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Chemistry Smackdown

I had to pass a chemistry test to pass the class...

Oct 17 AF Chemistry Pauline Baird Jones Facebook

In my junior year in high school, the chemistry teacher told us that a) we had to take this national test; b) we would be graded against all the chemistry students in the country. Or the world, I forget which; c) we had to pass the test to pass chemistry and d) we had to pay a fee to take the test. 

I was not thrilled about any of this, but my parents—clearly not noticing how totally wrong it was to pay to suffer this much—anted up the fee, thus ensuring I would have to take this test.

The day arrived. I opened the test and read the first question. 

I not only did NOT know the answer. I didn’t even know what it was asking me. It was like reading a foreign language. Or being in one of those “homework” nightmares. Only this was not a dream. It was real. 

I read the second question. If anything, it was harder to understand than the first question. 

I sat there for a moment, fighting panic. How could I have taken almost a whole year of high school chemistry and not learned any actual chemistry? I was not only about to flunk chemistry, but I was on track to be the Worst Chemistry Student in the Whole Country. Or the World.

And then, I think I snapped. I thought, why waste time reading questions I didn’t understand? It would make the misery longer and I’d be kicking my own self esteem with my own foot over and over again. 

So I just went through and checked boxes. I didn’t read a single question after those first two. 

When the Day of Judgment arrived, I will admit to feeling a fair amount of unease. 

Because my Chemistry Teacher liked to torture us, he told us he’d be reading our scores off in front of the class, from top score to bottom (is it any wonder we stagger out of high school with our self esteem in tatters?). 

He read out the best score, then second best…and then something truly miraculous happened. He looked at me and said, “I don’t know how you did it, but—”

That’s right. I got the third highest score.  

I passed chemistry. Talk about a Hail Mary. And I’m not even Catholic. 

I think this early, highly emotionally significant event, prepared me to write science fiction. Or at least to make things up. While I don’t recommend making up science if you are working on, say, a new rocket fuel, there is a fairly low risk from making it up in your fiction. 

Honestly, it only hurts when someone who likes real science in their science fiction gets mad and leaves a nasty review on Amazon. I want to respond with, “Hey, I passed chemistry in my junior year in high school,” only you’re not supposed to respond to reviews. So I don’t. 

But I want to. 

Have you ever had an emotionaly significant event that might have changed the course of your life?

Perilously yours,