Thursday, March 15, 2012


A year ago, The Boy's chest pounded all morning, hesitant to open his email account.  He sat in front of the lobster heart He removed earlier, eyes pressed against the microscope, the tiny forceps in his hands hovering over silvery tissue.

"What's wrong?" Mika asked, "You've been quiet all morning.  That's not like you."

The Boy looked up, then at his watch, then at her.  "Today's..." He began.

"Today's when you find out!" She gasped, and grabbed his shoulders with harpy-like strength.  "Have you checked have you checked have you checked?" She asked, jostling him back and forth, and He shook his head.

"We don't find out until noon."  He turned back to the lobster heart, but didn't bother touching it.  His laptop lay nearby, shut off.

She said something reassuring, something about no matter what happens, something blah blah blah blah.  He wasn't listening.

Time at Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory passed slowly to begin with; what was supposed to be a week-long stay during Spring Break felt like forty years of gluing shiny dots on lobster backs, placing them in water tanks and tracking movements, removing their tiny hearts, removing even tinier nerve bundles from the hearts, and dousing other hearts in neurotransmitter.  That morning passed slower than usual, and The Boy thought He would suffer a heart attack from all of the anxiety.  When the lab instructor called for a lunch break, The Boy realized He had been hardly breathing.

"Aren't you going to check before lunch?"  Mika asked while He put on his jacket.  His watch read 11:30, still a half hour too early.

Although it was spring break in mid-March, snow still lingered on the trees and pathways on the island.  The sun had done a decent job melting some of it, but He could still see his breath fog with every other step.  She skipped from side on the way to lunch while She held her arm in his.  This did next to nothing to calm his nerves, but if it made her feel like she was helping, He would let her continue.


Her cell phone beeped during the taco salad lunch.

"Emily wants to know if you got it." She said.

"Tell her I haven't checked my email."

Mika typed away, and in a few seconds, her cell phone beeped again.

"Emily says that you should grow a pair and check it."

He rolled his eyes, and took a bite of ground beef.  Food at MDIBL was considerably gourmet compared to most camp food [although he had never been camping], but today's lunch tasted particularly bland and dry.

The walk back to the lab seemed even longer than before.

Everyone in the group returned to their lab stations, and The Boy switched on his computer.  His fingers gripped the keyboard as He waited to connect to the internet, and opened his inbox.  There was a sudden sense of panic as his eyes ran up and down the list of new mail, and after a few seconds of not seeing what He was looking for, He realized He wasn't even reading the words.  Taking a moment to breathe, He slowly went through the inbox.  And there it was, the tenth or so line down:

From: Cleveland Johnson;  Thomas J. Watson Fellowship Announcement

He dragged his cursor over the email, and hesitated.  Grow a pair, Magno.  Emily's advice rang through his head, and He double clicked.


They stood on the shore, just outside the lab.  Fresh, clean air filled his lungs again, and She balanced herself on some rocks, and stared to the horizon.  The sky seemed less cloudy, the wind less cold, and the ocean water less dark.

"I...  I don't think I can breathe."  He gasped, and placed both hands on his knees.  "Holy shit.  Holy shit."

Mika smiled, looked at him, and then back to the ocean.  "You're going to see the night sky from so many places..."  

She, of course, would be right.


He thought of where He would be in a year.  Somewhere out there, He thought, beyond the sea.

In a year... Well, He wouldn't even be finished with the year.  So much would change in that time, and He didn't bother trying to figure out how much.  He'd find out, eventually.  

He knew that He would learn about himself, more than He dared to before.  The Boy would experience so much in a year; mysterious skin conditions, questionable invitations to homes,  eye-opening life conversations, and incredibly embarrassing practices and performances.  He would walk for kilometers before He admitted He was lost, learn how to speak a foreign language for the sake of getting a lower price, prepare to get into a contemporary dance school, and even wake up in stranger's apartments at 3 in the afternoon.  This year was something unexpected, something He never would have been able to predict would ever happen.  Living abroad would be more than just going to country after country.  He'd learn to do something He'd forgotten; how to live, and how to love it.

And when He came back home?  He'd still be miles away from where He used to be.

[One Year Away]


  1. This just gave me shivers, Josh. Thank you for sharing your stories.

    1. Coral! Thank you! Happy to make one feel momentarily slightly under the normal body temperature! Hope I can write more like it soon...