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Math


I had a stack of cash in my belonging. I'd stuck a sticky tab on it after counting it. The tab said $2300. I did this to save myself counting it again another time. But, the unfortunate day came that I had to put this stack in the bank and of course, I counted it again and was dismayed to find it was actually only $1280. Dismayed, but not surprised.

I suck at math.

Beyond suck.


In fact, I consider myself to have impairment. I still use my fingers to count, and sometimes wonder how many of my customers have walked away from transactions in my store, in both a caloric and financial positive. Numbers do not follow much order to me. People along the way have showed me tricks that sometimes stick, but overall whether it's nature or nurture I cannot say.

It does not matter.

My brain shuts down.


But I can make change. It is one thing that I've learned to do. It's taken lots of practice and I have to trust myself. I begin at the bottom and I have to speak aloud, keep count. In increments of no real worth, or so it might at first seem, I can make change.


I went to a school that cost money. I had teachers who felt it was better; I now suppose, to acquiesce to the pressures of that incoming money than point out that someone was having a real issue.

And I was definitely having issues.

But I wasn't the only one.

Check this out.


One time, I have no recollection of what I'd done; an English teacher flew into a rage at me. Spittle flying from his lips and his watery bloodshot eyes blazing as he screamed at me, calling me a tart and every variant of a sexual miscreant imaginable. Harlot, hussy, wench, trollop whatever it was - I remember sobbing at my desk, not an ally to be found, then holding in sobs as the class continued, him mopping his brow to get back to Shakespeare or whatever were the definitive texts instructing in the eloquent extermination of 13 year olds' sense of self at the time.


Now, there's very few people in this world I haven't been able to forgive their trespasses against me. I'm a soft-hearted person and were I to take the occasion to imagine this sad fuck growing old alone in a dingy underground apartment, while he masturbates over a worn copy of Lolita in a dated button-down, with beastly pit stains and store-bought spaghetti sauce down the front, his wispy comb-over and droopy jowls trembling in unison in the yellow light, I might forgive him. I might.


Because, am I not a sad fuck too?


Don't I sit at home fretting over only my own needs, chastising the world for its cruelty to me, for it's lack or lasciviousness? Don't I flip my wig when people look at me the wrong way or maybe look too long? I wear my pit-stained, spaghetti sauce pyjamas to work and grumble about getting no respect and generally suspect that everyone is out to get, me.


Another time, another teacher, I was disciplined for mis-spelling Michael as Michelle. I clearly remember we were having a spelling quiz. The word(s) I was trying to spell was Michael Jackson. I remember knowing what I had written was wrong, but not being able to get the arrangement of letters to look right. I kept erasing and replacing finally settling on Michelle, as it was less wrong than Micale. I really couldn't understand this teacher's contempt for this mistake at the time. He was so angry with me, asserting that what I'd done wasn't funny and I ought to be ashamed. But I had NO IDEA what he was angry about.


In retrospect this transaction left me perplexed. My adult brain has at last, tried to make sense of this this thirty year-old unsolved mystery by supposing my teacher was possibly gay, and had decided that I, at the age of 10 or 12 had mastered homophobic sub-textual messaging. Or something.


In 1986 this teacher maybe went home in his open necked golf shirt with belted, pleated pants (or whatever was the absurd '80's trend of the moment) and maybe he sat in a pub, trying to nail down a social revolution, trying to manage his confusion and frustrations at the systems he was in. Maybe he felt oppressed, victimized, let down by his government. Night after night of gnashing out an identity, questioning his purpose, all while crushing a few Carlsberg Pilsners amongst friends, not knowing much about the future except that time was slipping through his hands.


I can sympathize. As well, I now know, once you've had a few, it's easy to get distracted. It gets much harder to shake that pervasive funk of persecution that haunts a few of us. In the year 1986, maybe he didn't have an ounce of energy left for faith, or for the uncomplicated mind that scurried home to watch MuchMusic videos and dream of marrying George Michael. Michael.


When I had these two memories, I wasn't requesting any subconscious regurgitation from my brain. I was depositing some cash and a cheque, which the machine wouldn't take, so I had to wait to see the teller. Maybe my brain, standing in line, watching what seems to be the all too common transactional exchange of someone's full-blown tantrum on the teller, saw an opportunity to divest itself of some obsolete data. Maybe my brain was killing time in line, drawing correlations in this situation to historical tantrums I've known. Maybe it was avoiding checking my deposit slip math. I don't know, but once it was my turn, the teller nervously pointed out I'd made another mistake adding up the numbers.


So these are my math skills. And here are my social skills. And here are some cheesy explanations that conclude that I learned early on I could anger people, not only with what I didn't know, but without knowing what it was. I've grieved the years inebriated, a vessel for fury & shame of anonymous descent. I've spun the tale, if school'd been kinder to me, I could, I could've been somebody.


It would be more truthful to sum I still don't understand these systems. The arithmetic that makes us tick, the algorithm that keeps us divided, the infinite and consistent subtraction from what makes us whole. That I have difficulty realizing the chaos and acceleration of my youth, in relation to my velocity through time, yields an arbitrarily average adulthood.

My work is derivative.

The work is continuous.


I measure out the integers; I wear my pocket calculator, entertain the lowest common denominator. I put variables in my packsack; a proprietary blend of compassion and venom, self-care and self-pity, greater than less than, almost equal to. I carry this around, knowing only now the truths of my youth are not absolute.


And, I can make change. It is one thing that I've learned to do. It's taken lots of practice and I have to trust myself. I begin at the bottom and I have to speak aloud, keep count. In increments of no real worth, or so it might at first seem, I can make change.


I can count the coins and bills and hand them right to you.

And you can put them in the turnstile,

and you can make change too.

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©2018 by Amber Stoby