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From the chronology of my life, an eight-year old memory…

When I studied as an undergraduate at UCSD, there was a great financial temptation that I succumbed to almost immediately upon discovery. In the psychology, sociology and linguistics buildings where I spent most of my time, there were always flyers hanging, inviting healthy students to participate in studies for a compensation ranging from $20 – $200. I started collecting phone number stubs and contacting graduate and PhD students, offering my pregnant, whimsical self for the betterment of humanity.

One experiment took place on the fifth floor of the Linguistics Building, where a painfully timid Chinese graduate student was researching the frontal cortex and peripheral vision. The test subject was supposed to sit on a swivel stool, place their chin on a plastic platform and look inside a device of sorts, not unlike those used to test eyesight and pupil dilation. You had to look straight, and every once in a while tiny green dots would signal in your right or left peripheral vision, for only a millisecond or two. If you noticed them, you were supposed to raise the respective hand. And so it went for about half an hour. There was a scanner embedded deep inside the device, which recorded your eye movement and focus. This is why you were supposed to sit especially still.

I committed myself to five sessions, and started coming. Apparently I had a knack for sitting painfully still and perceiving green dots with my peripherals. The graduate student interviewed me after each session, and unbeknownst to myself, I gradually befriended him. Shy, foreign, scientific types were my forte – I spent all of high school hanging out with them, and so for me talking with him came naturally. When everything was over and I received my hard-earned $100, the student invited me to lunch to celebrate the completion of the study. Since I had mentioned to him several times over the course of the sessions that I was married, I figured it was safe. Stubborn and naive, I convinced myself that all bases were covered by an additional admonishment that we were going as friends only.

During the dinner the student was on perfect gentlemanly behavior, and gave me a pot-bellied ceramic teddy bear for storing hot sake. The following morning I received an email in which, in his broken English, he confessed his love. It broke my heart: how perfect this would have been for someone who wasn’t me! But I was not destined to make his happiness, to be his other half, etc.

I responded with a polite reminder about my marriage, and that marked the end of our mostly professional relationship. I kept the bear though, as a talisman and a reminder for myself.

But of what, I’ve forgotten.

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