Calculus and Cows

May 24, 2010
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This is the story of one man and one woman, and the cows that brought them together. Initially, you may find their attraction absurd, but their divergent personalities bring them closer together, much like the product produced when two negative numbers are multiplied.

They couldn’t seem to be more opposite. They live on opposite ends of town, that is, if you can include the beloved dairy farm of one in the limits of the town’s borders. They do share the same place of work, but they inhabit opposing ends of the building, one on the top floor, and the other on the bottom. It might have been seen as an inconvenience, but when their relationship began to bud, this distance would prove to be a beautiful pathway on which each would allow themselves to admit their true feelings.

One loves calculus, the theoretical math, with concrete equations like 2?cos(x)(4/x) = y. The other can wax eloquently on the themes of love and pain and hate in literature, describing the great heights humanity can rise to, and the tragic ends so many meet. He speaks only when necessary, preferring to show the world how he thinks by solving complex problems on whiteboards with lightning speed. She is a talker, chatting about everything from hair highlights to the state of the Grecian economy.

How they met no one really knows, for their interactions revolved around the students they had devoted their lives to improving. They heard each other’s names in passing, and exchanged remarks at staff meetings. Eventually they felt as if they knew one another, thanks to the secondhand information they garnered from their students, who saw before anyone else the potential for never-ending success.

The first date was hardly spectacular; they met in the teacher’s lounge and ate lunch: his a basic turkey sandwich accompanied by a shining apple, and hers a Tupperware full of leftover chow mein and fried rice. He drank skim milk. She drank a coke. She rhapsodized about the AP College Board, complaining of the deterioration of its book list and the time limit imposed on thoughtful students. He nodded, laughed a few times, and inserted an occasional witty comment, at which she would grow silent, tilt her head, and smile happily.

The lunch dates earned a reputation for their adorable quality, and teachers and students alike would sneak glances through the window, smiling and murmuring to themselves as they watched the blossoming love.

She expressed her emotions by fiddling with his uniform life: she shuffled his papers and reorganized his briefcase, always taking delight in his subdued reactions. He expressed himself in a much more conservative manner, as was his nature, choosing to execute mathematical feats and complete proofs which somehow convinced him that their differences could be reconciled.

The relationship was a beautiful thing, the subject of discussion among other teachers, and the accepted standard for greatness among students. Girls would sigh in the hallways, crying, “If only I can find love like that!” while their boyfriends gruffly tried to ignore the fuzzy feeling creeping into their systems.

All seemed well—but as she would say, all’s fair in love and war, and they both had secrets which were lurking—lurking in a dark, hidden place, which would limit them from their true potential.

She discovered his when she visited his dairy farm for the first time. She was admiring the cows, pointing excitedly at their beautiful spots and petting their brows. But when Lo (named for Lo’s Theorem of course) began to charge, she found that her feet were firmly rooted to the manure enhanced ground she stood upon. Her mouth opened as wide as it would go, her finger extended to point to poor, misunderstood Lo, and her life began to flash before her eyes.

But before her mental flashbacks had progressed to the third grade, he had thrown her to safety and with his monumental strength, had redirected dear Lo. She stood to thank him, hysterical relief causing her voice to shake, but as she reached to hug him, she noticed the rip on his sleeve. He shrugged it off, but she was not to be ignored, and when she examined the seam, she unearthed the hidden tattoos from his time in the Latino gangs. *Cue dramatic music.

Her mouth was set in a firm line and she pushed his explanations away. “I knew it wouldn’t work! Truth may be subjective, but emotional truth—what our relationship was founded on has been violated. Goodbye.”

He was utterly confused. Emotional truth? There were numbers. There were facts. And that was all there was.

The next few days were torturous for all involved. The students suffered under the melancholy moods of their teachers. He assigned dozens of free response questions and forced hundreds of multiple choice questions upon his students. She pulled from her arsenal the grammar book and each student began to identify every noun and verb in the English language. The students wept for the lost love and the teachers averted their eyes when they met in the hallways. It was the greatest tragedy to strike the school since the elimination of the synchronized swimming team in 1905.

The staff meetings were cold and uncomfortable. The two refused to sit near each other and neither would allow themselves to glance at the other, for fear that they would be the first to display their vulnerability. For while she was crushed to discover his secret past, the revelation only made hers more difficult to conceal.

But their stoic silence could only last so long. The students were ready to revolt. The teachers were being thrown into a frenzied panic, wondering what to say or how to react when the two began to lament of their lover’s woes. One day, the great climax which everyone had been anticipating came to be, and the two would be forced to decide once and for all if their differences could be overcome.

An intervention was planned in the student tutoring center. Two decoy students asked both parties for help on assignments, and lured them into the room with pages of incorrect derivatives and mistyped papers. When the two realized they were breathing the same air and treading upon the same ground they lunged for the door, but the students had exited and locked the way behind them.

They faced off on opposite ends of the room, each striving to hold their tongues; to not be the first one to speak. He straightened each of the desks, keeping his eyes locked on the floor. She flipped through a stack of books, blindly examining their authors and publishers. Finally, when the tension was palpable, and the stress and strain had reached fatal levels, they collapsed in dead faints, and lay motionless until the night janitor, Pepe, found them a few hours later.

Their hospital beds were placed side by side and their long silence was finally broken. He began to explain the complex set of pictures and phrases on his back, pleading with her to understand why he had buried himself in the messy politics of gang life. She wept as he described the extreme poverty of his family and blotted her eyes with tissues as he fought to express himself. He told her of the money the gangs provided and explained that it was the only way he could care for his family. His teacher’s salary now provided him with the funds to care for his aging parents and young siblings—he swore his days in the gangs were over.

He promised that he was completely reformed and begged for her forgiveness, which she wholeheartedly granted. But there was an invisible wall between them, an unseen barbed wire fence which was preventing a true reunion. She opened her mouth, gave a great sigh, and told him her greatest secret.

His reaction was subdued, but he was never one to lapse into dramatics. He simply focused his eyes on one speck on the wall, and there his brilliant stare would remain for the next hour. She allowed him to process her grave news, leaving him to tinker with his calculator and go over the proofs he had completed to prove his love for her.

When he had finished solving his complex problems he turned to her and said, “There was a point of discontinuity on our graph. But I believe our future is continuous and differentiable.”

She stared at him in confusion, then murmured incredulously, “You mean we’ve found the healthy version of the love that Cathy and Heathcliff and Romeo and Juliet and Charles and Lucie shared?”

There were a few awkward moments as they googled their respective terms, but all was resolved when she learned the definition of differentiable and he discovered the history of the famous star-crossed lovers.

So peace was restored to the land. The student body fell in love with the love story and the entire school was once again lost to the beautiful tale. The theme of the prom was “Calculus and Cows.” The two were elected to speak at graduation.

When we examine the love which began to develop we find that their love was timeless; it could be written about on the AP Literature test or likened to the function y = x; it stretches into eternity, because the limit simply does not exist.

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