Wednesday, June 25, 2008

A Little Scar

I have a little scar, on the palm-side of my left hand, just below the "V" formed by my index and my middle finger. I don't usually even think about it, but occasionally, if the weather is cold, or if I bump my hand just wrong, I feel a quick, sharp pain there. The injury that caused this little scar happened my junior year in high school.

In some ways, I must be, both, left-brained and right-brained, since in school I loved math and science but was equally passionate about the language arts. (I don't know whether it's left or right, but I did NOT have the brain for history or geography!)

In my junior year, I took chemistry. I couldn't get enough of that subject; it fascinated me. I was so wrapped up in it that I talked my dad into building me a lab table, in my bedroom. He even set me up with a working Bunsen burner. After school I often repeated the experiments we'd done in lab, or ran some new ones that I'd read about.

One day, at home after school, I was using some glass tubing in an experiment. As I was inserting it into a rubber stopper, the tubing broke and the sharp end stabbed into the palm-side of my hand. It went in quite deep, and I was bleeding profusely. I knew I needed to stop the bleeding, but I was becoming light-headed and thought I might pass out. I sat down on the stairs which led from my bedroom to the main part of the house, and lowered my head between my knees in an effort to stay conscious. "Keep a bleeding wound positioned higher than the heart," I remembered learning in health class. So I sat on the stairs, head between my knees and arm, with blood streaming down it, raised high over-head. That's where and how my parents found me when they got home from work a half-hour or so later. And that's how that little scar came to be.

I tell this story to illustrate how crazy I was about chemistry. Likewise, I adored my chemistry teacher, Mr. E. I didn't have a crush on him (like I had had on my young, single, 7th grade math teacher), because Mr. E was married and older than my parents. But I admired him because he was so knowledgeable about the subject; and adored him because of the fascinating tales he told us about his first career as a North Dakota coal miner. So, you can imagine how honored I was, at the end of my junior year, to have him ask me if I would be his lab assistant the next year. To me, it was evidence of a mutual respect between scientists. (I was a little naive at 17!)

So, my senior year, while I was taking physics for credit, I was also setting up for chemistry lab demonstrations and assisting students during Mr. E's lab sessions. Mr. E and I were a team! He relied on me and I made sure never to let him down.

After graduation, I didn't see Mr. E. again for over 30 years! Soon after Dan and I moved back to Juneau, in 1998, I saw him in the grocery store. Although he was showing his age, he hadn't changed so much that I didn't recognize him immediately. My heart nearly skipped a beat. He had played such an important role in my high school years. I walked up to him, expecting him to be as overjoyed as I was. Our encounter went like this:

Me: Hello, aren't you Mr. E?

Mr. E: Yes, that's right.

Me: I'm Linda Clark. (I used my maiden name, since he wouldn't have known me by 'Judd.') Do you remember me? (I pause, but no response from Mr. E) I graduated from J-D High in 1967. (I pause, but only a blank look from Mr. E) My parents owned Clark's Bakery. (Everyone remembered Clark's Bakery!)

Mr. E: Oh, yes. Weren't you a friend of "the girls"? (To learn about "the girls" read HERE.)

Me: Yes, that's right. (I flashed a big smile at him, encouraging him to dig a little deeper and remember more.)

Mr. E: But I don't think you were in any of my classes, were you?

It was as if someone had just delivered a knock-out blow, from out of nowhere! He didn't remember me as his star pupil! He didn't remember the two years I sat at his feet! He didn't remember my faithful and loyal work as his lab assistant! I felt a little light headed, like the time the glass tubing stabbed into my hand! And I came away from that encounter a little more humble.

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