In elementary school, I learned that two plus two is four, and then, I learned that two times two is four. In junior high, they taught me that two squared is four, and in high school, they taught me that the square root of two is an irrational number. In college, two plus two became three or sometimes even five, and in grad school, we collectively questioned the existence of two altogether. I have to wonder if I wasn’t better off before any of this, when two was simply how many I was, and I could show you just by holding up my fingers.
About pain, we are told, The mind gives out before the body. But how much before? Days, weeks, years? The unit of measurement matters. And if you can’t discern it? Grit your teeth and go, until something breaks.
I was starting to think my brother may have had it right: a life of numbers, not of words–those useless things, their meanings morphed and mutated over centuries, until they devolve into hollow imitations of what they once were, or are lost altogether, while numbers remain constant. Or do they? I had one heart, and now it’s split in two. The doctors took your one gallbladder, and now you have zero. Now I don’t know who has it right. If we can’t rely on numbers to be unchanging, then what can we trust?
In the Duino Elegies, Rilke writes, “And suddenly in this laborious nowhere, suddenly / the unsayable spot where the pure Too-little is transformed / incomprehensibly–, leaps around and changes / into that empty Too-much; / where the difficult calculation / becomes numberless and resolved.” I say, Yes, it’s like that. You say, No, I don’t get it, but that’s not the point. No one gets it. That is the point.
Intensity of pain plus duration of pain is not a linear equation. There are too many variables, too many unknowns. Nonlinear problems make it difficult to solve for x. They give rise to theories, such as chaos.
I painted my fingernails for the first time in seven years. All day, I’ve felt as though I’m using someone else’s hands. My hands have always been my favorite feature. The men have agreed: You have beautiful hands, they’ve told me, all of them. If that’s the case, why are they always letting them go?
Now let me speak for a moment of music, which I’m told is mathematical: there comes a point when I can no longer listen to certain people’s songs, when I can only harmonize with those who also play the minor chords.
Be careful with words like infinity and continuous.
I do not speak for other women, the roughly three point five billion women on this here planet Earth. Women who tell each other, He’ll regret it, whenever men break up with them. Even if it isn’t true. Even if breaking up with the women is the best decision the men have ever made, a decision that will lead them to different women and to happiness for as long as they both shall live. But of course, we never tell each other that.
The thirteen white mums on the living room table have lost all their petals, long before the others of different colors show the slightest hint of giving up. The white ones dropped like buckets of water that got too heavy, and to hell with it, who needs water anyway.
The question: how to feel pain without giving into pain. How to count the bruises without pressing into their blue-green centers, which deepens the color and purples the skin with perpetual wounding.
I count the days, the weeks, the months. I count the hours. I count the minutes. I used to count my calories, but then I stopped. Now I’m getting fat and trying not to mind. I try to find the patterns. Around the age of eleven, I developed a habit of counting my teeth with my tongue every morning on the way to school. Had OCD been in vogue then, I would’ve been diagnosed in Kindergarten, when my mother began to let me dress myself, and I always dressed in patterns.
There is a love among women that simply doesn’t exist among men. A love that protects, even if it has to lie to do so. A love so fierce and full and strong that it can, no problem whatsoever, talk itself into believing the lies it professes. I call this “mama bear love.” If I can count on one hand the number of women in my life who show me this love, I count myself blessed.
But sometimes, I prefer the frank assessment of the roughly three point five billion men: He’s an idiot. At least, on this one thing, we can agree.
No, I do not speak for other women. I speak only for myself, one woman, who tries to find the patterns and usually does, but it gets her nowhere. Who counts everything she can get her hands on, but it also gets her nowhere. Who says the terrible things no one else will say. These things are many. I would count them, too, but I think we already know the number.