In the lab, and in our courses, it was abundantly clear that love, or the rush of dopamine that acted as a catalyst for the feelings associated with love, could be manufactured through high-risk activities that frightened and thrilled and thus caused a spike of dopamine. Surviving such adrenaline producing events with another person could also cement bonding and reinforce a sense of intimacy. I instantly thought of Marjorie or perhaps, to be accurate, as I thought only of Marjorie, I thought more clearly about ways I could get her to love me.
Marjorie was a fellow graduate teaching assistant, and we were in the same cohort, and also co-taught the same anatomy lab for undergraduates. Her face was perfectly symmetrical, down to an even number of freckles down the invisible equator of her nose. She wore her long, brown hair pinned up matter-of -factly, and her large, brown eyes were keen and attentive behind thick, black, chic-geek glasses. She was brilliant; making connections the rest of us couldn’t, but afterwards would wonder why we hadn’t seen what was right before us. Her fingers were long and tapered, her nails short and well kept. She always wore the same pair of gold studs in her lovely lobes. Based on Darwin’s strange inversion of reasoning, from the moment I saw her, I wanted to procreate with her, and be attached for life. I understood how my brain was working and I clearly conceived how my anatomy was operating too, but I was powerless to control my feelings. It was only logical that I would formulate an experiment that would hypothetically result in her love.
I was patient and kind for six months. As we studied together, I listened empathetically, and came to know her intimately. Her boyfriend was a categorical ass canoe, and so I waited for him to self-destruct, which he did, and for her to see the light of reason. She was in great pain as evidenced by her unwashed hair, and the fact that she wore the same pair of sweatpants with his disgusting olive green, oversized sweater for two weeks running. Together they had bungee jumped and rock climbed, but she had never jumped out of a plane. I spent one month’s rent and planned a Saturday sky dive, and another week’s budget on wine and delectables for the picnic afterwards.
We were strapped to different sky divers. I have never known such profound terror followed by such joy. In mid-fall, I caught her goggled eyes and she smiled beatifically. I knew it would be the moment that we regaled our children with. I imagined our rehearsal dinner, our fingers intertwined as she dissected the birth of our deep love for family and friends.
Yet when she was untethered, she turned and embraced the man she had rode the sky with. I stood alone, witness to dopamine’s explosion.
BARBARA HARROUN is an Assistant Professor at Western Illinois University. Her most recent work is forthcoming or appearing in Circus Book, Empty Sink, Per Contra Fiction, Fiction Southeast, Watershed Review, and Spelk. Her favorite creative endeavors are her awesome kids, Annaleigh and Jack. When she isn’t writing, reading, or teaching, she can be found walking her beloved dog, Banjo, or engaging in literacy activism and radical optimism.