“Have you ever felt so alone you wanted to cry, but the chronic nature of your ailment removed the tears’ urgent imperative?” –Charles LaBonne
The sweet sounds of bustle and chatter and good-natured congregating abound at the department picnic.  A professional sound system plays “When Doves Cry” by Prince, and Alex smells the creamy mac and cheese and braised beef brisket. Everyone has stopped working and come outside to celebrate the end of the semester. People share stories with smiles and incredulous laughter and Alex draws near to them, first within earshot, then undeniably a part of the circles each group has arranged themselves in.  He tries to make eye contact, but no one returns the favor.
Alex moves from huddle to huddle, hovering for a few moments before continuing on.  He momentarily trains his focus on the lush grass to distract himself from his loneliness. A cool breeze gently rocks the boughs of a nearby spruce tree and the leaves make a comforting hushing sound, that of a mother. It is a beautiful spring day, perfect for a barbecue.
Finally, Alex settles into a group with a positive energy. He knows a few of the students from Dr. Shaffer’s lab down the hall. Sam, who Alex briefly met at the post-doc symposium last week, says jokingly, “Comedy words in humor order cause contractile reflexes in the facial manifold and eruption of staccato ha-has. Don’t laugh, I’ve seen it happen.” The prophecy comes to pass with an explosion of laughter from around the circle, Alex included. With a maximally contracted facial manifold, Sam looks at him, and for a moment Alex thinks Sam registers his presence, that they share this moment, but soon Sam’s eyes too continue on.
From their circle Alex is not a part, but apart. He’s like an unbound electron, bouncing from nucleus to nucleus in search of an available empty slot by which to find peace and relieve his anxious energy. Alex flits around the courtyard with his plate of uneaten food.
An electron cannot cry (it has no lacrimal ducts), so when saddened its tears build and build inside until it discovers an empty orbital, allowing the particle to return to a lower energy state. Alternatively, if the electron encounters its anti-particle, the two outliers will annihilate one another in a microscopic poof and erase each other from existence. Until it finds such a positron, though, the electron will flit from here to there searching for somewhere—anywhere—to fit in. If no outlet can be found, the mounting water pressure backs up into the electron’s brain and it dies of hydrocephaly.
Alex considers the lone electron and notes that he himself has played a similarly lifelong game of musical chairs.  Finding none available at the picnic, he throws out his full, heavy plate and heads back inside to return to pipetting. As he exits the lovely outdoor space, Alex hears Prince’s voice and synth diminuendo to nothing.
Back in the lab, the dull, resonant vibrations of incubators and an air conditioner permeate the still air redolent of ethanol and bleach. In solitude Alex sits on one of the many vacant swivel chairs, but he does not—cannot for some reason—cry. Alex can, however, hear muffled laughter coming from outside, but the staccato ha-has are largely masked by the thrum of lab equipment, and the two antipodal sounds mix into a kind of loud, dissonant silence.
Alex peers into the Leica microscope and views a single Tardigrade waddling around; these remarkable, adorable little creatures can survive the harshest environments known to man, such as the vacuum of space or the depths of the Arctic ocean or (predicted, though tests are still ongoing) an infinite desert lacking all of the substances thought necessary for life, such as water and vegetation and friendship.