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Peter opened the door to his flat, walked in and put his key on its hook. He ambled upstairs to dump his backpack and change out of his school clothes into PJs. As he ascended the stairs he passed the 34 picture frames, each of a different trip across the globe. Europe, Asia, Australia, he’d seen it all. And in every single photo there was a blond boy with blue eyes next to a dark haired woman with a warm, round face.
Peter paused at the top of the stairs to take in his favorite photo. It was one of the times they went to Paris. They were standing in front of the Eiffel. Peter was sitting on his mother’s shoulders trying to shove the remains of his croissant into her mouth. The picture was slightly angled because his mom had been trying to hold the camera steady in one hand, while balancing Peter as well. They were both laughing.
Peter could remember almost everything about that particular day, right down to the humidity. He had a knack for numbers.
Peter lounged around on his bed working on AP Calculus as he waited for his mother and Warren to arrive.
This was a typical day for Peter. He would get home at around 2:30 from the MIT campus where he took Advance Statistics and various other math electives. He also took Honors Physics class and Honors Chem. After about half an hour of working problems and puzzles Warren had devised for him, his math tutor would show up and they would work through some lessons. Ever since first grade, when Peter’s gift, talent, whatever you call some seriously impressive, almost supernatural math skills, was discovered Peter has studied under Dr. Warren.
Peter is a bona fide math prodigy with his own personal professor to prove it. He and his mother have lived on the outskirts of Boston since he was eight. Before that they traveled the world together. The most significant moment of Peter’s life was meeting Warren. It made everything work. Peter and his mom were tight, she had understood him when nobody else did. She was his best friend, but Warren was like a father to Peter. He was the direction, he always knew what to do, what the next step was in solving the equation. Before Warren, the math was missing. Peter’s mom was a big part of his life, but there was a huge chunk of him that was incomprehensible to her.
Peter is a very independent kid. He has to be. When you grow up with your mom, and a math teacher who acts like your father, you don’t really know what it is to have a conventional family. Peter has been privately tutored since early elementary school and has taken college courses since age nine. Peter could probably navigate the MIT campus better than most seniors. He spent the first eight years of his life constantly traveling.
There isn’t anything traditional about Peter’s upbringing. In some ways this was a means to protect Peter. He doesn’t relate well to kids his age, which is understandable. When your thought processes are in numbers, not words, it’s a little hard for other people to keep up. So Mrs. Olsen took a chance, she isolated him from everything a typical child grows up with. Her goal was to save him from all the ignorant children who would misjudge and torture Peter because of his differences.
Peter sighed as he solved the last variable in his formula. He closed his notebook and went to turn on the TV. Peter started surfing channels, bypassing all the ridiculous reality shows and trivial drama series. He ended up watching Nova. It was a segment about the Parallel Universe theory, which was easy for Peter to pick up on.
Sometimes Peter laughed at himself. He thought about the crazy life he had led already. He’d been to over 50 countries and had been in college for six years. Peter was the supreme stereotype of a math geek. He didn’t think down on himself because of it. It was just the way he was, the way he was born. Peter had absolutely no problems with being smart. He chuckled again as he contemplated the superficial values of the society he lived in. Where people would dump themselves down to be socially accepted, when some people considered it unacceptable to be intelligent. How could you live like that? Pretending to be something you’re not. Why would you even bother?
Although, Peter reconsidered, he didn’t understand anything about social acceptance. He had never really been in a situation where he felt pressured to be like other people he knew. Honestly, Peter had never really spent time around anyone his age all. All things being equal though, he couldn’t’ see why anyone should look down on other people because of their performance.
Generally, Peter does very well in school. It was probably because he can relate almost every subject back to math, which seemed to have been programmed in his brain from birth. When Peter is doing math it’s like he’s in a different world. Everything makes perfect sense. He doesn’t have to think about how to do a question; he just sees the answer in his head, his brain automatically working out the problem for him. For Peter, math is more than a subject; it’s a way of life.
Peter’s Achilles heel is English. He isn’t so great when it comes to words. He understands, but when he needs to explain things to other people he comes up blank. He can’t communicate all that well unless it’s in numbers. Pete loves to read, and is very good at it, but on any literary analysis nobody can understand what he’s trying to say, so it comes off like he didn’t comprehend the reading. Writing is not a strong point for him. Because of this English is the one subject he’s actually at grade level.
