By Sonya Zakarian
I think in numbers. I know that’s a little strange, but I like them better than words. When I was a little kid I used to say it was because they’re hard and not fluffy like words, just like my bedroom floor is hard on my back so I sleep on it instead of my Optimum Model 2 mattress, which makes me feel like I’m drowning in the ocean.
I think in numbers. The Cheerios in my bowl aren’t stale or round or scrumptious or soggy. No. There are 27 of them, which is an odd number with the factors 1, 3, 9, and 27. My brain hurts sometimes and counting the Cheerios makes me feel better. 1, 3, 9, 27.
I think in numbers. When I get to the Special Education classroom, my teacher Miss Patty smiles down at me and says, “Hello, Jonathan.” She is wearing a red and purple plaid shirt and she has on bright red lipstick.
“What do you say, Jonathan?” My mom nudges the small of my back.
No touching no touching no touching.
I know what to say, but I look down and keep my mouth shut because you can’t say hello in numbers.
I think in numbers. I take a piece of blank paper out and a green pen and I begin to write out the prime numbers. I have just gotten to 89 when a girl comes over to me. “What’s that?” she says, sitting in the chair across from me, which is too close.
I keep writing. She speaks again.
“Why don’t you draw pictures like the other kids?”
I force myself to look up. The girl has straight brown hair and very dark eyes. There is a bruise on her left cheek that has the mold of a fist. The hairs on my arm stand up. She doesn’t look like Miss Patty.
“I don’t like pictures,” I say. “I like numbers.”
“Oh.” She nods with comprehension, and points to number 89, which I have put a tick mark beside. “Is that your favorite?”
“You know. Like…the one that’s the most special to you. Kind of like the best ice cream flavor. It just makes you happy.”
“No. I don’t have a favorite.” Because I don’t. The numbers aren’t special or happy or an ice cream flavor. They’re all the same. They’re all just numbers, spanning on and on as they inch closer to infinity.
“Oh,” she says again.
I think in numbers. The chess board has 64 squares and I am winning. My opponent is a small blonde boy named Albert who has cerebral palsy and a blue wristwatch.
He hits the clock once with a shaky finger. I move the rook up three spaces and hit the clock. He captures my rook with his bishop and hits the clock. Then he gives me a thumbs-up.
I give him a thumbs-up too, because I like thumbs-ups. Albert doesn’t talk, but we can understand each other through chess and writing and hand symbols.
He thinks in numbers, too.
I move my king one space to the right. He advances his pawn one space forward. I move my queen two spaces diagonal and capture a knight.
I think in numbers. But the world is not made up of numbers. The world is made up of people and words and noise and laughter and screaming and happiness and terror. The world is loud, and numbers are quiet.
I scream for 152 seconds while Miss Patty struggles to keep me in the straitjacket. “It’s for your own good,” she says. “So you don’t hurt anyone.” I scream even louder and pound my fists because I want to tell her that I don’t want to hurt anyone. But I don’t say anything because the world is already so big and loud and full of words and I don’t want to make it any worse. I think in numbers, and numbers are quiet.
I think in numbers. When my mom comes to the Special Education classroom to pick me up, the only other person left besides Miss Patty is the girl with the fist-shaped bruise. I am writing out my prime numbers list again. She is reading a book in the opposite corner of the room.
“We need to talk about Jonathan,” Miss Patty whispers to my mom. She doesn’t think I can hear but I can. “I’m not sure this is the best fit for him.” They leave the room. The door shuts quietly behind them.
I write down the number 141, flip the paper over, and continue on the next side.
Why don’t you draw pictures like the other kids?
I put my pen down and look up at the girl with the fist-shaped bruise across the room. It is much easier to study her when she’s not looking at me at the same time. Her hair falls over her face as she reads. It reminds me of the green silk curtain with yellow spirals on it in our living rom, the one that always ends up covering the couch when Mom leaves the window open and the wind starts blowing it around. The girl tucks her hair behind her hair. She’s pretty, I realize, with a start. It is a strange realization to have, and for a minute I think it might be big and loud inside my head like words and noise, but it isn’t. It’s quiet, like numbers. She isn’t pretty like pretty people on television, like Jennifer Lawrence or Michelle Pfeiffer. It’s different.
She looks up and sees me studying her.
She walks over.
I think in numbers. The girl with the fist-shaped bruise sits down across from me. “Are you still working on your prime numbers list?” she asks.
“Can I see it?”
I nod again and turn the paper towards her. She studies the list carefully. She bites her lower lip as she reads. When she’s done, she picks up the pen and scribbles something at the bottom of the page.
“It’s called pi,” she says, turning the paper towards me. “Have you heard of it before?”
I shake my head. I feel myself starting to get a little nervous. It doesn’t look like a number. I’ve never seen it before.
“You can’t right it out using digits, like the rest of them. Well, you can, but it would take forever. Because pi is different than the rest of the numbers. It’s non-terminating.”
She thinks in numbers, too.
“It’s my favorite,” I say, pointing to the strange new number on the page. New things are uncomfortable. But uncomfortable is okay, I realize.
When my mom steps back into the room, her eyes are swollen and red. She smiles at me. “Time to go, Jonathan.”
I think in numbers. I count by fours in my head while my mom explains “the situation” to me. She tells me that they won’t make me talk but that I have to be more controlled. She tells me that maybe this school isn’t the best option for me. She tells me that it is so hard for her to find a good place for me because knows I don’t like school.
“Second chance,” I whisper. “Please.” I think of the pi symbol the girl with the fist-shaped bruise showed to me.
My mother’s lips break into a smile. She takes a deep breath and nods. “Okay, Jonathan. Second chance.” She looks at me through the rearview mirror. “Life will always have second, fourth, eighth, sixteenth chances for you if you learn from them. Second chance.” She begins to hum. For once, I don’t mind.
I look out the window. I think in numbers, but at least I’m not alone.
Sonya shared this story with Adam.