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Understanding Numbers

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The girl stated that she wanted to finish her math homework. Her mother responded with an exasperated look, one that clearly said, I know you need to finish your homework. You’ve said that. Let us finish dinner before you hide out in your room for the night. The girl, feeling that she was being chastised without need, hastened to clarify that she actually wanted to finish her math homework, that it was enjoyable.

At the incredulous look she received, the girl clarified-again-that she liked math, that she received joy from forcing numbers into formulas and coming up with what x equaled. That it was a sort of stress relief, the fact that there could only be one answer, and that she didn’t have to think very hard to come up with it. The girl resented her mother’s reply that she, also, liked sometimes to do more menial tasks that she knew she could accomplish but preferred more creative tasks, just like the girl did. The girl shot back that she didn’t always prefer creative tasks, that in fact-and here she hesitated. Did she really want to go into this now?

Pausing a moment to catch her breath, the girl continued. In fact, would her mom be disappointed if she planned to earn a bachelor of science, rather than the bachelor of arts her mother dreamed for her? Her mother mulled this over for the briefest moment, then said, with a smile as genuine as the truth of God, that she didn’t care what the girl studied, as long as she was happy.

A smile began to creep over the girl’s face. Perhaps this would be easier than she thought. Before she could say anything, her mother asked-really asked, she didn’t yet disapprove-why the girl was considering going for a bachelor of science. The girl, thinking she had complete support, blurted out without hesitation that the Coast Guard Academy only offered bachelors of science.

The room was as silent as the grave-indeed, the girl felt almost like she had signed her own death sentence. When the ringing silence became overwhelming, the girl stood and retrieved her laptop. Her mother said nothing as she showed her the Academy’s webpage. She said nothing when she saw her daughter had the page bookmarked. She said nothing when looking at the page of potential careers cadets chose after graduating the Academy. She said nothing when her daughter closed her laptop and retreated to the kitchen, to stand in the corner, afraid of her mother’s reaction. Minutes passed, and still her mother said nothing. She said nothing, but her face…oh, dear God, her face. The girl didn’t think she could recall her mother with that expression since her grandfather’s wake, three years ago.

After what seemed to be forever, the girl’s mother looked up at her husband and said, with a shaky smile, ‘Well, it’s your dream.”

No! the girl wanted to shout. It’s not his dream. It’s my dream. Mine! I don’t even know if I want to do this, but I'd do it for me! Not him! It'd be five years of my life that I'd give to the military, not his! Besides, I don't even know if I want to do this! I don’t understand why you look like I’ve already died, I don’t understand why I feel like this, I don’t why you won't understand, I don’t understand!

Taken aback by the flood of emotion and disaster springing from a normal Thursday night, the girl turned and fled to her room before screams could issue from her mouth. She clutched her math homework like a saving hand. a2 + b2 = c2. m=rise/run. A=1/2bh. Numbers were simple, soothing. Numbers, she could understand numbers.



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