Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Spanking by Numbers

When I was fifteen, just before dropping out of Honors Geometry, I stopped trying to invent the correct answers on tests and started writing my math teacher poems. He gaves me F's on the front of the tests but A's on the backs, where I'd written the poetry. Nevertheless, A's on my backside weren't going to help me pass, so he suggested I read Edwin Abbott's Flatland and drop down a level. I remember him telling me that someday I would understand the romance of numbers, if only I would give them a chance.

Instead, I decided that God had something to do with math and that I would never solve the numbers problem that would get me into Heaven, so I gave up on math altogether. Even now, I can just picture Saint Peter up there, standing not at pearly gates but at a chalkboard, pointer in hand, directing me towards the longest equation ever fathomed. I don't think I'd even try. I'd give up and ask if he couldn't just punish me with that pointer and let me in that way. He might acquiesce, but I just know he'd ask me, "How many? How many strokes do you deserve to be allowed into Heaven?"

As a girl who can't do arithmetic, there are two things I dread. One is being asked to count. The other is being asked to come up with the final number first. How am I supposed to know? If I choose too few, I'm just in for more. But if I choose too many, I will be a very sorry girl, sorry for more than just failing math.

Once a number has, or, sometimes frighteningly, has not been decided, there is then the matter of counting the strokes. We do this, I think, because I cannot count, and have been known to get lost between four and five any number of times. Occasionally I don't know I'm supposed to be counting and only find out at the third or fourth stroke. Then we have to start again. I am sure that is not fair! But so it goes. I count, and count, the number twelve looming before me, not because that is how many strokes I'm receving, as I'm almost certain to be in for more, but because it's after twelve that the numbers get especially difficult. Even before the implement comes down upon my bottom I am panicking over what the next number could be. Is it seventeen? Seventeen loses all meaning when its announcement is meant to follow a stripe of bright red pain across my bottom's tender flesh.

As the numbers increase, they stop being numbers. They become little prayers, meant to appease this mean God of Math, i.e. my husband, but my prayers are met only with higher numbers to reach. "Can't I just write a poem about this?" I want to cry out, but no, it is numbers, and numbers alone, that must get me through.

Only once the equation has been solved do I understand the math. I reach back to touch hot skin and welts that will bruise, the soreness that is the solution to this problem, perhaps to all problems, if I had my way. I'm sure this isn't what my geometry teacher meant when he said one day I'd understand the romance of numbers, and it's certainly not what I was thinking when I decided that I'd need to do math to find Heaven, but isn't it funny that we both turned out to be right after all?

1 comment:

  1. I went to school so long ago that we didn't study history...nothing had happened yet...

    But I do remember one particularly knotty mathematical question.

    Q. If you had two dollars in your right pocket and four dollars in your left pocket, what would you have.

    A. Somebody else's pants.

    Perhaps if you have this information at hand the next time you are required to count you might earn top marks rather than bottom marks.


Your comments mean so much to me. Say hi, share thoughts, opinions, or just your info - I'm happy to add your spanking blog to my blogroll.