An excerpt from Darwin's Selection: A Whole New World
I can’t believe I’m going to tell you about this. You’ll probably think I’m crazy—you wouldn’t be the first—and I won’t take it personally. There have been lots of times that I’ve thought I must be crazy. I still can’t guarantee I’m not. But, hey, life’s a gamble. I’ll just roll the dice, tell you my story, and hope it doesn’t come up snake eyes.
Maybe I should start with introductions. My name is Darwin Woodman. Pleased to meet you. You can probably guess that I hate my name. Who names their daughter Darwin? Well, obviously my parents did. They’re both scientists. My mother is a paleobotanist and my father is a biologist who specializes in the study of giant tortoises. They named me after Charles Darwin. I hate to admit it, but I picked up the science gene from them and I’m hoping to become a doctor. Walking into my house is like visiting a true Nerdvana— there are microscopes sitting on our dining room table, my mother has fossils decorating our walls, and no one has an I.Q. lower than 135. Of course, on my more shallow days I would be willing to trade a few of those I.Q. points for nicer hair.
Admittedly, I’m a stereotypical nerd in a lot of ways—my studies have always taken precedence over everything and my grades have always mattered more than boys, parties, sleep, and even happiness at times. I don’t regret anything. They were important to me. They were important to my parents. Still, getting to go to a party once in a while in high school would have been nice. Maybe not even once in a while, but at least once. The frustrating part of it all is that I spent so much of my youth learning about science and making sure I understood how the universe works that I missed out on a lot. Then during my first year of college, I discovered that the universe doesn’t even work the way that I thought it did. Actually, it barely works at all.
I was accepted into the pre-med program at a college on the other side of the state. In one way, I hated leaving my parent’s house. I love my parents and they are the smartest people I know. They really helped me grow intellectually, even if they didn’t give me what most would consider a normal childhood. On the other hand, I was thrilled to be far enough away from them that I would only have to go home maybe once a month. I needed a little space. Yes, I’m a nerd, but I’m also a teenager. A little personal space is a requirement for any young animal to learn how to survive on its own in the world. That’s the way I explained it to my parents. It was the only way they would understand.
The campus was huge! My hometown had about the same population as the school’s. That made things pretty intimidating for a poor young college freshman just trying to get away from home for the first time. I learned quickly that the most endangered species on a college campus is a parking space. I was forced to park nearly a mile from where I was supposed to register, and even then I only got the space because I barely squeezed in between two badly-parked sports cars. I managed not to scratch either of them, though, so I considered that a good beginning.
The long, hot walk to the University Center to register did terrible things for my self-image. Because this was the first time most freshmen students had been at a school without a dress code, many of them took advantage of it, and looked amazing. I was wearing an outfit that could best be described as “cute.” “Cute” doesn’t get much attention, but I also know that I couldn’t have worn a lot of the outfits that the other girls were wearing. I’m skinny. Perhaps gangly might be a better description. I was the girl who often found a way out of P.E. because I didn’t enjoy sports. As a result, I had zero muscle tone. I would come to regret that.
I finally made it to the University Center and found the line to register and receive my dorm room assignment. The line was long, and a lot of the students in it were obviously friends or acquaintances. I didn’t know anyone or what to do. What I did know was that I looked very awkward just standing there with my arms crossed trying not to look at anything in particular and silently wishing that the rest of the line would hurry up and disappear. A dog standing next to the University Center near the corner caught my eye. It was huge. It was a St. Bernard with a full coat of fur and standing at least four feet tall or more. Despite the intense heat of the summer day, it was not panting. It seemed to be looking at everyone. I wondered if it might be looking for its owner. That’s when it looked directly at me. I don’t mean that it was looking in my direction; I mean that I could tell that it was looking directly at me. It stared at me for a moment and I stared back. It turned its head a little, as if it were thinking, and then it nodded at me. I had never seen a dog nod its head like that. “I didn’t think that pets were allowed,” I said out loud to no one in particular.
“Say what?” I was startled by the voice behind me. The last time I had looked I was the last person in line. I spun around and saw a freshman boy looking at me with a bit of confusion.
Pointing in the direction of the St. Bernard, I explained, “I was talking about the dog. I didn’t think that students were allowed to have pets.”
His confused expression didn’t change much. “What dog?”
“That dog!” I replied turning to where I had last seen the St. Bernard. All that was there was the corner of the University Center and a few well-tended bushes. “Where did it go? You had to have seen it.” The boy behind me shook his head. “You couldn’t miss it. It was a St. Bernard. Actually, it was big enough that it looked like the child of a St. Bernard and a bear.”
The boy was still shaking his head. “Sorry. I didn’t notice any unusually large dogs or any small bears.” Embarrassed, I turned around without another word and resumed looking at nothing. “Hi. I’m Clive Spence,” I heard him say somewhat purposefully. He was holding out his hand in greeting.
I turned back around to take a real look at this fellow freshman for the first time. He was shorter than I was. He wasn’t flabby, but he certainly wasn’t in shape. His red hair was wavy and styled as best it could be, but it still looked a little unkempt. His choice of clothes showed that he preferred function over fashion. He seemed to be like a lot of boys I had known in high school. Typically, they ignored me romantically because they always thought that one of the haughty, pretty, popular girls in school was the love of their life. Guys like him were usually good friends, though. Trustworthy. Solid. And that was something I was sure I could use in this foreign environment, so I took his hand and shook it. “Darwin Woodman.” In the process of shaking hands, we both dropped our registration packets and knelt down to pick them up. We bumped heads on the way down. If this were some low-budget rom-com, this would be when our eyes meet and we kiss. Of course, I’ve never lived in a rom-com. Instead, this was where his nose started bleeding.