Darkness flooded into the lab through the windows, glowing under the flickering lights. I typed away on my computer, logging the day’s work. Dr. Steve Hall, my partner, looked at some molecular data through the lens of his silver microscope, pushing it around with a tweezer.
“Well, I’m done for today,” I said, pulling the strap of my tattered brown bag over my shoulder.
“I’ll stay for a little while longer,” Steve mumbled, barely giving his words any attention.
I rang the elevator, my shoulders hunched, my eyes at my feet. The elevator glided down to me slowly, creaking and sputtering past each floor. The doors slid open, and before I walked in, I turned to our desks. What had eight years of agonizing work amounted to? A step towards a cure? Polio still held strong against our efforts. Would we ever find what we were looking for? Or would we grow old and die, our lives having been wasted in a laboratory, searching for something that didn’t exist? I shook my head, dropped it once again, and dragged my legs into the elevator. The doors shut behind me, and I stood there, waiting helplessly to reach the level above, at the whim of a metal box. It was humbling to know this, unflattering. But who was I, a scientist failing to save lives, a man failing to save his own life, to be flattered? I left the building, left my mind, left this earth, and dreamt of what I always dreamt for; to be appreciated. To do something worthwhile, and receive recognition. For one person, just one, to know my name for what I did, not who I was. My achievements, not my failures. What my life accomplished, but not my life. Not my life. I pulled myself into my car, put the key in the ignition, and turned on the radio. Turned up the radio. Let the music drown my thoughts. Let the waves of sound guide me to solid ground. It was then that my phone burst to life with the chirp of a text. Though alone on the street, I pulled over to read it, ever the safe driver my mother taught me to be.
The text was from Steve.
I think I got it.
I let the phone drop out of my hands, down to my feet. I turned down all the windows, turned the music louder still. I spread out my shoulders, looked at the sky and, for the first time in a long, long time, I smiled.
Testing was a blast. Nervous though I was sending out the first batch, I became ecstatic upon hearing the ninety-eight percent success rate, and my good mood continued throughout the month. The cure went public, and we were nominated for a Nobel Prize. The first warning sign that something infelicitous was afoot was the smile that played across Steve’s face as he told me about the Nobel Prize. Steve never smiled, not if he could help it. The second red flag, as it were, was when a news story came on the television, talking about us, curers of an incurable condition. With the speed of a panther, Steve rushed to the remote, pressing the off button with such force one might think he trained his body for just this moment. The third and final caveat occurred when I, suspicious, searched for the video of the story. What came was the newscaster solely mentioning Dr. Steve Hall, and not me, Dr. Adrian Rodriguez. I brushed this off as a coincidence, nothing more. Steve had seen it, and didn’t want to hurt my ego. Yet thoughts of betrayal plagued me deep into the night.
August 13, 2034. Me and Dr. Steve Hall find the cure for Polio.
January 21, 2035. Me and Dr. Steve Hall are nominated for a Nobel Prize.
February 2, 2035. Dr. Steve Hall wins the Nobel Prize.
It was announced on February second that Dr. Steve Hall, discoverer of the cure for Polio, had won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. He said he told me the news the moment he knew, elated, not even recognizing the fact that I was not recognized.
“What about me?” I asked, a frown turning the ends of my lips downward in anger.
“What about you?”
“What about the fact that we worked together? That we discovered it together?”
“But we didn’t,” He said, sounding more confused than anything, “I did. You went home.”
“You discovered it ten minutes after I left. Eight years of my life was spent toiling away with you in that grimy cellar. Eight years!”
“Oh, please! You never carried your weight, always hunched over a desk, you’d rather brood than work.”
“I did more than my fair share of work. You try working with no company but that of Steve Hill for a decade!”
“Dr. Steve Hill! I didn’t spend five years earning my doctorate to be disrespected by the likes of you!”
“And I didn’t spend eight years being disrespected by the likes of you just to get more of the same!”
“I made the breakthrough. You received my text.”
I had to restrain myself from punching him square in the face. I turned around, my shoulders hunched, my eyes at my feet, and walked to my car. What had eight years of agonizing work amounted to? A step towards recognition? Would I ever find what I was looking for? Or would I grow old and die, my life having been wasted in my own mind, searching for something that didn’t exist? I pulled myself into my car, put the key in the ignition, and turned on the radio. Turned up the radio. Let the music drown my thoughts. Let the waves of sound guide me to solid ground.
I may have no legacy. I may leave no mark signed to me. I may grow old and die, remembered for who I was, not what I did. My failures, not my achievements. My life, accomplished, but not what my life accomplished.
Who are you? What are your failures? What do you represent?
What have you done? What are your achievements? What have you accomplished?
Legacy. Remembered. These are words of humans, of recognition.
Mark. Achievements. These are words of truth, of meaning. These are what matter. Not memories. Acts. As I drive, I think. I hear the music, the wind. I feel the world around me. I may not be remembered how I wish to be remembered. I may not be remembered at all. But I have left my mark, be it signed or otherwise.
I have mattered.