(In 1952, polio reached its peak in the United States with 21,000 cases of paralytic polio. The first polio vaccine was introduced in 1955. By 1965, the total paralytic cases had fallen to 61. In this fictionalized history series, we will be experiencing the aftermath of polio, before the dramatic triumph of a vaccine. If you're just joining us, go back to Part 1.)
Three Years and Eight Months After Hospital Admission
February 1956 (11 Years Old)
Julia clenched the pencil in her mouth and scratched on the paper. Pretty neat handwriting, considering. Better than the boys, probably.
A magnet held the pencil when she finished.
"How's that?" Julia said. "Two hydrogen molecules plus one oxygen molecule equals two water molecules."
"Very good!" the tutor said. "You're picking up on this really fast."
"No. It's not," the tutor said. "Most kids don't study balanced equations until high school."
"Can we keep going?"
"Sure. Tell me why two hydrogen atoms bond with one oxygen atom to form water."
Julia referred to the Periodic Table of Elements on the work boards near her head. They hovered so close to her face that they blocked out most of the room and most reminders of the hospital. Once in a while, they tricked her into forgetting about the iron lung.
Until she tried to point.
"Oxygen atoms have two empty spaces in their outer orbit," Julia said. "The single electrons of two hydrogen atoms are needed to complete it."
"Excellent!" the tutor said.
"I love chemistry. I wish I could do it all day."
The tutor flipped through her materials for the next set of problems. "You might want to be a chemist someday. Keep at it."
Magnets clicked the new paper into place.
Julia didn't wait for the tutor to explain it. Her mouth reached for the pencil, but lost the grip. The pencil clinked onto the floor.
"Hold on a second," the tutor said.
Julia's mind churned through the atomic structures. They shifted and turned and fell into place.
"The point's broken," the tutor said. "Let me go sharpen it."
Julia heard sound of rising and quick footsteps across the room.
She stared at the page.
The sharpener whined.
She couldn't wait to write.
On to Part 11.
Go back to Part 9.