Listen to Brianna read this piece.
When you meet the other version of yourself standing across from you someday, you will know, immediately, all the ways in which you will tutor her in a sudden crash-course. You will teach her lessons you, yourself, never received until it was too late.
You will know that she is you, both past and future, colliding together in the here and now. Simultaneously, you will both realize that you are two mirror images along the x-axis of this hurt, arms rising, tethering into a makeshift y-axis. The red-lined slopes, welted scars, carve into the same graphs of our skin. She teeters the slope just as you once did.
Although you tell yourself that you were never really good at math, here you stand, taking one glance at a frenzied equation you can solve as quickly as the breath hitches in your lungs at the sight of seeing her unravel. His variables, as hidden as they may be, will be found in the tangled knots of her hair, still holding the memory of his bracketed fists, clenching them tightly as she tried to break free. The parentheses of her lips will sliver apart, shivering, as she learns her new way of moving through this arithmetic heart-scatter. You will see the angry graphite scratches in the margins of her neck, his variables trying their hardest to blend in, unseen, waiting to shatter apart across the paper universe of her skin, her rain-shot eyes. You will recognize, instantly, her invisible division lines and splinters of multiplication crisscrossing her collar bone.
When you meet this fractured equation of yourself, line the pages with your best pencils, Ticonderoga #2, or any solid mechanical pencil that will bend without breaking. Fill the gridlines of her grief with every possible number, letter, and solution that tumbles from your memory. Turn on the hidden calculators in the brain-map of your own equations and dust off its faded, cracked buttons. Remember how you once pressed your own clear-history button, so unsure, but feel how quickly muscle memory takes over. Watch your fingers fly, already knowing how to weave through this careful cortisol calculus, desperate to learn now, how to become a tutor in a split second.
Yes, you may have failed trigonometry, passed algebra and statistics with barely-there F’s littering the bottom of your transcripts, but this is a delicate arithmetic you had no choice but to master, solve for x, show your work, explain why.
Your palms become brackets wanting to wrap her in, your body, the map pointing toward home. With every careful, shaky step she makes towards you, trying to find the right word-paths to tread, her eyes muddle in a feverish confusion. If nothing else, remember to tell this new version of yourself to breathe and, when she is ready to pick up the pen, to try it all over, that you are waiting just beyond her y-axis, watching as she makes her gentle slope away from the unknown, that she will never fall again.
Brianna G. Reed is a student at the Institute of American Indian Arts.