She Asked Anyway

Amoeba O’Ceallaigh

It’s been fifteen years that Charlene and I, the Ph.D. Amoeba, have been together – and if we had a nickel for each time we’ve been asked over those thirteen years how we got together, we’d be retired and living in grand style now. Alas, the missed opportunities.

The topic starter would usually be something like this: “So, did you meet up at a reunion, or a conference, or something?”

To which we’d answer, “No, we met online.”

“Oh, really?” The narrowed eyes, the judgmental tone, the half a step backward as our inquisitors reflected on the possibility that we were among those God-forsaken people who frequented the (gasp!) dating websites. Some of them probably thought that we were contagious.

“Yes, we both had blogs, and we were part of the same community, and that’s how we met.” That answer must have been good enough. Especially when we threw in, “And we were not on”, or words to that effect. Because we haven’t been thrown into quarantine, or exile. Yet. Of course, since the COVID-19 outbreak, we haven’t been asked that question much. We haven’t seen a whole lot of people who didn’t already know the story. Sorry if that sounds familiar to you.

I had already been blogging for the better part of a year when Charlene first showed up. In fact, I started on January 1, 2006, and I did it as part of a bona fide New Years resolution. I had things I wished to write, and paper notebooks weren’t working for me. They’d get half full of increasingly incoherent junk, and then would get tossed into a pile, never to be seen again. The idea that others would see and be able to comment on what I wrote would keep me on task, for both quantity and quality. This was attractive to me. So was the idea that the work would be on a computer server somewhere, so that I didn’t have to find places to store the piles. Naturally, the first site I blogged on soon went bust and vanished, taking all my writing with it. Oh well, the same thing would have happened to paper.

Dating was the last thing I wished to do with the blog. I didn’t consider myself eligible or desirable, not least because, at that moment, the decades-long relationship between Academia and myself, always a bit stand-offish, was coming to an end. (The whole “Amoeba” schtick comes from the half-dozen scientific papers that my colleagues and I have published on various kinds of amoebae.; ) I had taken a year-long fellowship at the University of California at Berkeley. I drove to Berkeley from Maine, my home base, and proceeded to park the car for the next nine months, having no funds to operate it. When I returned to Maine in August, the car jockeys inspected the tires and found mostly bare cords. There had been no funds to replace them, and I was summarily told that I was lucky not to have them blow out at 70 MPH on the New York Thruway, leaving me to die in a flaming wreck. Yeah, go ahead, try and tell me that any sane chick wants a piece of this.

So, I frequented sites that focused on worldly wit. The one that features most strongly in our story paid homage to the 19th-century satirist Ambrose Bierce. And being thought a pompous jerk was a great way to dissuade chicks from asking any probing questions.

Charlene asked anyway. And I found that we had a lot to talk about, a lot that we could talk about, a lot that we enjoyed talking about. I felt like, even after that first night of email exchanges, that I had found somebody who had pre-explored the vacant spaces in my head and heart, fitted them perfectly, and moved in to stay. The feeling only got stronger as time went on.

NO, I said firmly to myself. She deserves far better than you, my fine amoeboid wreck. Enjoy the friendship but do not even think about anything more than that.

Yeah, fifteen years later, we all know how that worked out. That job in Hawaii, the one I asked Charlene to drop everything and run away with me to take, marked the beginning of my transition from a tenuous existence in Academia to a solid place in industrial research. The transition wasn’t a smooth one, we’ve changed houses four times (including three Pacific Ocean crossings) and spent two years living in separate cities, but through it all Charlene has been my rock and my foundation. Without her, I’m probably panhandling on some street corner right now. If I’m still vertical.

Incidentally, there may have been some sort of magic associated with that Ambrose Bierce website. Its webmaster, another curmudgeonly sort (or so he projected himself), based in California, met, on that site, and courted a fair young maiden from Iceland. They’re now happily married with two kids. Alas that the space that was once held by community blogs is now commanded by the likes of Facebook.