My Numbers

July 2, 2013
1+1 makes 2. 2+2 makes 4. 4+4 makes 8.

I have loved math for as long as I can remember. There had always been something extraordinary about it, some hidden beauty, as if the numbers were holding something behind their back and you had to guess what it was. In first grade I would spend several indoor recesses making simple addition charts just to see the two separate numbers fuse into some incredible new one. A goofy smile smeared across my childish face, I would boldly search for peculiar patterns like Francis Drake searched for the dreamer’s Northwest Passage. Ten symbols – a universe of numbers, bigger and brighter than I could ever comprehend. Simple arithmetic seemed like so much more to me.

8+8 makes 16. 16+16 makes 32. 32+32 makes 64.

Most people didn’t like math. I learned that pretty fast! But I told myself that they just didn’t understand. They just didn’t see the beauty of it all; perhaps they hadn't even tried! Someday maybe they would see. Once I got older, all the drama would surely go away. All my friends in elementary school were just kids. Once they grew up, they’d calm down. But at the time, every molehill was a mountain. Every argument was a one I forgot to carry and every mistake was like dividing by zero, both catastrophic to the answer. But when I felt like crying and just breaking down, my numbers would gather around and do their little dance. Mentally doubling numbers became a barrier against tears, twenty times stronger than the Hoover Dam.

64+64 makes 128. 128+128 makes 256. 256+256 makes 512.

It turns out I had forgotten to check my work. As I got older, the kids around me morphed not into respectable teenagers but mindless zombies who ran like clockwork, turning the same circles every day. My old snags in the curtain were dwarfed by the ones that hit me now, and when they hit, you can bet they hit hard! People were changing far too fast for me to keep up; I was confused and unsure. I fell back onto my old friends, but when I turned around, there was nothing new about them. They were always the same. No matter how many times I threw a problem at it, two would persevere and stubbornly keep its value. They were inspiration to me. As I befriended x and y, I learned that it was okay to change so long as you were careful with your order of operations and followed the rules. Graphed equations were paintings in disguise and imaginary numbers were just waiting for someone to believe in them.

512+512 makes 1,024. 1,024+1,024 makes 2,048. 2,048+2,048 makes 4,096.

People never stopped changing. My numbers had always taught me to be there when people need you, and though I was afraid, I faithfully followed them, taking slow steps. But other people couldn't decide who they were and spun in infinite circles dizzying themselves just for laughs. But I wasn't laughing. I felt more lost than ever. My maps had become outdated long ago, who knew if the world was still round? Maybe I could just walk off the edge without even trying! Everything I knew seemed wrong. I was scared, I was falling and no parabola could catch me. Every answer seemed extraneous and I began to doubt even the numbers that had kept me going all that time. But no matter how angry I got at them, no matter how much I complained to them, they never changed on me. Five was always five, and two of them always made ten. Math hadn't let me down. It preserved the child in me in a formula, and all I had to do was solve for x. It was the hardest problem I ever did, but when I found the answer, I shouldn't have been surprised. I had changed, perhaps more than any of the people around me. Throughout all of middle school I had my real friends to support me, to sit with me at lunch and make me smile. But when I felt alone, my numbers were always there to give me a hand.

4,096+4,096 makes 8,192. 8,192+8,192 makes 16,384. 16,384+16,384 makes 32,768.

And if I don’t change base, neither will the answer. So I just keep adding…