Tragedy Strikes the Rutherford Atom

Sometimes, a memory will hit you and then all sorts of things shake out.

First. I recently stopped using Facebook. Except to read Bloom County 2015 (now 2016). I just got overloaded with all of the politics. So. But I wanted to stay in touch, so I found an application that would let me read Facebook Messenger stuff—which means I have a direct line to many old friends, I just don’t have to listen to them bloviate.

So far, so good.

So. Yesterday, I got a friend request. It took me a few moments to grok who the person was, and then a huge flood of memories came back.

L was a guy I knew back in an electronics class in high school. In fact, as far as I know, that was the only class I had with L in all the years I attended school. He was a bit of a telephone hacker, a bit of a braggart. And he was my arch nemesis.

That last status applies to L because, back when I was in junior high school (yes, I am that old), there was this one girl, R. I had the most massive crush on R. She and I were in quite a few classes together. We wore the same kind of round wire-frame “granny” glasses popular in the early ‘70s. On a school trip to the Guthrie Theater we sat next to each other. Of course, junior high was, at least in those days, too young to date, but I made serious plans for high school. I would woo R, and we would be happy, and—well, honestly, I had no idea beyond that at the time (I was a slow learner).

So, anyway. High school came around and at some point during the summer, L had become R’s permanent boyfriend. She had shed her glasses and studious ways (the ones I had assumed she had), for contacts and fun. Her formerly straight hair was now something entirely different and she was wearing colorful clothes. She had bloomed.

I do not know how, I do not know why, she got together with L. I had never made a move on R, and I never let her know of my aspirations, and after a while I got over their PDAs and I moved on.

I note all of this because of how much, I realized, after seeing L’s message, I had moved on. I had not thought of R once in the very nearly four decades since I graduated high school. I’ve thought of other high school and post-high school girlfriends and acquaintances, but not her.

I have no idea why.

And yet, seeing L’s name yesterday brought back, intensely, those years of high school. Dates, jokes, the smell of the library and the electrical hum of the ballasts in our school theater’s green room…

It also brought back another odd thing. “Tragedy strikes the Rutherford atom.” That was the legend beneath an illustration in what must have been a physics textbook I had in high school, showing an electron spiraling in to crash into an atomic nucleus. Rutherford had got a lot of things right, but not everything. The Rutherford atomic model was replaced by Bohr’s model not long after it was created. So the illustration, and its legend, were particularly droll.

But it’s not the kind of thing you can translate. I mentioned it to T, and she was all “Oh. That’s interesting.” I suppose it’s the sort of thing that works better with an illustration.

Or perhaps, like R, it’s something best left behind.


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