Water Colors


Starting in middle school, I became a tropical fish hobbyist. Not one to go half-in on anything, I gradually accumulated more than twenty aquariums in my bedroom. I bred, raised, and competed best-in-show gouramis. I coaxed varieties of catfish to breed that hadn’t previously spawned in captivity, which enabled me to start a business selling them to local stores.

So, marine biology was simply an inevitable career path for me to pursue. The exploration of alien worlds within our planet. An endless variety of wondrous species to study. I could enjoy that.

After some research, I found out about a summer marine biology camp. It seemed perfect. A small group of high school students in a one-week session on a chilly portion of the California coast. Working with real marine biologists… doing real projects. I signed up.

We went out on professionally equipped vessels, collecting specimens by dragging nets. Then came the species identification. We had forms to fill out for each specimen. I could do the shape part, but couldn’t describe or match colors at all. I just left that portion of the sheets blank.

Next was the water testing. Chemicals dripped into vials of saltwater. The resulting colors indicated important properties of the liquid. Except… I saw no change, other than sometimes the water seemed to get a bit darker. I just stood around, unable to document anything, feeling increasingly awkward. Everyone else was busy… fully engaged in the process. Asking for help at every step wasn’t an option.

I had struggled with colors in both biology and chemistry classes, but it hadn’t seemed consequential at the time. This was different. It was no longer a manageable weakness that would merely affect a few grades.

I cried quietly in my bunk on the first night, realizing that I couldn’t be this kind of marine biologist. Probably not any kind of biologist. In fact, probably not any kind of scientist. It wasn’t just one aspect of this profession that I couldn’t perform. I struggled at nearly every stage of even simple experiments.

I quit the camp the next morning… leaving a sizeable piece of my spirit behind.

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