Michael Hazelton sighed. Twisted and worried his hands as he stood on the side-walk outside school. Waited like a good boy for Mom’s dusty-brown Chevy Cavalier to pick him up and take him home.
Home. That’s where he wanted to go. Home, to his room. To his desk to open his Barron’s Calculus Review Book and do Quadratic Equations until he felt better. He was real good at Quadratic Equations. Better than anyone in Math. So good they didn’t even make him take the final tests or any tests for that matter, just let him sit there as long as he wanted in his Special Ed Room doing as many Quadratic Equations as he liked. That was okay with him. He hated tests. Made his stomach and head feel funny. He’d tried tests and they hadn’t worked out well. On tests you had to do Quadratic Equations a Certain Way. You had to Show Your Work. Even if you got answers exactly like the ones in the Teacher’s Book, if you didn’t Show Your Work using the Correct Process you Lost Points.
Mike didn’t care about tests or Showing Your Work or Using the Correct Process or Losing Points. He just liked Quadratic Equations and other kinds of Math (like Pythagorean’s Theorem or Square Roots but mostly Quadratic Equations) because doing them and Showing His Work His Way made him feel good. And he needed to feel good, right now. Really, really needed to.
He squeezed and worried his hands some more. Started tapping his foot on the sidewalk. “Home,” he whispered, “Home, home, home. Just wanna go home. Done with school, no more tests or books or teacher’s dirty looks and I just wanna go home.”
He bit his lip. Chewed on it a little. Really wished he didn’t feel this way. He used to like school. Only three days ago, he really liked school. At school he did Quadratic Equations, scribbled on big sheets of paper in Art Class (he was a good drawer too but didn’t like it nearly as much as Quadratic Equations), got to make food and stuff in Home Economics, and also listened to stories and poems in his Special English Class.
He liked doing Quadratic Equations and he liked drawing pictures, but he really liked hearing stories. Poems, too. He didn’t read by himself or write much, though. Couldn’t. When he tried to read the letters in the books jumped up and flipped around and over and rearranged themselves in different orders on the pages, sometimes even melted into funny squiggling lines that didn’t even look like words, which made his head and stomach feel funny, too.
Numbers didn’t do that for some reason. Numbers were numbers and they stayed that way and never changed. Four plus four was always eight and if you divided eight by two you always got four again, which if square-rooted always became sixteen and divide that by two you got eight again, but say you wanted to times that by six you always got forty-eight, and then in 48 + 2x = 58 x always equaled five because two times five equaled ten and adding that to forty-eight always made fifty-eight.
Number stayed the same. Solid. So he liked – no, he loved – doing quadratic equations and Math. Everything had rules and everything obeyed the rules and things always stayed the same. He liked that. Made him feel good inside.
But even though he couldn’t read or write either (same problem, when he tried to write the letters and words jumped all over the paper and came out wrong) he loved hearing people read stories and poems to him. In his Special English Class, more than anywhere else. Mom read stories to him sometimes and that was okay and his sister Allison tried (though not very hard, most times), that’s why at home he loved doing Quadratic Equations because Allison and Mom weren’t so good at reading stories and poems and he’d just rather be left alone in his room to do Quadratic Equations and sometimes even Pythagorean Theorems all night, which he did most times.
But in Special English he really loved to listen to stories and poems. None of the other kids in that class – one boy who just sat in his chair and rocked back and forth and hummed and picked his nose a lot, this girl who liked to bang her head against things and wore a special soft white helmet so she wouldn’t hurt herself, another girl who liked to grab her Private Parts all the time and another wrinkled, crumpled up little boy who sat in his chair with wheels and drooled and stared into nowhere – really seemed to care. He was the only one who listened to Miss Kinner (who had really pretty blond hair and a pretty face and was very nice) when she read things like Nothing Gold Can Stay or The Highwayman, who came riding, riding, riding or read about Odysseus and how he tried to get back to Ithaca and his wife Penelope after the Trojan War. Only he asked questions, and only he remembered what happened in the stories when Miss Kinner finished, because though he sometimes forgot the things he did and forgot things that happened to him, he NEVER forgot anything told or read to him. Ever.
Also, when Miss Kinner read stories or poems during Circle Time in Special English he saw the poems and stories right in his head, as if he were actually there in them, doing those things with the people in those stories and poems. He remembered every word of those stories and every little move the characters made, could say them from memory and would often tell them back to Mom and Allison around the dinner table (unless Mom was Grumpy and Tired, in which case he knew better and kept quiet and saved his stories for another time) and that was actually much more fun than listening them read to him. At night in bed he almost always dreamed all the stories he’d heard that day. Always.