The mosquitoes had the same home she did – in the white-walled, sterile-smelling, sharp-cornered lab space she shared with cancer research scientists. Rolanda, however, studied mosquito behavior. The buzzing, she thought, was similar to the way she breathed at night – in, out, wheeze. Their rapid flying, she thought, was similar to the way she darted around people who didn’t seem to have time for her insect musings.
A mid-20s, overly passionate, wheeze-breathing woman whose height caused her to get patted on the head instead of hugged. She identified with the mosquitoes she studied in the cramped lab space laden with glass containers (with holes poked in the top, of course). They were labeled with blue tape, and the tops were easy to remove if it was time to set a group of mosquitoes free.
Overly passionate is what she was.
A mosquito profiler, a scholar, a true aficionado.
A writer who exposes the importance of creatures too small to be noticed for anything other than their sound.
Every day she would eat one porcelain bowl of oatmeal with dried plums, go across the street to the lab, unlock the door with a small orange-rubber-rimmed key, wipe her feet on the slightly torn “Welcome” mat (and, truly, this was where she felt most welcome) outside the lab building, and, after proudly donning her white coat, research and writing would begin. She would open the jars that lined the walls, release each mosquito into a makeshift habitat with varying temperatures and food, and study their behavior.
Why do only female mosquitoes drink blood? How do they reproduce? Eat? Sleep? Die? Rolanda wrote it all down. She enjoyed their company. Not in an alarmingly antisocial way, either – she reminded herself of this every day as she unlocked the lab door – but rather, in an overly passionate sort of way. As her beloved mosquitoes couldn’t satisfy the conversationalist in her, she would talk to herself, quietly chanting encouragement.
“Rolanda, the smaller the creature the bigger the voice. They buzz, and you write, and both are powerful in their own way.”
“Rolanda, no one identifies with mosquitoes the way you do.”
“No one is as overly passionate as you are.”
“People who read National Geographic don’t see what you see. That’s why your research article submissions were turned down last month.”
“Don’t forget about January, Rolanda, the January issue of BioOne. Twenty dollars for the three thousand word article at the end of the Vile Insects section.”
“You’re on your way.”
“Rolanda, it’s a society’s lack of passion that explains lack of readers.”
And this, she would repeat. And the small insects, they would continue to buzz.
Three years after she began her research, straight out of college, one day after counting 10 mosquitoes born in the blue rubber habitat she had built so carefully with lined plexiglass, on what she liked to call the Mosquito’s Day of Public Acknowledgment, she went home to the first noteworthy letter that had ever graced her mailbox.
It read, “College Board, SAT College Entrance Exams Contributor Offer.” Inside was a letter referencing her work with mosquitoes.
She read it aloud, as usual – in middle school that was how she would comprehend reading best, and it had become habit.
Dear Ms. Rolanda Visser,
The College Board is interested in using your submission to National Geographic, “Profiling Mosquitoes in Temperatures Below Sixty Degrees,” for our 2017 Critical Reading Section on the SAT. To indicate your approval for us to adopt the article and reference you as a researcher and writer, please email email@example.com.
We truly hope to include your work in a standardized test that evaluates not only the contents of the mind, but of the soul.
SAT Critical Reading Section Editor
The Mosquito’s Day of Public Acknowledgment. The Day Their Buzz-Voices Would Be Heard. It was her writing, too, her overly passionate research articles, submitted to National Geographic each month and emailed to every science publication she knew the name of. It was this dedication that had gotten her work published. And, in the SAT! The Critical Reading section sounded more legitimate than “Vile Insects.” She promptly sent an email response, did a small dance with tapping feet, and, looked around for someone she could tell the news to. She told her mosquitoes.
One year later, instead of crossing the street as she had done for the past four years, Rolanda went left. Passionate dedication explained the past constant routine, but today she had to pick up Alastair, the high school intern who, in four years, was the sole person to take interest in her work. He had just taken the SAT, he emailed her two days ago, and wanted to expand his knowledge of insect research. Students lined the halls, and she listened to their buzzing as she searched for the plaid shirt Alastair said he’d be wearing.
“I literally skipped over all the questions about that passage. Better than getting them all wrong.”
“What did you get for 29? A, right?”
“I had to read the part about mosquito birth under sixty degrees, like, four times before I absorbed it.”
“Why do they choose the most boring passages for the reading section? When are we ever going to need to read things like that in our real lives?”
“I said the tone was ‘informative’ – I’m pretty sure that was B. But honestly, I don’t know.”
Head down, Rolanda started to speed-walk out of that horrible school.
“Ms. Visser? Ms. Visser!”
She whirled around to see a plaid-shirted boy running. “I found you! I wanted to tell you in person. My class took the SAT a couple days ago, and your passage was in it. Frankly, Ms. Visser, no one understood it. But sometimes, I wheeze at night, and it feels like the way a mosquito buzzes, and also, my answer for number thirty about your passage was different from everyone else’s that I’ve talked to.”
Rolanda’s head was down again. SAT reading passages, she remembered then, are chosen to trip students up. The more boring they are, the harder they are.
“Ms. Visser, the question asked what the tone of the passage was. Everyone picked B: Informative.”
“What did you pick?”
“I answered E: Passionate.”
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.