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It was Thursday. Another long day at work. Another long meeting.
As high school guidance counselor, my job was to prepare students for the future. An admirable assignment; I’m sure you will agree. I hated it.
I especially hated student-counselor meetings, like this one. They would have been a lot easier if only I liked kids; which, in turn, would be possible if only kids weren’t so stupid. Stupid and slow, like this one.
In the seconds before the interview began, the thick silence in my office was interrupted only by the steady, deliberate drumming of my fingers.
“What do you like?” I asked the tenth grade body in front of me; not because I wanted to know, but because the “fill in the blank” form on my clipboard required that I ask it.
“Math,” he replied. “I like math.”
I nodded. Wrote down his answer. Moved to the next item on my list: “Why?”
“I like manipulating things,” came the kid’s reply. “I like giving and taking away. No matter what you do, as long as you follow the rules, you don’t change the meaning. Nothing really changes when you manipulate the equation.” He smiled toothily, like an alligator or a dog.
And I smiled back. It was my job.
“Would you consider a career in math?” I asked, trying to keep the sarcasm out of my voice. Having to ask these same questions all day got old, fast.
He nodded. “Yes.”
What kind of tenth grader wants a career in math? Honestly. There had to be something wrong with this kid.
“Are there any other career areas that you prefer?”
“Any others that you would consider?”
“Do you know and understand your options in math-related fields?”
I doubted it, but I didn’t press the matter.
“And what would you like to do for a career?”
“Manipulate things,” he said, “with math.”
I’d halfway written his response in the blank before I realized that it didn’t answer the question. “You’ve already said that,” I informed him.
He nodded; smiled.
Ok, then. Strange and stupid kid. I finished writing in his non-answer.
“Why math?” I read. “When did you decide to pursue this field?”
At that, the kid’s eyes lit up. He straightened in his seat. This was going to be good, I could tell. Of course it was. Positively thrilling. I napped inside.
“I like manipulating things,” the kid said again. “Giving and taking away. Being in control. Changing the form but not the truth. Except that I can change the truth.”
I started writing. Then I realized what he’d said. Had he really said that? My mind squirmed in protest, but the kid just kept talking and within seconds I knew that I’d heard him right.
“Once I took a truth: four equals four. I manipulated it. I gave and I took away. I changed the form. Then four equaled six.”
That was impossible. What was wrong with this kid? There was something wrong with him. I could see it in his face.
“My teacher couldn’t fix it,” he continued, daring me with those bright demon eyes. “He only told me that I was wrong. But he couldn’t find an error.” The kid grinned. “My teacher told me that four only equals four and six only equals six. But I know.” He grinned wider. “I changed truth.”
For some reason, I couldn’t speak. My mouth felt dry.
His eyes glowed. “I’ll bet that I can do it again.”
The bell rang. The kid stood. I couldn’t.
“That’s why I like math.”
I need a new job.