By Alaina Sandau
Throughout my elementary, middle, and high school education, I spent my time either in the English classroom or dreaming of it. I loved reading, and even more so writing, pulling from the sprawling narrative threads of my mind and tying conflicts to learning experiences, wry quips, and happy endings.
I did not hold such warm sentiments for my math classes, however. I felt they allowed no room for deeper meaning or happy endings, really, any conclusions at all. There is hardly meaning to be found in the assigned equations, and when there is, it makes no sense. Why is Tamara buying eighty-six pomegranates and giving thirty-nine to her son? How does it end? Now there are two quite literally very seedy individuals living lives out there that have yet to be respectably concluded, doing God knows what.
By the time I got to calculus, math demanded this suspension of belief as well as mastery of its most important concept: limits. Limits come into play when one has everything around a number except the value itself–what an equation is approaching but will never, ever touch. The asymptote.
To me, this baseline concept was the infuriating pinnacle illustration of a subject that refuses coherent conclusion. Basically, it was wack. I never took a higher math class and forgot everything I regurgitated onto that final scantron in the spring of 2018. I took up a major in psychology with a minor in teaching English to speakers of other languages, because I knew what I wanted to do with my life. I was a thread spinner, a story keeper, a happy-ender.
Maybe that’s why I didn’t cry when it happened.
The strands of a story I wasn’t ready to let go of yet twisted around a chest that would otherwise heave, binding legs that would otherwise run, and snaking around fingers that would otherwise weave sense, but couldn’t. I lay there, silently counting the popcorn on the ceiling. I didn’t know how to tie the strands of an unhappy ending.
In my paralysis, the threads were feverishly trying to tie what had happened into something I could hold. It was like I was drowning overwater, or like I was invisible but everyone was staring at me, or like time didn’t stop but it was supposed to. Except that getting raped wasn’t like anything, and for once in my life I didn’t have the words. I just had the math.
I was nearing an asymptote with a value of zero. I was so tiny with my arms wrapped around my knees. I felt my body shrink with every exit on the highway as he drove me home, but I just couldn’t seem to disappear into nothingness, even though it would make everything easier.
After that, I became like a character from a math equation. My behavior was erratic–Why was I baking sixteen mini donuts and giving six to him one week after it happened? Why was I crying thirteen tears at the doctor’s office but still failing to speak over the lump in my throat to ask for one tissue? Why do I feel like one girl divided by two?
I haven’t solved these equations yet. I’m trying. Though, as I go, I remember that math is a particularly despicable but curious subject in that it requests answers but not conclusions, which is why Tamara now has forty-seven pomegranates and a future unwritten, and I was perhaps mistaken in labeling my current chapter of hurt an ending.
This pain nears an asymptote of zero, I know this, and I feel it, too. It gets smaller every day.
This is indisputable, this is fact; this is forever.
My threads find their way free, ready to be spun again.
As I watch the tiny quotient stretching out over the days of my life and reaching out toward eternity, I know that I am, too.