Peter sat in the corner of the office at Washington High School, running through Fibonacci numbers in his head to pass the time. His mom was speaking fervently with the counselor while filling out paperwork at the same time.
Mrs. Olson sighed as she signed and initialed form after form. Some asking for medical history, others wanted references and finally, Peter’s schedule.
There were only two classes on the list
Advanced Band Ensemble (Peter was a wiz at the alto sax)
Tenth grade English
While talking with his mother, the counselor kept stealing glances at him. It was an expression Peter had grown accustomed to over the years, like he was some awe-inspiring alien, unknown and incomprehensible. There was almost fear, no, uncertainty, in her eyes. Disgusted, Peter turned away, and moved from Fibs to perfect squares. There were so many people in the world that were unable to see past the title, child prodigy, to the normal teenager underneath. Ok, maybe “normal” isn’t the right word. Peter was doing algebra in second grade, but it wasn’t like he was a different species.
To tell you the truth, there wasn’t a lot that was normal about Peter. Sure, he looked like any other teenager, 5’11,” skinny but still athletic, with neatly cut blond hair, his omnipresent, beat-up Chuck Taylors sticking out from under his kakis. No, it was the inside that his reputation was based on. Ironic as that sounds, since it’s usually the opposite. Peter was judged based on what was inside his head, which most definitely wouldn’t be described as “normal.”
His mom finished. Finally, they could get out of this claustrophobic office and away from the judgmental counselor. Weren’t counselors supposed to be understanding and open-minded? Peter wondered what the probability was of trusting a counselor with your problems and then having them turn around and tattle to your parents. His mind wandered as they ambled out of the school. He had five days to go until he would be subjected to actually taking classes here.
Peter was nervous, but also excited. It was that thrill of anxiety and anticipation you get before you do something you’ve never tried. It’s not like his life was really changing all that much. He’d still get lessons from Warren, he’d still take his classes at MIT, but for the first time in his life, Peter would be sitting in a regular old classroom listening to an average tenth grade teacher.
Peter walked into Washington High at exactly 8:17 and thirteen seconds on August 28. Immediately he was overwhelmed by the environment. There were kids all over the place. Peter was used to whole lecture halls full of people, but this was completely different. These “people” were totally uncivilized, like animals, teaming around in this cage they called a school. As Peter tried to make his way down the congested halls, his path was obstructed by large groups of kids standing in the middle of the corridor, blocking his path. Peter struggled to worm his way through the crowd. Just then someone came at him from behind. What the? They were pushing him, literally using him to plow through the remaining students. How could people act like this? Where was the courtesy? Peter was appalled. They called this a school?
Numbers poured into Pete’s head. Population density, ratio of boys to girls, probability of each of them being in his classes, percentage of blonde hair or brown. It was a rush, all in one second. Of course this was normal for Peter, he went along to his locker, saxophone in hand
His combination seemed like it was engraved in his head. He had only heard it spoken aloud once, by the counselor five days ago, but that was enough. He hadn’t even bothered to write it down. One thing was for sure; Peter would never be the kid to have locker trouble.
Even though Peter hadn’t been anywhere in this school besides the office, he knew where all of his classes were. It was just automatic. He took in the room numbers and observed a pattern, and a map appeared in his head, no questions necessary.
Peter glanced at his measly schedule. Band, then English. He headed off to band with his instrument and music folder.
Peter had a dreadfully boring first period. This “advanced” band was a cakewalk for him. How could it be hard? All of music is based on length and number of beats. Music is basically math disguised in noise. He started on his way to second period, English. Peter was very reluctant to go to class. English was his weak point and he knew it. To be honest he didn’t try that hard. He figured that personally, he would never need to know how to grammatically combine phrases and clauses to complete a correct sentence in his career. Peter was never going into a language-based field, so why did they even bother? With that, a who-cares attitude and the required 1.5” binder, Peter stepped into Mrs. Nelson’s class for the first time.
Shirley looked up from her desk just in time to see a boy walk into her room. She knew immediately who he was without asking. It was all in the way he carried himself. There was a cool confidence about him; like he knew exactly what he wanted in life and also knew he was guaranteed to get it. He didn’t make eye contact, which is exactly what she wanted. Mrs. Nelson didn’t want to “connect” with her students. She didn’t want to have to bond with them. Shirley Nelson was only there to teach.
