April 23, 2008


The piece below was composed for a writing competition. The topic was “childhood experience.”
It hit me like a giant wave crashing against the shore. The research I’d worked on all summer involved the common blood component, hemoglobin, not a mysterious substance called  “hee MAW GLA beeeen.”
The Italian doctor who headed the research project used this strange pronunciation and I didn’t “get it.” Neither did I ask her to explain, so I lost the richness, the essence, the benefits of my summer internship at Roswell Park Memorial Institute in Buffalo, New York. (However, I did place in a science competition on the Harding Passey cancer in high school the following year.)

My unwillingness to ask what that strange word was wasn’t the only immaturity I demonstrated the summer I was 16, still a child in the eyes of the law and in my social and emotional development.
Receiving the science fellowship was entirely unexpected. Perhaps I shouldn’t have won it—it was far too intellectual an environment me. I realized that when I met the other 66 high school recipients, many of whom attended a private school requiring a 160 IQ for admission. I was definitely “out-brained,” short in intellectual maturity.
But it was my social and emotional immaturity that hurt me the most.
My coworkers included a thirty-six year old black man (John) and the cutest, most personable young mid-Eastern researcher (Ishmael).
John and I worked in a room no bigger than a broom closet. It had with cages of white mice lining shelves on the side walls. The upper part of the back wall had more cages, with a short counter underneath where John and I sat, necessarily close together, to work.
It wasn’t long before John asked me out on a date. I refused. I had at least enough maturity to know not to date ANYONE that old.
John, rejecting my refusal, told me I denied his invitation because he was black.

“No,” I said. “I won’t date anyone your age.”

Then he accused me of not wanting my parents to know I was dating a black man.

“I’ll meet you somewhere away from your home,” he offered.

“That’s not why I said no,” I said. “You’re more than twice my age.”

“It’s my color,” he shot back.

“No,” I said. “I won’t go out with anyone your age.”

“What, are you afraid my color will rub off on you?” he asked, rubbing his dark arm against my arm that looked bleached in comparison.

John persisted. All summer. What could I do?
Immaturity prevented me from approaching someone in authority about the situation. That, and the fact that, back in those days, I would have been the one disciplined, probably losing my chance to complete the fellowship terms.

I felt trapped, unable to escape from John. So I conceived a plan.
I stole a pen off Ishmael’s desk. He came to the “broom closet,” thinking he’d left it there. My plan worked.
To continue breaking my isolation with John I let everyone believe I had a crush on Ishmael—something not too far from the truth. I continued to create situations that brought him into the broom closet—taking small items, begging him for a ride in his new car, telling jokes and stories. My plan worked. Ishmael was constantly in and out of the room, and I felt safer.

Ultimately, things worked out. My Harding-Passey melanoma paper won an award at the regional high school science fair. Future resumes listing the fellowship, which was quite competitive, opened doors of employment.

Looking back, I wonder if Ishmael or any of the other lab workers knew or understood what was happening. Ishmael never showed irritation or anger at my actions. He was very patient. He also never tried to take advantage of my “mooning” over him.

However, I cannot help but ask myself if I could have done better had I not behaved so childishly. Or, as the person who critiqued this piece said, maybe I wasn’t acting childishly. “I think you acted admirably,” she wrote at the end of the piece.
And I want to thank her for providing me with a different perspective!

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1 Comment »

  1. good text, best regards

    Comment by Roswell — May 11, 2008 @ 1:36 pm | Reply

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