Thursday, December 29, 2011

Dead Mice and Other Expressions of Love

I wrote this a while ago as a column for my school newspaper.  The teacher thought it was good, but the opinion editor rejected it.  She said it was "weird," though I can't for the life of me figure out why she thought that...

For the most part, it’s no longer a surprise to have to step over or walk around whatever dead small animal is lying on the ground in front of the door to the garage. It doesn’t make it any less disgusting. Most recently it was a mouse, I think, though all I saw was the body and I’m mildly concerned that the head is still hiding somewhere in my garage, waiting to ambush me when I go to look for something as innocent as, say, duct tape.

I know it means my cat loves me. She appreciates the fact that I feed her and scratch the back of her neck when she curls up in my lap. They say it’s the thought that counts, but my cat clearly doesn’t understand that, because she still feels the need to bring me morbid demonstrations of her hunting ability.

Small children, even human ones, aren’t so different. In third or fourth grade, for example, the big thing to do on the playground was dig up the clay next to the swings and make things out of it. I made a candleholder one day. Then, when I got home, using the resources at my disposal without rousing suspicion, I painted it with nail polish. I presented it to my mother with an absurd amount of pride. It now sits in the drawer with all the other (real) candleholders not currently on display. I ran across it the other day. It’s hideous. But for some reason, my mother seemed to appreciate it. She even used it until it cracked down the side and threatened to crumble.

I’m not the only one that does this. Everyone’s refrigerator has at one time served as a gallery for childish artwork. None of them is the next Mona Lisa. In fact, most of them are downright gross, but we don’t seem to notice the lack of technique. We only notice the intent behind it, blind to everything but the love and gratitude it represents.

Still, I wish my cat would stop.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Divergence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

In high school, I didn’t worry much about boys.  For three years, my heart belonged to my one love, Math.  Freshman year we were best friends—I loved Geometry.  By sophomore year we were going steady, I had two semesters back-to-back.  Junior year, our relationship reached a peak.  AP Calculus opened my eyes and mind to all kinds of new concepts and processes and I was head over heels.  Nothing could come between us.  But as is often the case, things went downhill after that.  We didn’t see each other all summer, and senior year I didn’t even have a math class.  We both agreed that perhaps we just needed some space and started seeing other people.  I was the editor of the school newspaper.  I learned Spanish, played saxophone, participated in two art shows, and Math wasn’t really a part of my life.  I never even spoke to his best friend, Science.  From time to time, I still found myself daydreaming about him and my doodles in various notebooks sometimes strayed back to my forgotten love.  For the most part, though, we had gone our separate ways.

I did see him twice, briefly, each time I took the SAT.  But it wasn’t really the Math I had loved so deeply the year before, it was a easier-going, lighthearted friend, and although we got along fine, it wasn’t enough to rekindle the fire we’d shared.  They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, but I’m not sure.  I pursued other loves, never forgetting that I was good at math, and perhaps thinking I could simply return to him when I was done flitting about—when I started college for engineering.

When we did meet again in August, our reunion was not a happy one.  I had changed; he had changed.  I found that going so long apart meant I didn’t really know him anymore, and no matter how hard I fought, he wasn’t going to become the Math I’d known and loved more than a year ago in high school.  I didn’t want to work for a relationship that had come so easily to me before.  But I didn’t want to lose it, because although being with him was painful, it reminded me of the connection we’d shared.

I was having an identity crisis of sorts, because our relationship had been a vital part of who I was.  Even in elementary and middle school, we would flirt vociferously, letting others gaze in envy at our obvious compatibility.  Now, he was refusing to take me back, and I was refusing to accept that.  So we argued and fought and yelled and went long periods without speaking.  But we also shared moments of love, like when I scored an A on the third test of the semester.  We were growing together again, and it wasn’t easy, but it was happening.

Finally, on the last day of the semester, something magical happened.  We had just learned about Lagrange multipliers (an explanation which I will spare you), and been charged with solving the example problem.  I looked at the problem, drew a logical conclusion based on fundamental understandings, and raised my hand.  The teacher said that I could have been right, but he wasn’t going to go through the rest of the problem because it was too complicated.  But I had found another way to solve it—a way that made sense.  I was right, and I was going to make him understand.  So I stayed after class and made my case.  He applauded me, and said that what I had done was exactly what Lagrange multipliers were all about.  I had butterflies in my stomach, and they carried me all the way across campus after that.  I had done it—it took all semester, but my lost love was mine once again.  I took the final for that course yesterday, and I feel good about it.  It was challenging, of course, but in the best possible way.  I would even dare to say I enjoyed it.  What I really enjoy, though, is having my old friend back.