Being a tenth grade English teacher was not Mrs. Nelson’s calling. Before this year she had been a British Lit. Professor at Boston University. After a tragic accident and unfortunate chain of events, the headmaster had given her a year off to find herself again as a teacher, and get control of her now obliterated life.
Two months ago, her only daughter, Lily, age 27, was killed in a car crash when the opposing driver slid on black ice in the Canadian Rockies. She left behind her husband of 3 years and a 2-year-old daughter. She had also just secured a position in the United Nations, working as a foreign diplomat. Obviously these events had a devastating effect on everyone involved, but it hit her father, Shirley’s husband, the hardest. He spiraled into a deep depression. It got to the point where he wouldn’t eat, and he was having hallucinations and terrible dreams. In a desperate attempt to help her husband, Shirley sent him away to an asylum. A sanctuary especially designed for people in his condition.
After battling against fate and herself, Shirley overcame the dark events that threatened to overpower her. She spent months inside, cowering in darkness. She threw herself into physical activity as a means of escape. Finally Shirley rallied, took another job, an attempt to get her life back on track. Now, it’s the end of August, school has started and she will once again step in front of the class, a slightly younger audience this time, and fill the students heads with her lessons.
Shirley wasn’t here to be popular; she wasn’t even there for the students. Mrs. Nelson was only teaching this year as a way to regain control. She didn’t want to deal with the teacher’s pets; she didn’t want to get walked all over. The best way to make a class behave, she had learned, was to use fear. She didn’t want to get attached to this class, she didn’t want to get to know them or have them get to know her. Her job was to teach and that was all. In nine months she would be back at BU giving lectures in her old auditorium, and everything would be back to normal.
As Peter walked in and chose an empty desk, he stole a glance at the teacher, Mrs. Nelson, according to his schedule. He observed her rather pale and chalky pallor, and her athletic build was prominent. Her impossible curly red hair perched like a wild monster atop her head, refusing to tame. She stood at about 5 feet 8 inches. So by no means was she a small woman. He didn’t make eye contact, it was one of those little quirks that Peter had. He would only look at someone if he knew them well. It was one of the habits that had the doctors thinking he was possibly autistic when he was younger. That theory was ruled out later when his social abilities picked up fine, but it was an instinct he hadn’t grow out of.
Undeniably Shirley saw some of her daughter in this boy, this freak of nature, she thought cynically. He had all the promise in the world, and he knew it. He was tripping among the stars, and undoubtedly his life would travel right on track for the rest of his years. The irony was making her sick.
What was with this math gift anyway? Numbers? It made absolutely no sense to her. Shirley Nelson could manipulate words in ways that could blow people away, but when it came to math she barely had enough credits to graduate high school. Already, Mrs. Nelson was against this kid; she knew that English was his sore spot, what he struggled with. However wrong it might be, she decided right then and there that she would make this hard for him. For once in his life this child prodigy was going to have to work at something.
Other students began filing into class. Most of them sat as far from the new kid as possible. It was like an instinct. Alien! Alien! He’s different, avoid at all costs! Mrs. Nelson had a feeling that this kid, Peter was his name, had been dealing with crap like that his whole life. Well, she wasn’t about to step in the way of nature.
She started class, coming out strong and hard, “My name is Mrs. Nelson and for the next year, one hour every day will be devoted to me. I am in charge, and you will follow my rules or you will be kicked out of class. If you don’t do the work you will flunk out. This is by no means an easy A. I am not going to be your friend, I am not going to be your mother, I am going to be your teacher.”
That pretty much shut the kids up for the rest of the period. She could already see people passing notes, no doubt about how malicious she was. Shirley didn’t care. Her work was done, she had laid down the law for her classroom in a manner that no sane teenager would want to cross her. They would give her space, and that’s all she asked for.
Later on Mrs. Nelson quizzed them about their previous English education. For one thing, she wanted to know where the class was, but more specifically she wanted to see how the prodigy, Peter, could perform in a classroom. She went around, asking questions about punctuation, grammar, different types of writing, the novels that were in the curriculum for the last year. When she got to Peter she asked him to define an appositive phrase and give an example where you would use it. She could see the cogs turning inside his head and then the realization of defeat in his eyes. “I don’t know, Mrs. Nelson.”
