Juniper - Chapter One

It was sweaty, blistering heat. The kind of heat that makes you attach a water bottle to your hip and ditch a heavy purse for a phone wallet. I took a swig out of the large mug, granting the cold liquid access to the aching dryness in my throat. Midwest heat, particularly in the state of Illinois, where I was attending college, felt like being in a steam room on the highest temperature the dial could turn. Ain't it funny how time seems to tick faster when you’ve got somewhere to be?

I sped my small frame through thick, heavy air and sighed thankfully when I passed a tall building and was momentarily relieved from the sun’s beams of light. I was almost there. Albeit, I was late, but I considered that a major upgrade from not showing up, which I may have done twice already in a few courses. I recall the first day I began having trust issues with inanimate objects.

It was morning, I was barely a year into the University of Chicago’s medical program, when the alarm clock sitting on my dresser forgot to do its job of jolting me awake in the wee hour of morning. I overslept in that bed, hours later, until around noon, when I realized with a racing heart that I’d missed my midterm review. Not the actual midterm, but it was close enough of a disaster to form newfound realization that failure could come from a multitude of places. Wash your clothes, study and go to class, work twenty hours a week, sleep eight hours a night, and you need to have a social life. I could hear the high-pitched shrieking of my counselor's excuse for a voice in my head, as she discussed life at U of Chicago and the "vitality of being aware and creating balance in your life". Oh, give me a break Ms. Debbie. You have four snakes, three turtles and can’t seem to grasp that plaid doesn’t go with polyester stripes. Miss Debbie didn’t deserve my passive aggression and I instantly regretted bringing her fashion sense into question. But how else was I going to vocalize my petty anger, if not in my own head where filters supposedly didn’t exist. I sighed once more before entering the building. Maybe I needed a therapist for the amount of times I talked to myself.

The doors opened creakily, allowing two sets of eyes from each lab table to turn my way. Forty tables and eighty judgmental glares filled the expansive, chilly room whilst lackluster fonts on formula posters and years of wear screamed from sterile walls. I cursed internally. I knew I shouldn’t have pushed the handicap button. I didn’t have to shove myself and my water bottle through the heavy door but the exchange was not worth the blistering tingle of anxiety on my skin. 

It was the curiosity in their gaze that delivered a fatal blow to my senses. I felt like a deer in headlights by the amount of emotion I felt from every student’s aura. I just hoped, I looked perfectly fine on the surface. And I begged to myself, hoping Professor Kawoski wouldn’t say anything and continue on his teaching as normal. I was after all only a few minutes late.

Judging from the gleam in his eyes, I sensed he was going to make an example out of me. Bastard. What was even the point of wishful thinking these days?

“Naomi, glad you could join us,” he scorned loudly, “Take a seat.” His pale, needle like fingers pointed to a desk, two tables across from the smart board. 

They were empty for a reason. What fool in his or her right mind would subject themselves to being so close to a distasteful soul?

I pursed my lips tightly and made my way to the front of the room. 

“Excuse me, sorry,” I muttered apologetically to all the book bags I was crunching on my descent to the black desk.

Pity, shame, and second-hand embarrassment greeted my back side. 

Thud. That was the sound of my book bag hitting the floor. 

Dammit Kawoski, start talking. I needed a notebook, goggles, writing utensils and the air was as quiet as a mouse.

Clang. My pencil and pen hit the table noticeably under my clumsy hands, I winced. I gave a look to three people across from me mouthing the words “sorry”.

“If you will all notice, the formulas in front of you hold elements that will react dangerously with one another if used incorrectly,” He commenced, “Your job is to discern which molecules form together to create solutions not cataclysms…. Begin.”

Math oriented folks enjoy solving complex equations, writers like painting pictures with their words, athletes love to practice and preform but me, well I wanted to invent lifesaving medicine using the ingredients nature has provided for us. And I was excellent at it. 

I heard the groans and whispers before I saw the looks of unhappiness from every student. It made me want to chuckle. I gripped my pencil tight and got to work with a smug grin.