Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Math

“Are you excited to go to E’s school next year?” I asked my short-haired girl from the front seat. She was recalling a family event we had attended there recently.

Yeah! So when I go to kindergarten, will she be in second grade?

“That’s right, love.”

What grade will she be when I go to second grade?

“Fourth, because she’s two grades ahead of you. So if you’re in second grade, add two years to figure out where your sister will be. Two plus two is four.”

We added all the years until the end.

Help me do big math after ten. When I’m in tenth grade, she’ll be in twelfth? What is it when I’m in eleventh? Where will E be?

“Well, sweet girl, that’s when you’ll be the biggest noteverstill in the school. When you go to eleventh grade, E will leave your school and go to college.”

The back seat got quiet. In the gloaming as we hurtled across a high-speed blacktop valley headed home, trees flanking us with thick gray shadows and a big sky amber sunset distant above and beyond us, I saw her reflection in the mirror. Her lip quivered.

She broke into heaving sobs. I just don’t want to think about my family living in different places. I want my sister and brother to be with me forever.

Her father’s been in Boston for four days. He’ll be back today. He’ll leave again next week and again the one after, stay home for a week and then he leaves again.

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The days are cooler now and the nights are cold. When we load kids into the cars each morning we stop and turn ignition keys, letting warm air surround them like a comforting hug. Like closeness and familiarity. The condensation trickles down the window exteriors. Wipers brush it away and those evasive triangles in the corner stay gilded with dewdrops and defiance. Every day I find a corner and I write backwards on the outside of the window in the defiant dew so my warm-and-dry charges, busily fastening their straps, can read it: U♥I. ‘I love you,’ they read. ‘You love I,’ I see. It’s a circular message but I carved it with my own whorled fingerprint. Nobody can say that to them like I can.

I always thought circles have no sides but I learned my math a very long time ago. I was playing 20 Questions with L last week and nearing my limit. I knew it was a shape I was seeking, and she gave me the hint that it had two sides. I didn’t understand and wasted the last of my questions in fumbling.

A circle! she told me.

“But where are its sides, love?” I asked in my confusion. She grabbed my palm and traced a circle on it. She poked me at its center.

Two sides, see? The inside. And she wiggled her fingers all around my hand.

And the outside.

And now circular messages aren’t the same.

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After school, and reunited and it feels so good. They all but ignore me as they jump on his back, his arms, around his neck, and that’s how it should be. I walk back outside the house and they don’t notice and that’s fine. I haven’t been nobody to them in days and a momentary anonymity is a benediction of quiet. Anyway I have one-two garbage cans to roll back from the curb to the garage, and one-two-three backpacks and purses to retrieve from my car, and one mailbox to empty of its contents.

I walk a final time up toward the house, welcoming me with the soft glow of the porch light and the sound of giggles floating out. It’s a sensory ‘welcome home’ sign every time I come near the front door.

I pass the car in the driveway. In the nearest corner of the windshield, the ghosts of calligraphy stare vacantly from three dirty dry smudges.

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Edited to add: this post made the front page at DC Blogs
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