“What is a clause made up of?” she asked.
“I don’t know.”
“Well, Peter is it? I would say that you are going to have some work this year. You had better pay attention. I would switch out that math brain as soon as you walk through my door. Numbers won’t help you here, Peter.” She thought that last part was a bit too much. Personal attacks? Had she really slipped that low? She’d probably destroyed his confidence already. She looked back at his face. No, his demeanor hadn’t changed. Did she not frighten him? Could he really be that sure of himself that her threats didn’t make him the least bit anxious? Then she saw what was going on, he didn’t care. Of course! He didn’t need this class, this kid was already taking college courses. Then why was he here? It definitely wasn’t his idea. Well, that made two of them. If she was going to suffer, Shirley was going to make sure he did too. She wondered how the kid’s future building committee would factor failing tenth grade English into their plans.
Peter left his first English class completely confused. He was sure of himself all the time. The math always added up. But with that class, that teacher, he was lost. Was her last comment an ultimatum? Was she threatening him? What had he ever done to her? He didn’t even know her! Already, Peter was having very sinking suspicions about Mrs. Nelson.
Six weeks later Mrs. Nelson assigned an essay in response to the novel they had finished in class, Catcher and the Rye. This single paper would make up most of their first quarter grade. If you bombed it, your grade, and therefore GPA, would plummet. Anxious and stressed, Peter spent all the time he had on the essay. He tried. He eliminated all the numbers from his writing, he made it as understandable as possible, the final test: he had his mother and Warren read it. After making all the edits and revisions his mom and Warren suggested, Peter had done almost everything in his power. He turned it in. Peter had poured time, energy and all his English brain power into this paper. Knowing that he had done all that he could, Peter sat back and waited. It took Mrs. Nelson an unusual amount of time to get their papers back. Peter’s anxiety was overwhelming, and the math took over. There were notebooks full of equations completed during the week it took to get the essay back. He and Warren started crackin’ down. They covered two months of material in seven days. Peter just couldn’t concentrate on anything else, the math swirled in his head, stimulated by his enigmatic emotions.
Finally, the moment of truth, two Fridays after it was turned in Mrs. Nelson handed back their papers. It seemed like she moved in slow motion, walking around the room and giving students their essays, face down as to not show the grade. Peter thought that was one of the strangest practices of public school teachers. They were so concerned about not showing other students grades, when in fact most kids could care less. These thoughts swirled around in Peter’s head, as his heart rate began to climb, a physical reaction to stress. His stomach started flipping, like butterflies but not in a good way. He was excited in an uneasy way, a reaction that he had never experienced before. Peter never had any reason to be stressed about grades; it wasn’t how his education had been designed. Also, he had superb confidence in every subject besides English.
This public environment brought on all the pressure that Peter had never felt before. How did kids deal with this? The sinking feeling in your gut that one test or paper could mess up your entire GPA, affect the colleges you could get into, and directly influence your future. It was too much.
Finally. Peter was the last one to get his essay back. Mrs. Nelson dropped it on his desk face down. It was almost a challenge, daring him to face his grade. He flipped the paper over.
All the nervous excitement, all Peter’s excess energy came crashing down as soon as he saw the grade. The built-in calculator installed in his head told him automatically how this paper would affect his grade, and therefore his GPA.
“No,” Peter groaned inaudibly. He didn’t want to know. At the moment he hated this so called, “gift” nature had given him. Why couldn’t he be normal? Relatable? Why was science determined to hinder his progress? Peter was an atheist but still, he glared at the ceiling silently questioning karma, a greater being, whatever balanced the universe, what had he done to deserve this?
Peter trudged out of class, there was no other way to describe the way he carried himself. He was crestfallen. Any amount of optimism about this year had been destroyed in one assignment, one grade.
How corrupt were these school systems that grades and pressure to succeed took all the joy out of learning? What significance did the individual brain hold when everyone was scored on a common scale? Peter felt personally slighted. His mind worked differently. It had always been a defining characteristic for Peter, but it had never affected his outlook on school, or the world in general. Now he felt prejudiced against. His teacher was making no effort at all to accommodate for different thinkers. It was all about her. How could you teach a classroom of diverse individuals with only one perspective in mind, one teaching method? His sulky disposition was replaced with anger. What right did she have to run a curriculum only designed for a certain type of students? If this was the way they ran Washington High, Peter was convinced he would not be attending much longer.
