Months passed in which they went on creative dates, most of which he thought up. In hindsight there was nothing specifically sleazy about Sleazy Co-Worker Ex. It was just a general aura. There was just something about him, his charm, his dance moves, his intelligence, his greasy overly combed hair, which made him the most repulsive boyfriend Perky Asian Science Teacher had ever had. She had inched ever closer to breaking up with him. All her cool friends, the children’s book publishers, the gynecologists, Eve, nicknamed her the Inchworm. Then, suddenly, unexpectedly, like a calculating boxer’s punch to the stomach, he charmingly broke it off. Everything was sludge then, though she’d never really liked him. Maybe that wasn’t fair, because usually things worked in just the opposite way: the more she knew someone, the more she liked them. But he was different. Bad different.