The atomic bomb is juvenile. It peels off your skin and roasts you from the inside out, gamma particles tearing your viscera into abstract art. Some anvils need to be dropped, but some anvils carry the weight of a temper tantrum in the NICU: the atomic bomb peels off your skin, it roasts you alive, it tears your entrails into building blocks your son will use to learn his ABCs. It is a child’s toy. My tongue is a roadblock on the way to Nagasaki; my throat is a French dessert. You grab it and it pops in your hand, white cream coating the creases in your palm and the gaps beneath your fingernails. This is the truth. You rinse your hands with Dove soap, the kind that isn’t actually soap, and blow bubbles between your fingers.
Things That Make Me Angry
Mornings. (The rest of the day, also, but without as good a justification.)
Everything between the years 2008-2011 (middle school was bad for everyone, really) but especially Sarah Holden.
My sisters, which my mother says is normal for my age.
Libertarians, the kind you can find a dime a dozen of on the streets of San Francisco, the kind that think they’re so clever as they discuss Ayn Rand and blow rings of smoke into the marijuana-flavored air.
Owls, when their cooing wakes me up, my alarm clock, when it doesn’t.
That hideous puke-green mold I found growing on my sandwich as soon as I was about to eat it; the lack of money in my pocket preventing me from buying a replacement.
(too much, you’re too much,) Too green eyes and too sharp collarbones,
It’s going to be okay when it isn’t.
Because she was sick, and in that place, I walked her through it. Her blood ran blue, drawing railroad tracks down her forearms. She coughed phlegm into my hands like a bucket. That was alright; I’m down on my knees most of the day, scrubbing dirt from the ground she walks on.
This is how it started: Charles Foster Kane, whispering “Rosebud” as his life gives way. I was no sled, and she was no newspaper entrepreneur, but she rode me and left me as soon as she could walk on her own. Her steps were never steady, bowlegged with bones that could break under the slightest pressure. I stayed close behind, but she didn’t notice. I held her hand and led her to the maple trees. Her knees sunk into fertile soil, seeds implanting themselves into her pores, and I knew they’d sprout by springtime.
It continued past adolescence, when the cones in her retinas started to fail and she could only see in black and white. I swarmed her like a worker bee, kept her from tripping over cracks in the pavement, watched without comment when she curled up in a stranger’s warmth for comfort. Scars decorated her back in an intricate connect-the-dot puzzle. I connected them with dry erase markers while she slept, but all they made was a kind of abstract labyrinth, and I wiped the ink off before I could get lost in the corners. She had forgotten me when I started to slip through the cracks. I was invisible to her colorblind glimpses, but I hid underneath miles of sedimentary crust just in case.
Tree sap fills her with euphoric contemplation, the way that a child feels while watching maggots eat away at roadkill. I can’t blame her. Maple syrup falls from her tear ducts when she looks at the sun too hard. Exterminators come to her house and shoot pesticides into the air vents, so I breathe oxygen into her trachea and try to ignore the acid in her breath.
The room smells like damp wood, even though it hasn’t rained in what might be an eternity. Sweat sticks my shirt to the back of my neck. I pull on the collar, try to increase my breathing space, and search for somewhere with enough room to stretch my legs out. It’s past midnight already, but the incessant chattering hasn’t stopped. I stand up, crack my back, and mumble that I’ll be in the bathroom.
My own group is still on the computer, which looks like it may have been the very ENIAC first designed to crack Nazi codes, but I’d long since given up on pretending that I understand the program they’re using. It’s complicated, with a lot of drop-down menus and numbers. Tatyana takes control easily: she’s homeschooled, so I imagine it’s been ingrained in her. Chloe is more like me, hanging in the back and trying to fill out the lab worksheet before we have to go back to the dorms. I check for cell phone signal while I squat on the toilet, pants still on. There is none.
When I force myself out, it’s 1:03 a.m., which is approximately three and a half hours past my usual bedtime. I’m used to this, now. Jetlag has a nasty habit of changing sleep routines: Palo Alto is three hours behind Upper Saddle River, anyway, so I’m technically not up that much later. Raci is from Wisconsin, with bags under her eyes the size of Saturn’s rings—which, coincidentally, we’re currently trying to digitally enhance.
“I think we need more of the blue filter,” Tatyana says. She’s leaning over Trevor the way a fly might hover above a sandwich, ready to strike as soon as the opportunity arises.
“Yeah, well, I’ll get around to that as soon as you stop breathing on my neck,” he replies, shifting his shoulders to form more of a barrier between Tatyana and the computer. Trevor is from Wisconsin, too, but not the same area as Raci. He’s older than the rest of us; we’re high school-aged, willingly taking summer classes for whatever reasons, while he needs to fulfill an astronomy credit for his college. I haven’t bothered to ask about the details.
This is so not what I signed up for, I contemplate. Maybe it’s my own fault for deciding to take a class solely based on an infatuation with the likes of Star Trek and The X-Files, as it turns out that there’s a reason for the “physics” in “astrophysics,” and I’ve never done too well in subjects that use numbers and letters interchangeably. The equations on the whiteboard seem to be taunting me, and I’m reminded again that it is definitely too late for this.