When he got home, his mother immediately picked up on his mood. She inquired as to the reason and he explained all his thoughts. Peter’s mom agreed with his views. She had spent a good chunk of Peter’s childhood trying to prevent treatment like this. She wasn’t about to see it all be lost now. If that was the way Peter would be treated at Washington High, maybe public school wasn’t a good idea.
The next week was more of the same. Mrs. Nelson continued to drill the class, especially Peter on anything and everything she was teaching. He left the class feeling exhausted, having no idea what just occurred. His mother had made appointments with the administration without telling him.
The next Monday, Peter decided that the best way to deal with Mrs. Nelson was to address her directly. Unaware of his mother’s plans to speak to higher members on the food chain, Peter went to Mrs. Nelson in an attempt to work things out on his own.
Peter stood hesitantly in the doorway to Mrs. Nelson’s room at 3:00 Monday afternoon. She looked up, a bit startled to see him, and asked if she could help. He walked in slowly, and stood in front of her desk. What he said next impressed her with not only his sincerity but also his maturity.
“Mrs. Nelson,” said Peter, “English is my weakest link. I know that. It is a struggle for me, but I do the best that I can. However, I think I could use some extra help. I know it would be extra work for you, but I bet you would prefer that I do well, at least that’s what most of the teachers in this crazy place seem to preach. I’m just asking for a little extra time, after school, before, any time that works for you, to get me up to speed on English, because right now I am completely lost.”
The fact that Peter admitted his weakness softened Mrs. Nelson. Peter’s courage in disregarding his own pride by asking personally for her help melted her. In that moment Shirley realized something about herself and Peter that would continue to bother her for the rest of the week.
She accepted Peter’s request for help and they started after school tutoring.
Later, when Peter had left, Mrs. Nelson returned to the train of thought that had begun to bloom after Peter’s speech. Her original conclusions about him were wrong, and in fact quite the opposite as to what she had believed. He wasn’t indifferent to her class, not at all. Shirley realized now that she really hadn’t taken the opportunity to understand Peter. She had leaped to conclusions long before she had any real evidence mostly to appease her won troubled mind. If she continued with this attitude she would get nowhere. Instead of a sorely pessimistic outlook on her life, she would begin to focus on the positive. Peter had shown her these things in such a short amount of time. How could she call herself a teacher if she didn’t take the time to understand how her students learned? And her biggest, ugliest offense, how could she set out to personally attack a student? What had become of her values both as a teacher and a person? Making life hard for Peter would do nothing to fix her broken family. Why did she waste the energy taking it out on him?
Mrs. Nelson went home, still thinking about Peter, and made a pact to keep an open mind. One of the first lessons they teach you as a child is to not judge a book by its cover, and 45 years later she had made the same mistake all over again.
The next week went well. Peter and Mrs. Nelson were really starting to click together. Her one-on-one tutoring was boosting Peter’s grade by leaps and bounds. Peter’s considerably lighter stress load transferred into the other parts of his life too. Math was fun and enjoyable, again and no longer an exercise for distraction. Although Warner loved to use Peter’s negative energy to move them along, he was much happier seeing Peter enjoy it.
Peter’s mom took notice as well, but she misinterpreted his content as a result of her intervention. While Peter had been talking it out with Mrs. Nelson, his mother had been arranging appointments with the principal, and when he couldn’t give her a satisfactory answer she went to the district board. Peter went to school, he stayed after for his individual lesson and then continued on to MIT and eventually went home for his math. He was completely oblivious as to his mother’s involvement with the higher district figures.
Two weeks later Mrs. Nelson wasn’t in class. Peter contributed it to a personal day, or maybe she was sick. There were plenty of reasons for her to be out of class, and no real explanation for Peter to be nervous. Although he knew it was irrational, Peter couldn’t shake the feeling that something wasn’t right. This was a dilemma that Peter encountered occasionally. His systematic rational brain would tell him the most likely mathematical answer, but his human self was endlessly messing with his head by throwing instincts and emotions in the mix. Peter decided to override his hunch and just go with it, convincing himself that his English teacher would be back within the week.
