by Laura Siegel

High School physics was never easy for me. Still isn’t 50 years later.

I was a good student and loved math and science but physics stumped me. I tried to understand electromagnetic fields but with no success. I don’t know what it was about ergs and mols but they were a foreign language I could never understand.

That’s why it was so great when Louis, a boy who sat next to me in physics class, asked if we could do our homework together. He was smart and helpful and more importantly he “got it.”

Pretty soon we were discussing voltage and currents regularly, and I was even beginning to get excited about little metal balls rolling down an incline. Well, maybe not excited. Perhaps I was more excited about a boy calling me on the phone almost every day.

Louis was handsome, gentle, and smart. The thing was though, that I totally missed the signals. I was so busy focusing on how heat makes electrons move faster, that I didn’t really notice Louis’ smile or the way his voice got soft over the phone.

After awhile, my mother asked about this boy who was calling me almost every day. I told her we were studying physics. Well, we were. She asked a bit more about him and somehow I must have mentioned that he was black. I had nothing to hide after all; it wasn’t a secret I was trying to keep. I actually hadn’t thought that much about his skin color.

My mother told me she wanted the phone calls to stop immediately. She said I would have to tell him or she would.

I was furious. We were only studying physics! He was so sweet. How could I tell him to stop calling me?

I was 16—so I did the easiest thing I could. I followed the laws of inertia  (the tendency of a body to resist acceleration), and I stopped answering the phone. I did not return his calls. I have no memory of how I avoided him in class but it must have been very painful for me. And him.

Also my physics grades plummeted. And though I graduated high school with math honors, I nearly failed the state physics Regents exam.

There is a photo of us in physics class, taken for the high school yearbook. I am placing a metal rod through a wire coil, demonstrating an electro-magnetic field. Louis is looking at me adoringly.

I believe that today I probably would have a crush on him.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. ash
    Nov 03, 2011 @ 04:28:52

    Such a wonderful picture, although heartbreaking too, in light of your story. I often wish I could go back and talk some sense into my teenaged self. But I guess it was those painful moments and mistakes that were my greatest teachers.


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