The first and only time I ever saw you cry
we were working in lab together and your phone
dinged softly from where it was tucked into
your pocket. Hold on, you said, pulling off
your gloves. I watched you unlock the screen
and scan the text message, eyes flickering from blue
to muddy grey. Your mouth set itself in a not-
quite-firm line, the way I imagine it must have
set itself when you were little and looking at a scraped
knee or twisted ankle. What is it, I said,
not knowing what I expected to hear, but all you said
was Her cancer relapsed.
I am not a good chemist. I break glassware, burn
through gloves, get distracted by the fume hood’s
humming, and too often I have to ask you for help. You are
an artist, almost, adding catalysts, a little heat,
and you always tell me to keep practicing, that things
will only get easier. I wasn’t sure I believed you
until that day, when I caught a glimpse of your eyes
heavy with water before you snapped the goggles back on.
You went back to making a plate, spotting samples
onto the surface in small, even drops, and in your
normal voice you said If you’re having trouble with your reaction,
scrape the sides of the beaker to make it go.
We were all so young then; what we needed was time.