On the third substitute teacher within a week, Peter began to worry. Three days was a long time to be out of work, it must mean whatever Mrs. Nelson was dealing with was serious. When he approached the sub she told him that from what she had heard Mrs. Nelson was going to be out for some time, but that was all the information she had to offer.
Eventually the day by day subs were replaced with a long-term temp teacher. Peter then asked that teacher, whose name was Mr. Duncan, what had happened to his teacher. Mr. Duncan said that she had been put on temporary leave until they got some issues of policy straightened out. Peter’s sinking suspicion was becoming more and more concrete. He had no reason to believe that any of this had to do with him, but the pit in the bottom of his stomach didn’t necessarily agree. Finally he decided to confront his mother about it.
“The craziest thing happened at school today.”
“Oh really, what?”
“They replaced my English teacher with a long-term sub.”
“Well I’m not surprised. You said it yourself that she had some major issues with her students.”
“You didn’t do anything to get her fired did you?”
“Well not with the intention of losing her job, but I did voice your concerns as well as mine to the district superintendent.”
“The superintendent!? Was that really necessary?”
“Of course it was necessary, you were unhappy and as a mother it is my job to try and fix that. Why are you so angry? She mistreated you and tortured you because of your differences. What’s the use in defending her now?”
This confrentation went on for some time. At first Peter was angry. Just because he had an IQ above 150 didn’t mean he was above nature’s conflict between adolecents and their parents. Before Peter had a chance to explain his grounds for being upset, he launched into a rant about control issues.
“Mom, you’ve never let me handle anything by myself. My entire life you’ve been there holding my hand. It was fine when I was five, but I’m fifteen now, Mom. When are you going to relinquish this control. It’s like I’m always on a leash! If the whole point of sending me to public school is to teach me to fend for myself, then why do you continue to step in at every obstacle?”
You’ve been sheltering me my whole life,” he said in a quieter tone. It was a misleading behavior. Peter’s mom assumed that he was finally winding down when in fact it was the opposite. This new revelation had just made Peter angrier. “So what? Because I’m a math genius whit limited communication skills I can’t handle my own problems? Maybe I would be more socially competent if you hadn’t protected me for so long!” It was a blow to Peter, finding out that the person he thought understood him the best had hid the outside world from him his whole life.
Mrs. Olson on the other hand, had no idea what just happened. Peter had stormed off to his room in anger mixed with something underneath that could have been repulsion or dejection. She still didn’t know what she had done wrong. Why was he so worked up about a teacher he didn’t even like? Peter’s mother went to bed confused and hurt. Peter had never yelled at her before, and they’d never had a full-blown fight. She knew they would eventually reach a point where they disagreed on something in a strong way, but she never expected it could be a result of public schooling. So this is why parents have such a hard time dealing with their kids. She thought to herself. After losing much sleep over the issue with her son, Mrs. Olson finally fell into a light doze.
The next few days Peter’s mom decided to give him space. She was cautious now, having no idea what would set him off. Eventually Peter got over his original bout of anger and came to her with a calm, collected demeanor to explain what had happened.
By the end of his explanation, Mrs. Olson understood her son’s distress. Peter apologized for treating her so poorly before and they were finally on the same page. Pete’s mom could now see Peter’s side of their previous argument, and it hit her rather hard. For the first time she began to question her methods of raising Peter She felt very guilty about his teacher. It had been her idea to make this work and she had mangled the experience to the point that it was possibly irreversible. Peter now had a bad name among faculty for complaining about the teaching techniques, and she had also taken away the first person Peter had really connected with outside the family. She felt guilty and responsible for not only her son’s well-being, but Mrs. Nelson’s as well. Peter tried to comfort her, to convince her that it was just a miscommunication between them and he didn’t mean the things he said last night. It did no good. Mrs. Olson couldn’t undo the consequences of her previous, albeit misinformed actions, but she decided then that she would give Peter more freedom, especially when it came to his education.
