“SUP TEACH?” I inquire, weaving my way through the wreath of weary students whining ‘round the desk of one very beleaguered Organic Chemistry instructor. “Say, what’s the dealio with those mad lad electrons?”
Friends, Romans, countrymen — I’m a lover, not a fighter … but I’ll light this place on fire. Throw me some hands, and I’ll hold them and kiss you tenderly on the forehead. When life hands me aromatic rings smelling of synthetic lemons, I dunk ‘em in some acetone and make the most deadly limoncello your grandma’s never seen. I’m a survivor! Soul-crushing pressure is my happy place. The point, anyway, is that I can take whatever the curriculum throws at me — or at least I thought.
Molecules. Atoms. Why? How? I have been led to understand the ‘what’ once in a blue moon, but all the other Investigative Journalism Words (yes, against all odds I did still have a functional attention span in fourth grade) have since failed me. If I ever did have a grip on this funky orbital business, I’ve long fallen down into the depths of the proverbial canyon. Frost Mnemonic? I do remember the cold despair in the aftermath of the thermodynamics exam, thank you for asking. While some spend hours pouring over the complexities of an inverting chair configuration, I read the back of my energy drink and hope for the best. The unfamiliar names comfort me as I stand alone, à la Sartre, in my desolate intellectual desert. There is no outside world: Existence is a prison, and carbon is my enemy. The fuck is a valence? Electric-type Pokémon did not prepare me for this shit.
Anyway, back to the present. “So, I was thinking,” I lie, “that we could reconsider this whole bonding thing. I mean, FREE LOVE, baby! Man wasn’t made for one molecule. This pi-bond clusterfuck is giving ‘cheating,’ and I won’t stand for it; I’m a whore for molecular non-monogamy any day of the week, but you gotta give me some principles to work with. Aufbau had it all wrong! Playing favorites will only lead to jealousy and betrayal. You can’t stick some nubile lone pair on ammonia and expect me not to be a basic little simp!”
Silence. They’re obviously stunned by my brilliance. I will venture further on.
“Like, objectively I get why we gotta care about the shapes. L or R, I won’t let chirality come between me and my butane buddies. But did it really have to be my hands? Do you know how stupid I look in the library? I only managed to wean myself off counting on my fingies last semester (they said it counted as academic dishonesty so I dipped), this is a whole lot to be asking. And what’s the deal with all these inversions? I don’t see why one functional group friend should get to swoop in and grab all that prime real estate. Squatters’ rights!”
“Uh, hey dude,” a TA pipes up. He’s probably about to give me the keys to the city, or his office, or just some commemorative scrap metal. Preemptive baller move, my guy. “Have you considered tutoring? Actually, have you considered dropping out and living in a barrel or something? I feel like that’d be up your alley.”
Drat. Like most geniuses, I have gone unappreciated in my time. Time to try harder, or maybe not at all, given that withdrawal from the course is an option (although unfortunately not from my crippling need for attention). If I smear sacrificial blood around my fume hood and say the name of the God Bell-Evans-Polanyi three times, will the ghost of Holy Hammond appear before me and absolve me of my sins?
“Reach deep into your heart,” declares an overconfident sophomore. Their intended major will not last long. “Open yourself up to ignorance. Let the electrons breeze past you and sense the negative charge creep over your skin. Feel the chemistry.” With those words, a jolt (or a volt?) strikes through the congregated orgo try-hards, and they lift their averted eyes to gaze at me in unison. “Feel the chemistry, feel the chemistry,” they repeat, the chant draping over the tiny room. It would’ve echoed if the space was there.
And suddenly every nerve of my entrails sizzles and pops. My vision whites over, and when my eyes open again I can make out the neurotransmitters crossing over the synapses in my corneas. Matter. Matter everywhere, nothing but being. It’s excruciating. It’s exhilarating. I can see into the very fabric of the universe. Feel the chemistry. Feel it in me.
I’m still going to fail this class.