Being Twelve (Or: How I Met My Husband)
When I was in the sixth grade, my parents enrolled me in an after-school-math-help-type program called Kumon. I have absolutely no idea why it’s called Kumon, it sounds more like a martial art than a math class, and I never thought to look it up, but after a quick google search I’ve learned that Kumon is the “world’s largest after-school math & reading program” so, maybe you’ve heard of it. I’d attend class for two hours twice a week, completed after-school math homework in hand. I’ve referred to it as a “class”, but there weren’t any lessons per se, and to be honest there really wasn’t much interaction as I recall. I wasn’t there long, maybe two years tops, and like everyone enrolled in after-school math help (except for a group of Chinese siblings who I assume enrolled to humiliate me), I hated math and was terrible at it, so I didn’t progress very far. The main focus was on speed, which I could never understand. Why do I have to do math equations really fast? You’d fill out each booklet with your name, the date, and your start and finish times. Some people in the class speculated it was to motivate, but for most of us the time thing just made us anxious. I mean, a bunch of kids who sucked at math, sucking more at math due to the pressure of beating your personal best time in double-digit multiplication.
The class was held every Monday and Wednesday from five o’clock to seven o’clock at the local curling club. It smelled like you’d think it might; arena ice, old people and stale beer. Speaking of old people, there was one man in the class who was around eighty, grey, frail, a limp when he walked. I want to say he’d been in an accident or suffered some type of brain injury or ailment where he needed to re-learn his basic math skills, and I imagined Kumon class was merely the tip of the iceberg, that he’d not only lost his basic math skills but the memory of everything else about his life too. I imagined him struggling with adding two and four as he called the teacher over, and my heart ached for him until I walked past his table one day and didn’t even recognize what was on his paper as math. He was levels and levels ahead of me, he just wanted to brush up and re-learn some skills, confirmed by one of the volunteer booklet-markers. I felt a little relieved and a lot ashamed.
The teacher was a silver-haired woman named Delia, heavy-set and pretty, though obviously-tired, and upbeat in a way that seemed forced. I knew my parents were sort-of friends with her, in a mutual-friendly-small-town type of way. Her nephew was a friend of my father’s, and I knew that her husband and (another) nephew had died in a plane crash some years before. I knew she’d experienced that tragedy going into the class, and six months into my enrolment my mother informed me her (grown) son had died, too. I watched one Monday night as my mom asked Delia how she was doing, and I distinctly remember being in awe that one, my mom could even ask this question, I’d wanted to but wasn’t sure if she wanted to know her students knew, at least, that was the excuse I was using for not asking. I was awestruck that she found it so easy, like she was asking how her soup tasted at lunch. Two, perhaps more obviously, that Delia could answer that question without crying, merely showing the tiniest fraction of grief, that she could even find the strength to get out of bed ever again, let alone a few days after it happened only to teach some dip-shit kids how to do their timetables. A real seasoned griever. My cat had died two years before and I still wasn’t over it. In the car ride home that night I asked my mom how Delia’s son died.
"He… he was in an accident."
"Like a car accident?"
"Sort of. He was riding his bike and he was hit by a car."
"Oh my god. I’m not ever riding my bike again."
"Don’t worry, he wasn’t wearing a helmet," she reached over to the passenger seat and rested her hand on top of mine. "Just make sure you always wear your helmet, and you’ll be fine."
It wasn’t until years later that I found out her son had actually shot himself in the face with a hunting rifle in his mother’s bathroom. It was my father who’d told me, evidently unaware of my mom’s bicycle-accident story or simply okay with my knowing. Right after he told me the bathroom was “covered in blood, not a single spec untouched”, he turned to me and said, “Please, sweetie. Don’t ever do anything like that.”
There was another boy in the class, an obvious class-clown, a “bad-egg”, I would later hear Delia describe him. His name was Andrew, and I considered him my own worst nightmare. I was a painfully shy, anxious kid and embarrassed that I sucked at math. I had two fears at that age, my period soaking through my pants and loud boys who made fun of shy girls.
"Hey, what’s your name?" He said to a goth-girl who passed by his table. She was shy like me, I could tell. She ignored him the first time and he asked again, "WHAT’S YOUR NAME?" He wasn’t bullying, he was just distracted, he wanted to be doing anything other than his math homework, and he wanted everyone else to agree how stupid the math homework was.
"Nöel," she finally said, nay, whispered.
"HAHAAHA, NÖEL?! Nope! It’s ‘Christmas’. Are you French? Your name is actually Christmas, I dont know why your parents didn’t just call you Christmas, because that’s obviously--“
"ENOUGH, Andrew, please," Delia begged.
"I’m just saying, her name is Christmas."
"Please have some respect for the other students, other people are here to work."
“NOBODY wants to be here, I bet. Except that old guy, probably,” he said, “Like, do YOU even want to be here?”
I kept my head down, I didn’t know if he was talking to me, but I didn’t want to look up just in case.
I was nervous going to class after that. I was afraid he’d be there and talk to me and I’d say something stupid and he’d think I was dumb even though I was pretty sure I didn’t like him. I wanted everyone to think I was The Coolest Person Ever and the only way that was possible was if nobody ever heard me speak.
But he never came back. Andrew got kicked out of Kumon class. He was the only one, probably ever, and I’m sure Delia just got fed up with his shit and was sick of telling him to shut up. I didn’t blame her and I was totally relieved he was gone.
Nine years later I meet this guy from my home town. He’s beautiful and I can already tell I have a huge crush on him. We’re having a beer and he starts telling me about this Kumon class he took at the curling club and his instructor, Delia, who had experienced a lot of tragedy in her life. Realizing this gorgeous creature before me, one I had imagined kissing and touching and hopefully falling in love with that night, was no other than Andrew, from Kumon. The Andrew I’d feared. The disruptive Andrew, the only one who ever got kicked out of paid math help. I could see similarities, obviously, he was still a firecracker and he sure was loud. But he was smart, smarter than me, and he was hurt, too. He seemed delicate and introverted, just like I felt, and I felt safe with him and more understood than I ever felt in my life. We laughed about Kumon class, and I informed him that I went to school with “Christmas” but she changed her name to Caitlyn and that it was probably his fault. I don’t think I kissed him or even touched him that night like I wanted to, but I did eventually.
And, eight years after that, I married him.