Peter was lost. He had no idea what to do. What his next course of action should be. It was like a math equation, once you’ve done all the steps and there’s one piece keeping you from solving the answer. It was the most frustrating experience Peter had ever had. He always knew what to do. He could always calculate the probable alternatives for every situation as well as the likelihood for success. Here he had reached a dead end. He went over the situation with Warren. They agreed that the prospects looked bleak, but the best course of action would be to address the board and request Mrs. Nelson’s return. The probability of his request being granted was very small, considering that the school district had already gone out of their way to investigate and punish Mrs. Nelson’s teaching methods, it would make them look like fools to hire her back after letting her go.
Peter was determined to try though. It was his fault that she had been dismissed in the first place, and their grounds for her discharge were invalid anyway.
“No.” In a nutshell that’s what the board told him. They said that if there weren’t reasonable grounds for firing Mrs. Nelson, they wouldn’t have done it in the first place. They weren’t going to budge on this, he could tell. It would be irrational to do so, it would make the school district look bad and a lot of parents would be angry, but Peter had to try.
Depressed and defeated, the guilt was more overpowering than ever. Days turned into weeks and Peter’s English grade was progressively tanking. His mom was concerned. Peter tried to get extra help, but he couldn’t connect with Mr. Duncan like he had with Mrs. Nelson those times after school. The comprehension wasn’t coming to him.
By Christmastime, his mother and Warren decided to abandon all hopes of making public school work out. They pulled Peter from the system and he continued on with only his courses at MIT. After talking with the head of the math department, they decided that the best program for Peter would be an all math and science. He would continue to study under Warren and several other math professors at MIT. He could theoretically graduate in 3 years, but nobody would hire an eighteen-year-old college grad fresh out of university. All things considered he would probably stick around at MIT assisting teachers or tutoring students until he was 21. Mrs. Olson, now fed up with trying to swim against the current and keep Peter a well-rounded student, gave in to his one track math lifestyle.
On the other hand, Peter’s perspective had changed. He felt that if he had a little more time with Mrs. Nelson, he could have made good progress. At the beginning of the school year, he had seen no necessary reason for altering or exploring the other tracks of his brain. He would never need to communicate with people to whom math was incompetent.
From his realizations from the fight with his mother, as well as the alternative perspective Mrs. Nelson had shown him, Peter now understood that there was a big world out there. One he hadn’t been subjected to until he turned 15. He wanted to be able to talk and experience and interact with other people. He was sick of living in a bubble, it’s all he’d been doing his whole life. For Peter, this was a time to branch out and take a new approach on his life.
Mrs. Nelson sank into the chair behind her desk. She had just ended her last lecture of the day and it had her exhausted. She had forgotten how tiring it was to talk for 6 hours straight. Mrs. Nelson was back at Boston University, and she found herself once again thinking back to Peter.
What an enigma that kid was. She wondered what he was doing now, if he was still prisoner to Washington High School. Although it was he who had cost Mrs. Nelson her job, Shirley felt no anger towards him. It was really a blessing in disguise. She needed to be out of that place, this was where she belonged. Mrs. Nelson had come to feel a little bit of regret for not returning to the university sooner. She had wasted so much time wallowing in grief after her daughter’s accident. If there was one thing that Peter had shown her in the small amount of time they were on good terms, it was to focus on what’s important to you. Peter would have no distractions. It was important to him to get good grades, so he took proactive steps like asking for help. All the superfluous details of life just weigh us down.
Peter had told her about his father. She was impressed by his rationality (although she didn’t know why, if there was one word to describe Peter it was logical) when it came to sticky subjects like his biological father. It would have been natural for him to wish for his real father. Natural, but not necessarily reasonable. Peter had all that he needed in life, and he didn’t ask for more than that. Peter saw it as logic, the rest of the world just calls it being grateful.
The more she thought about Peter, the more Mrs. Nelson wished to see him, just one last time. She wanted to thank him for all that he’d shown her. Peter, more than anyone else, had helped her get her life back on track. Her husband was now home and doing well. She was back at the job she loved, and despite the dull pain she felt upon seeing her granddaughter, who was a spitting image of her own daughter, she spent time with her every weekend.
Peter and Mrs. Nelson were almost polar opposites, right down to their neurons, but they still connected in a way nobody would ever understand.
Shirley sighed and began gathering her things to go home to her husband, a luxury she hadn’t enjoyed in a long time. Her thoughts moved on to other things as she bustled to her car.
