A kid took something out of his mouth and overhanded it at the side of the portable classroom. The ball of I-didn’t-know-what hit the gray-orange wall and splattered, a swatted bug or pancake batter hitting the grill. I overheard someone say it was just some gum that he had been chewing all day. Whatever it was, it looked so cool, so defiant.
Whenever I was bored, I went through multiplication tables in my head, trying to make them come instantly. We had math tests every week, full sheets of numbers, rows and rows of them, one on top of the other, this times this equals ____. I was always the first to finish, first to get up out of my chair, first to set it on the teacher’s desk.
At a garage sale, I found an antique metal ruler that folded in thirds and came sheathed, like a sword. My parents didn’t understand why I wanted it, but it was the most fascinating thing I had ever seen. Another garage sale, I got a workbook of math equations. I read about negative numbers and was the only one in my grade who knew they existed.
That was the year my parents sat me down and showed me pictures and diagrams with words that didn’t sound real. They said they didn’t want me to learn the wrong info elsewhere. I couldn’t figure it out; none of it seemed real or like anything I needed to know.
I’ve spent years trying to chew gum to the point where it curdles, held together like papier-maché, but it never does. I don’t think that was gum that kid had thrown at the wall, but I still don’t know what it was.