Alas, I cannot begin to relate the loneliness of that abyss. If you know it I needn’t bore you with the redundancy of a description, and if you do not my words will be lost on you. So, I shall begin my tale at the moment I first glimpsed the cell membrane. Oh, happy sight! After that immeasurable period of swirling smells and colors, and the loneliness, oh, the loneliness, here was the familiar phospholipid bilayer I had so dearly missed—the wall that marked the beginning of home.
Penetrating the membrane was no easy feat. Buffeted by that maze of warring positive and negative electrostatic charges, I felt powerless. I was faced with the crushing thought that I might never break through. I could spend the rest of my life being tossed about in this labyrinth, or, worse still, I could be expelled back permanently into that horrid nothingness. After all, that was the membrane’s job, was it not? To keep out foreign particles like me. And that was all that I would ever be—a foreign particle. How I wished that I could die of despair, so that I would not have to suffer what I thought to be my inevitable fate!
Indeed I continued to be shuttled left and right, out and back in, for some time. Yet I was determined, compelled both by fear of that emptiness and longing for a place that I could call my own. And, oh, the fortune that shone upon me, that offered a beacon of light in my darkest hour! I was released at long last into the cytoplasm, that familiar pool known as home. Foreign cytoplasm though it was, I finally felt safe.
And then I saw an image of incomparable beauty. A group of small proteins was eagerly approaching. They wanted to associate with me. They wanted to be my friends! I had thought it impossible, but the loneliness in my soul was giving way to hope. Then we made contact, the proteins and I. They clung to me as if they were marking me—marking me as a friend. Ah, how wonderful it was!
And just when I thought that luck had bestowed on me all that she had to offer, a larger form appeared: the enzyme that I knew as dicer. He too was coming toward me, exchanging significant glances with my protein friends. He too wanted to be with me! And then he bound with me.
The happiness that I felt at that moment has surely never been matched by another—that I should be rescued from the arms of my lonely misery and so quickly experience such fortune. There is a peculiar sort of guilt that follows such immediate happiness, for what had I done to deserve this? Yet this feeling seemed somehow only to enrich that happiness. Blessed, grateful bliss—that end to my loneliness!
But then a strange thing began to happen. My friend Dicer was doing something entirely un-friend-like. He was moving down my double helix and tearing apart my base pairs; he was dicing me! Degrading me! Murdering me! And the proteins—well they were just laughing!
Of course this would happen. Dicer degrades foreign ribonucleic acid. I didn’t even fight back! I had naively, stupidly thought that these molecules might accept me as one of their own. But, of course, I am a foreigner still. And just one last thought availed itself to me in my dying moments: what a fool I was to think that I could be anything but alone.
Clara Olshansky, Age 17, Grade 11, Bard High School Early College, Silver Key