Collisions

I.

Love is an act of collision. Two bodies come together and react. When things go well, a mutual bond will form between the two. They can each maintain their prior self while remaining attached. A healthy relationship takes the form of two stars colliding, forming a binary system in which they dance in a shared orbit.

But many things can go wrong with collisions. In some cases, both bodies will explode.

There are other, rarer instances, in which one object travels at such feverish high speed, and is so much more massive, that it will devour the other.

One such collision almost came to completion five years ago. On Monday, December 7, 2008, the Texas police ran into the home of Christopher Lee McCuin to find him sitting at the kitchen table preparing to eat dinner. He had an ear boiling on the stove and a chunk of raw meat on his plate with a fork set neatly beside it.

Upon seeing the police enter, McCuin bolted towards the door and managed to escape from the house. They chased him down shortly afterwards.

He had put much preparation into his meal. He had caught the food on Friday when he asked his girlfriend, Jana Shearer, 21 years old, to discuss some matters regarding their relationship.

When they had finished talking, McCuin beat her repeatedly with a blunt object. It only took a few collisions for her to fall dead to the floor. After that he spent the weekend further mutilating the body, carving out pieces from various parts of the carcass.

After an entire weekend of work, he went to seek out his girlfriend’s mother. “I want to show you what I’ve done,” he said. She followed him into the house, and he told her to look into the garage.

The mother put her hand to her mouth and ran screaming out of the house to find a policeman.

In the meantime, McCuin prepared his meal, setting up his last act.

Perhaps McCuin carved out even more pieces from the body after the mother left. Maybe he already had the pieces sitting in the fridge. But the collision had already happened, and the reaction was now in full speed. With the police’s entrance, though, the completion of McCuin’s task was foiled: The reaction was cut short.

II.

There is a predator in every ecosystem. When it comes to chemistry, water is like a piranha. It is designed to rip apart whatever it lays its hands upon. Two hydrogen atoms are posed like guns on either side of the oxygen atom. With their slightly positive charge, they will stick to any sort of negative charge. The negatively-charged oxygen, which is twelve times more massive than hydrogen, floats like a giant. It is drawn towards any positive mol- ecules in the vicinity. With just three atoms, the water molecules are fully equipped to tear apart both spectrums of charges.

But water never acts alone. Rather, it hunts in packs.

Take, for example, the dissolution of sodium chloride in water. This molecule is simply one sodium atom bound to a chlorine atom. The sodium carries a negative charge and the chlorine a positive charge. The moment this molecule comes into contact with the aqueous environment, the water molecules swarm the foreigner and prepare to attack. The ones on the chlorine side reorient themselves so that the hydrogen molecules bond to the negative charge. On the other side the oxygen atoms stick to the sodium ion.

In an instant, everything is set.

With their teeth clenched on the skin of its prey, the water molecules start to pull apart in opposite directions, tugging until the carcass is ripped in half. The remains float off in the water, and the water molecules move on, satisfied with their meat.

More than seventy percent of our body consists of this water. We are carnivores.

III.

Of all the senses, touch is by far the most intimate, for it is the only sense that causes our bodies to change.

The least penetrating sense is vision. Light simply hits the eye. Smell penetrates the body a bit more: Little bits of the environment enter our noses, and some particles bind to the appropriate pore in our nose. The tiny hairs inside the pore are pushed to an angle, triggering a neural response. In order to taste, tiny hairs in our taste buds spark a nerve impulse. Sounds are perceived when the hairs in our inner ear vibrate from the sound waves.

But this is all superficial. It’s simply hairs moving or bones vibrating. The actual shape does not change.

Now take touch. We are able to feel the world thanks to Meissner corpuscles, tiny oval-shaped organelles. They are located everywhere in our bodies—underneath the skin, on the linings of internal organs. Whenever our bodies come into contact with another surface, the corpuscles in that area compress and immediately fire back signals to the brain, as if information was being squeezed out of them.

When our bodies are still, there is no contact, and the Meissner corpuscles in these areas start to lose their sensitivity. They stiffen, become less responsive, and eventually stop working.

When we finally do give them the stimulation for which they were designed, they immediately light up and send joyful electric pulses to the brain. Just as glow sticks only glow when they are bent, our bodies slowly light up as we move each individual body part. After a full session of stretching, every part of the body is stimulated: The internal organs have massaged each other, and bone and muscles are twisting and turning and rubbing, as if reciting an old song thought to be forgotten. By the time we have finished exer- cising our entire body, we are glowing.

Every action has an equal and opposite reac- tion. A transaction happens when two things touch. That is why newborns that go for too long without being touched will die. That is why we can tell if someone is alive or dead just by putting our hands to their skin. It is through touch that the body is able to live. If we stop moving, the body will forget that it is alive.

IV.

In the movie Perfume, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is overtaken by love. Born and abandoned in a fish market and raised in an orphanage, he grew up as a strangely detached boy with a superior nose, which led him to seek out the best of aromas.

One night, he smells something particularly beautiful and follows the scent until he finds its source: a redheaded maiden selling strawberries in the local market. He follows her, unable to resist.

Jean-Baptiste startles the woman and tries to quell her screams with his hands. Having never touched or been touched by anyone in his life, he clenches her neck too hard and kills her. She falls to the floor. He touches her again, but she is not alive. He smells her, but the smell is gone.

From then on, he can think of nothing but that marvelous odor: he seeks to create the finest perfume in the world. After seeking the ap- prenticeship of a local perfume maker, Jean uses the perfume boiler in the basement to extract oils from various objects.

He begins with roses. But even with the finest flowers, he cannot find a scent anything like the maiden’s, and so he starts experimenting with objects more like her body. One by one, the girls from the town start disappearing. Naked bodies of beautiful women appear around the city. From each of these bodies, the hair has been removed.

It is this hair that Jean uses to extract the finest scents.

Over time the town is flooded with the fear of a serial killer. Jean flees from the city and goes to the country to work in a perfume factory with better scent preservation techniques. On his way there, Jean realizes that he has no scent of his own.

Once there, he continues to kill in secret and eventually obtains the perfect prey: a most beautiful redhead who he believes will bring forth the magic scent. By that time, however, the town has exposed him as the murderer and plans to hang him for his crimes.

Just before his hanging, Jean takes the perfume from his pocket and lets a single drop fall onto his skin. The scent expands like an atom bomb in the air, and the town is stunned by the heavenly smell. A calm, golden spray settles on the citizens and they advance into a massive orgy. Skin touching skin touching skin—the people are engulfed in love and forgive Jean for his murders.

The perfume has given him the power to rule the world, but Jean still has no scent. He realizes that he has nothing to give to the world: He can never be loved. He heads back to the fish market where he was born and decides to end his life. He pours the perfume over his body. The nearby crowd surrounds him and devours him, piece af- ter sweet-smelling piece.

All the love in the world, condensed into a single collision.