Is it possible that my eighth grade algebra teacher conveyed the importance of math, and I just missed it, choosing instead to watch the sunlight move and caress the back of that one boy’s neck, disperse its packets of energy on and under the thick gold chain he wore, that he allowed me to wear, once before a basketball game.
Probably not. Probably she didn’t tell us anything of the sort. Didn’t tell me that later, while searching for meaning and clambering for doors, I would obsesses over physics, and then I would need the ideas, need the tools to exercise the square roots from the denominator. She didn’t tell me, didn’t walk down the aisle, didn’t push her palm against the side of my face, and didn’t say, “this boy will not be important, but this fraction will.”
I spend some time watching online explanations of how to simplify a fraction, and I take notes. I want to understand relativity, and later I drive my daughter to play practice at a church we have just begun attending in a town where we just moved, and I recognize that watching the videos about the fractions and standing in a sanctuary, nervous and itchy from the new wool hat are indistinguishable, or at least derivatives of the same instinct.
The boy wasn’t important, or maybe he was. I saw him a few months ago, right before the summer took leave. Naked in his tendency to repeat prepositions, plain in the way he never spoke directly to me, and clear in his desperate, shaking limbs was the leveling path of all those substances that had scoured their way through his veins. I wish I had pulled him to me and said, “It’s ok. It’s ok. We’ve already made it this far.”
But I didn’t, and I’m certain he could see the disgust I was struggling to swallow, see it leaking right out of the corners of the smiles I worked so hard to construct as I pulled my child back from his hand. I can’t always be my best.
And just as his life opened for me that day, the books splay wide on my desk, their private interests on display, asking me to see them and not wither. The search for knowledge is always obscene. I like thinking of them, alone now in my office, the pages whispering dirty jokes to one another as they huddle and speculate about my progress, my inability to go forward without taking oh so many steps back.
Christie Wilson lives in Illinois. Her work appears in Atticus Review, Driftwood Press, apt, and New World Writing among other publications. She is currently writing a collection of prose and a novel. Visit her at www.christiewilson.net or follow her @5cdwilson.