Peter was content. He loved living a life of math. Of numbers and integers, of equations and formulas. He loved the feeling of accomplishment that fills you up when you complete a tricky problem. Peter was content, but he wasn’t ecstatic. There was something missing, a loose string somewhere and he finally pinpointed what he needed to do. The entire first semester had been a large, tangled mess. Instead of working his way through, he had basically just cut himself out leaving behind a hole that needed filling. His mother didn’t understand, but Peter needed to go see Mrs. Nelson, if only for one last time.
Early Friday morning, Peter hopped on the cross-town train to get to Boston U. His mother wasn’t happy about his choice, but in light of her previous oath, she was trying to give him more freedom. So she took all the precautions: cell phone, map, extra cash. She tried to make him take pepper spray too, but he vehemently refused. In the end she had to let him go. Why was this so hard for her? It wasn’t like her kid was going off to college. She giggled at the irony, her boy had been in college since age nine and she had never suffered separation anxiety before.
She realized with a twinge of sorrow that it was because Peter was finally growing up. As cheesy it sounds, she figured all parents had that moment when they saw their children no longer dependent on them, but instead becoming their own person. For Mrs. Olson it was in something as simple as a bus ride, but throughout Peter’s sheltered lifestyle, he had never done anything like that alone before. Peter’s mom decided she had better pull it together before he got home, or Peter would never again display any kind of independence. He may be growing up, but he would always be the supreme mamma’s boy.
Peter arrived at Mrs. Nelson’s lecture hall at 7:42 on the dot. He knocked hesitantly before slowly stepping in.
Shirley got a serious rush of déjÃ vu as she glanced up from her desk to see the tall, blond haired boy standing uncertainly in her doorway. She stifled a gasp as she realized it really was Peter. For a moment she lost all sense of composure, she jumped up from her seat and scrambled around to gather him into an embrace, before giving it a second of thought.
Surprised and uncomfortable Peter squirmed a bit in her arms. He didn’t do the touchy-feely thing well. Another minor quality of his semi-Autistic self.
“Oh,” Mrs. Nelson said, backing away from Peter. She was a bit in shock of her rash actions.
“Hi, Mrs. Nelson.”
“He-Hello Peter,” she answered, a bit flustered now.
“Mrs. Nelson I just wanted to come back and see you one more time. I want to thank you for everything you’ve shown me. I think your English tutoring has really made me a better person. “
“Ha!” Mrs. Nelson exploded. Alarmed Peter took an involuntary step back. She was acting very strange today, he hoped losing her job didn’t have a permanent effect on her sanity.
“No, sorry, I’m fine.” She said, responding to his anxious expression. “Peter it’s the other way around. I was just thinking the other day. You have shown me so many things. From the perspective you’ve shown me I have resurrected my old self, I’ve moved on from the accident, I’ve gone back to the job I love. Everything is working out and it’s because of you.”
“Oh.” Peter had been nervous that she would be angry at him for getting her fired, among other things.
After the initial awkwardness of their greeting, Peter and Mrs. Nelson began to talk freely. They spent hours chatting and eventually realized that in Peter’s singularly math world, a private English tutor would be especially appreciated. Peter made the necessary arrangements and they planned to meet again the following week.
Peter caught the train home and spent the ride reveling in his relief and feeling of accomplishment. He was finally taking charge of his own life. He had set things right with Mrs. Nelson and was working on continuing his education independently. Finally everything had been set right, and Peter no longer had untied strings tugging in the back of his brain.
The weeks turned to months, and months into years. Peter and Mrs. Nelson became very close. The addition of Mrs. Nelson was a strange but welcome one to Peter’s small, eccentric family. He practically helped raise her granddaughter and they acted like siblings. Peter continued to work for MIT. He did consulting work for NASA and many other engineering companies. Peter made more money than he knew what to do with. He put the majority of his funds into public education Even now, when it seems like Peter has everything he could ever want, he looks back and sees that if it hadn’t been for his tenth grade English teacher, he wouldn’t be in the same place.
It’s funny how life can take unexpected turns. One insignificant event may change your entire future. All the bumps along the way may turn out to be blessings in disguise. Peter adopted a different perspective, and that more than anything else has helped his journey through the convoluted world we live in. The ability to put yourself in another’s shoes will help you connect with people above all else else. It only takes one word, empathy.
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