|WASP EMERGING FROM PARASITISED SMALL|
I never considered that my setup might have fallen somewhat short of duplicating the conditions of a human mouth. No, Alexander Fleming couldn't have been more excited to discover penicillin than I was, a few days later, to spy unsightly white blotches spreading across the surface of all four Petri dishes. As I remember, the Colgate dish sported the least crud, but I was so thrilled to find my otherwise normal-looking body capable of producing such stupendous amounts of rot—the real point of the experiment—that I immediately lost all interest in which toothpaste was best.
I went on, for the 8th grade Science Fair, to attempt growing cancerous tumors in sunflowers. First, I grew the sunflowers themselves, planting seeds in indoor pots till they became thick, hairy stalks pressing against the dining room ceiling. Then I sent away to a science supply outfit for malignant cells, injected the plants and, with bated breath, waited. No altruistic desire to find the cause of cancer or the cure for cancer motivated me: I just wanted to see the tumors. Cracked black oozing tumors, I hoped, ideally with a foul odor. "Gross! What's that smell!" I pictured my family sitting bolt upright and yelling from their upstairs beds. The biggest growth I planned to remove with a sharp knife, dissect, and glue to a large sheet of poster board. This, I felt, would make an eye-catching display for the Science Fair.
For all my hard work, I never managed to coax the plants into growing a single tumor: as the Science Fair grew near, I tossed aside the syringe, started gouging holes in the sunflower stems with a soupspoon, and packed in whole test-tubefuls of the stuff. Though to no avail, I still won third place, largely on the strength of the cardboard triptych, minutely lettered in Magic Marker, that formed the backdrop for my haggard but carcinoma-free flora.
|BUTTERFLIES EMERGING FROM|
An alcoholic poised to take my first drink, way back in 8th grade already I’d felt the perverse division of will that makes the human psyche a torment. A child on the verge of adolescence, already I was learning to shape suffering into stories. Haunted by decay and death, already I’d understood the things that triumph over death: wonder, love, a sense of humor.
In middle age, I look back on my 12-year-old self—already wisecracking, already lonely. I take her in my arms. I show her our books.