One of the graduating seniors commandeers eight computers in the astronomy lab to run some last-minute simulations, apologetic sticky notes littering our screens. I come back from spring break and he’s standing in the middle of it all, eyes just on the crazed edge of caffeinated. “I procrastinated,” he says, matter-of-factly, and crushes an energy drink can in his hand.
Later that week we’re both back up in the lab with a whole audience of our peers when he spins around in his chair and asks the room at large, “Anyone here a data science minor?” He points at me. “You’re a data science minor, right?” he exclaims.
“No,” I say slowly. ”Computer science?” he tries. “Still no,” I tell him. “Double major in math.”
“Well, even so,” he says, and proceeds to inundate me with more details than I ever expected regarding some data science program he did in South America last summer, projects and cram sessions and sneaking into hotel pools to drink wine under the stars. “You should do it. You’ll love it,” he says, seriously, the future tense by definition unconditional. “You. Should. Apply,” punctuating each word with a clap of his hands, like a miniature round of applause just for me.
Our classmates are just kind of… watching us, agape.
”This actually looks pretty cool,” I say, already scrolling through their website.
“Good. Do it. Go for it,” he says, and whirls back around to his computer without another word. (A part of me can’t help but wonder how much caffeine factored into this particular interaction.)
Two weeks later he says, “Hello, everyone. Today I’ll be defending my honors thesis, which is on—”
I know he’s going to do well. I’ve never been more sure of anything. But even so, I’m practically vibrating in my seat, his nerves jangling together with mine. It takes him a few minutes to ease into it. He has to pause a few times to collect his thoughts, but he always surges right back into things barely a second later. It’s a pleasure to listen to. I find all my afternoon tiredness leaving me as I watch him, allowing me to really focus for the first time that day.
He hits his stride about fifteen minutes in and it’s smooth sailing from there. “I’ll be happy to take questions,” he says, finally, and there’s a thunderstorm of applause that lasts for what seems like hours. Not so miniature anymore.
And it’s funny, because it’s not like we’ve always gotten along. We’ve mostly existed tangentially to each other. Where he’s brash and funny to the point of being annoying, I’m standoffish and arrogant to the point of being unapproachable. But watching him now, I don’t remember our insignificant disagreements or confrontations. I remember the few times we’ve been told to work together, and how things always went like clockwork, each of us filling in the other’s gaps, finding similarity in our brand of steady speech and one-off smiles. And in this moment, I’m a little in love with him. Not anything serious. Just so full of pride I feel like I’m spilling over, my hands turning red from clapping, just one of a sea of people smiling down on him.
Two nights prior. I’m leaving the observatory when I hear my name called from the door to the library. It’s another one of the graduating seniors. “What are you doing out this late?” she says.
“I was observing tonight, but we wrapped up early,” I tell her, and she mimes air quotes as she mouths “early.” “I’m on my way in to work on my thesis,” she says. “How is that going?” I ask.
She twists her shoulders and makes a gruesome face, and we both laugh, but we turn somber quickly. “I’m still three weeks out from my defense,” she says. “I don’t know how everyone else is handling it. Especially when I’m already like—” She makes another grotesque face, like her body is wringing itself out.
“Hey,” I say, holding out my hands to her, waiting for her to take them before I tell her, “You got this. I know you do. Everyone can see exactly how hard you’ve been working.”
“I hope so,” she says, squeezing my hands, shifting from foot to foot. It’s as if her pot of late-night exhaustion has overflowed and reversed itself, leaving giddiness and energy where there should be none. “I’ve been neglecting it. I need to hear back from my advisor.”
“You will,” I tell her firmly. “You will, and you’ll get it done, and it’ll be amazing. You’ll be amazing.” “You’re my rock,” she says. ”You’re my rock,” I say.
Her eyes are tired but haven’t lost their brightness, not even with all of her talk about nerves and data and just not being ready. And in this moment, I’m a little in love with her. Not anything serious. Just so full of pride I feel like I’m spilling over, standing here holding hands under the watchful eye of the moon. ♦