on being a scientist by Nivanthika Wimalasena

i am walking against the cold without much effort. lucky, because my mind is unconcerned with my legs and is working quite hard on optic flow. funny, you never notice a thing like optic flow until it runs with a bit of a lag. suddenly i am still and watching the pavement unfold and the streetlights grow closer via IMAX 3D. they really have gotten so good; it all feels so painfully real. 

the headlights on this approaching car are bright and i cannot unthink about seeing only them and nothing else. i like the idea of feeling one thing at a time. when my pupils contract, a thought passes about the ways my body is protecting me from myself.

the night is impossibly quiet and maybe it’s déjà vu—who really understands déjà vu? anyway, the feeling sets in that I am about to die. i observe this without emotion, like a caricature of a scientist, and with some curiosity, like a scientist.

the best scientists are the ones who know when there is something to be learned from absence. once, a man lost a glove entirely. held in front of him, its five knitted protrusions were plain to see, yet the intimacy between glove and hand escaped him. the sight evoked no warmth. 

i think about that. our brains are endless trenches of intimately associated pairs, trios, entire marching bands, which arrive and depart together and to which we pay no mind. but tonight, like any good scientist, i am making note of the missing skeleton crew behind my latest thought, and, like any good scientist, am understanding something new about the way a mind can break.

Nivanthika Wimalasena is a Sri Lankan Kansan currently living in the Boston area. She has a PhD in neurobiology and works as a scientist at a biotech company. This is her first literary publication.