“USS Enterprise, your time is up,” Dr. Beck announces. I jump from my seat, which isn’t a seat so much as my backpack, seeing as it’s a cramped room with two working computers and five unbroken chairs. A third computer remains forlornly between the other two, but unlike them, it has given in to its old age; accompanying it is a wobbly stool which everyone keeps eyeing but no one is brave enough to test out.
Tatyana breathes loudly through her nose, and I can almost hear her pulse accelerate. “Save the file,” she tells Trevor, her voice clipped.
“Sure thing, Captain,” he retorts.
One of the other groups needs the computer, and lab is almost over, anyway. We still have to finish the worksheet; Chloe and I have been working on it, but I’m not sure if she knows what she’s doing any more than I do.
“Can we come back sometime before next week to work on it more?” Tatyana asks Dr. Beck.
He shrugs. “Sure, as long as I’m here. Or a TA.” She smiles tensely, and thanks him.
If Tatyana is a Captain, she isn’t James Kirk. She’s more of a Kathryn Janeway, or a Benjamin Sisko: the seemingly stern leader, who cares more for her crew than she’d like to admit. In that way, she might even be considered a Spock.
I’m not sure where the others fall. Raci could be a Julian Bashir, the perpetually snarky science officer who was originally planned to enter in a relationship with Elim Garak, though the writers had to change paths due to a controversial reaction among fans who seemed to believe that homophobia would persist into the 24th century. (Although this preference of Raci’s is something she never verbalized, her Instagram description mentions something about liking food and Natalie Dormer; besides, the purple streak in her hair says it all.) Trevor is probably of the Worf variety, being the macho man of the group. Personally, I think I’d be classified as a Dr. McCoy, being an aspiring physician who always lets her emotions overtake her.
Chloe escapes me, though. She isn’t an Uhura, who’s too bold and brash; she isn’t a Wesley, who’s too passive and, frankly, annoying. The closest thing Chloe could be described as is a tribble.
A fellow tribble would be Wyatt Mullen, a member of my and Tatyana’s dorm, dubbed Junipero. I don’t get along with most of J-Ro, which seems to have been designed to store all of the party kids—who would’ve thought that a voluntary summer college would have party kids?—and boys who got caught 1) swallowing a cockroach for a hundred dollars, 2) masturbating while watching porn in the communal computer room, and 3) breaking curfew to have sex with a girl from Otero (a dorm affectionately dubbed Ho-tero).
Wyatt is different, and that’s not just because he is basically Hikaru Sulu incarnate: the athletic plant nerd with a heart of gold. For some reason that I’ll never understand, he and Tatyana clicked right away. This was immensely suspicious to me, considering that Tatyana seemed incapable of being gentle, but he just makes that already latent trait come out in her.
Although Wyatt is also taking Astronomy, he’s in the Friday lab, whereas my group is in Monday lab. When Chloe, Trevor, and Raci say their other classes interfere, he comes to the observatory with us the next day as we finish up our Saturn assignment. Debbie the Cool TA is setting up telescope. I’m glad that she’s here instead of Jason the Not Cool TA, who wouldn’t let us touch anything last night, despite the fact that we need to for our report. It’s too bright out now to see anything, but there’s an inherent sense of comfort, for a reason I wouldn’t be able to explain, when you can put your eyes on a telescope and look through the sky.
“It’s crazy,” Wyatt says when it’s his turn to look. “There’s so much out there, so many things we still don’t understand. There’s so much. We don’t know anything, when you think about it. We don’t know jack shit.”
“Where no man has gone before,” I murmur. Tatyana goes next, and my gaze stays locked on her until I notice something out of the corner of my eye. Wyatt is wringing his hands in front of him. His eyes are wandering, from the telescope to the rusty pipes, but he won’t look at her. Something in me stops, and I force myself to breathe in.
We watch Star Trek together. I persuade them into it: part of an episode every time we get something done in the lab, as a sort of positive reinforcement. Tatyana has a boyfriend, I remind myself. He’s in our dorm, his name is Evan Phibbs, and he likes Star Trek. We’ve talked about it before, since it’s the only thing he and I can agree on.
Almost the only thing, I remind myself. Tatyana laughs loudly and beautifully, resounding through the observatory’s apparently phenomenal acoustics. I watch Wyatt, and I know that I’m not the only one who thinks so.
The episode ends, and Wyatt asks: do you want to climb the observatory? I laugh, say I’m too scared, and it’s not a lie. Tatyana frowns at me, but I insist that I’ll finish up the report. That loosens her shoulders some. She makes me promise that when I’m done, I’ll join them at the top, next to the lens of the telescope. Debbie the Cool TA pretends she doesn’t hear, and so do I.
It feels stuffy in the wooden building. I want to shed my skin like a Trill, leave behind my old host to become someone new. I think about Raci, with her Instagram description and her purple hair; Trevor, with his ponytail and politically incorrect jokes. I think about Leonard McCoy, always the one to think irrationally and jump into something stupid. I stare at the broken computer’s screen. A peal of laughter sounds distant, obstructed by a few layers of wooden panel, but I hear it and I know who it is.
I walk to the telescope, and rest my forehead on the eyepiece. White noise fills the room, along with the sound of Debbie filing her nails. It feels like too much, too soon, too far. I don’t remember what I define as “home.” The sky is out there, with endless possibilities, but it’s too bright out to see them.