“How could you?” he screamed. “I told you specifically never to open that incubator!”
Chad and I met as at the beginning of grad school. It was 2006. He was studying epidemiology and I microbiology. We had a few classes together and our labs were adjacent to one another. We were both very passionate about our work.
I suppose some would say we were both a little socially awkward, as is sometimes said about people like us with a single focus and purpose in life. Neither of us had very many friends in high school or during our undergraduate years. Both of us had been lucky enough to get financial aid so we never had to work at those terrible jobs often performed by less fortunate students.
There was an instantaneous attraction between us when we met. Neither of us knew how to make any sense of these unfamiliar feelings. I suppose some would say we became involved too quickly. Those with more experience would probably know how to control themselves. Suddenly we were spending all our time together. Are lives were made up of our passion for our work and each other. We moved in together and settled in to a comfortable routine. We were mutually supportive of each other in every way and progressing well with our research. Things were great.
In April of 2008, I submitted my grant application as I had the previous three years. Those following months were always a little nerve wracking as I awaited a response. But I was confident my grant would be renewed. To my dismay, I received notice that it was not. Now I was left scrambling to secure other sources of funding. If I couldn’t, there was a good chance I would have to abandon my research for an entire academic year. The mere thought of it was humiliating! In the meantime, I was forced to take a menial job selling pizza by the slice in order to help pay the bills.
About two months into this dreadful predicament of mine, Chad suggested it might boost my spirits to assist him with his research. At about that same time Chad’s seasoned student assistant had to leave school for an undetermined amount of time leaving him in jeopardy of missing a publishing deadline. This proposed new arrangement seemed to be a solution to our respective predicaments and I immediately agreed. I was able to change my hours at the pizza joint to the evening shift in order to help him.
What a relief it was to return to research, even though it was not my own! I began to appreciate even more what he was accomplishing the more involved I became. I would compile and analyze his raw data, typical student assistant duties. It was tedious work but it had to be done. I was able to apply my microbiology expertise as well by suggesting some cutting edge propagation techniques. He was considering incorporating my ideas. I was very proud of him and I was happy to help.
Looking back, I was pretty lucky that pizza joint even hired me. I had no job experience and was very uncomfortable interacting with the general public. But I was able to keep the job and contribute to the household funds. And I must admit that I enjoyed my coworkers. To my surprise, I found them quite interesting. They weren’t nerds like me. I found their interests, activities and carefree attitudes to be quite refreshing. This opened up a whole new world to me and I feel that I grew socially at this time. There were a few more perks as well. My pay was greater than my grant stipend and I was able to bring home leftover pizza.
I settled into this new life of mine with unexpected ease, excited that Chad would most likely meet his deadline, that I was able to share improvement ideas with him and that I was actually enjoying my pizza joint job. I finally heard back from another grant source that my proposal had been accepted. I was thrilled at the prospect of resuming my research! Excited to share this good news with Chad, I splurged on an attractive new sweater, flowers, a bottle of wine and an expensive ready-made dinner from the local boutique supermarket. I got home early, set the table and tried to create a romantic atmosphere…
…to be continued…
…When Chad walked through the door, his face was overcome with a look of pleasant surprise. I was so excited and began telling him of the acceptance of my grant proposal and how I could resume my research. His face suddenly went blank. He paused, then became agitated, walking back and forth waving his arms, saying he would not make his deadline and how could I abandon him like that. I was stunned. How could he be so selfish at this time and not be happy for me. I assured him that his fears were baseless but he continued like this, going on and on about how I couldn’t quit my pizza joint job because we needed the extra money. Then he started ragging on me for the purchases I made for this special dinner. I assured him we could live with less money, we did it before and we could do it again. I reminded him of the process improvements I had suggested and that if he would implement them, he could obtain his data sooner and it would be more accurate. Then he nearly exploded. I had never seen him like this and I was scared. I calmly and quietly reiterated my improvement plan, step by step, and how it would help his research. Slowly, he began to calm down.
I always wondered why he had not implemented my plan earlier, he had agreed at that time it was a good idea. But I didn’t dare bring that up now. It wasn’t too late to make these changes and I finally got him to agree to it. He listened, but seemed unfocused and agitated. Later that evening, he left the house.
When I awoke the next morning, I realized he had not come home. I thought back upon the previous night’s events, trying to make sense of it all. Could it be that I really didn’t know him? His behavior had seemed so out of character; I just didn’t know what to think anymore. But for now, I decided to put that aside, get to the lab and start my work.
I gathered all my required lab supplies: glassware, reagents, microorganisms and dry ice and placed them on my work bench. I set everything up and got to work. About two hours later, I finished and was ready to add my solutions to his cultures. I grabbed my keys and headed over to the incubator room. To my surprise, the door was unlocked. I froze and held my breath, the door was always supposed to be locked. I carefully put my ear to the door and could hear a muffled voice, it almost sounded like someone was singing. I carefully opened the door and could not believe my eyes. There I saw a person with wild hair and crazy eyes pulling vials out of the incubator and throwing them around the room. It was Chad.