When I was in kindergarten, my teacher was plump and smelled like honey and she gave me spelling tests during naptime because I already knew how to read and I could have probably done the spelling in my sleep anyways, but she saw a seed where public education saw a class-size limit and they didn’t give her any extra water but she gave me what she could anyways. She asked me my favorite number and I told her, “five, because that’s how old I am,” and she smiled and put five smiley face stickers on my forehead and I wore them like holy water.
I sat next to Peter Ducey in third grade and everyone thought he was the smartest boy in class because he knew how to spell genes, and not just the kind you wore on your legs. We played a flash card game where you race the person next to you and whoever wins moves on and on around the class until they lose and I would lose on purpose the first time, so that I could write down every single answer and the next time the cards came around, I was unstoppable. Times tables were boring but even the teacher never found out about my trick and I felt like I was a magician. My teacher asked me my favorite number and I said, “all of them,” and she gave me take home math problems and I drew pictures of seals on the back after I finished them on the bus ride home.
Nobody liked me in fourth grade because I moved schools and they were all friends before I got there but there were so many books and so much time to read them and I learned about Algebra because this was the gifted and talented class and during the Invention Convention I made a machine that poured milk for old people who had osteoporosis. Ms. Ashworth asked me what was my favorite number and I said, “zero,” and she said, “Ashley, zero is not a number, it’s a concept” and I said “numbers are a concept.”
I finished pre-calculus in sixth grade and took Algebra I all over again in seventh because public education makes no room for trees when it fails to recognize the seeds and all my friends and I wrote notes to each other and took naps because we could have been doing Algebra I in our sleep. My teacher asked me my favorite number and I told her, “n” and she told me “n is not a number, it’s a variable” and I said “if you do not know that I am standing behind a door, am I still an animal?”
I think I really stopped trying when work was aimed at time consumption over value and my grades said more about my teacher’s ability to engage than my ability to comprehend and when numbers felt like sand paper unless I was painting them on something more beautiful than an activity log. I found art, lost myself in between the lines, music stole my heart and I met a stage for the first time like we’d never have to part.
College was never a question for a kid like me, said my counselors. “If you don’t go to college, what a waste.” I went, and I walked myself from class to class, sat in lecture halls where I was a pinpoint star in the constellation of faces, listened to the information… I took tests and took tests until I realized that learning does not have to be unrest. Whoever told you that a textbook is the only way to learn forgot that you can take more from a sunburn than an equation, if you’re looking.
All I want is to leave and never stop leaving, I want the earth to be my teacher and when she asks me my favorite number I will say, “infinity,” and she will not tell me that infinity is not a number because there is more wisdom in silence. I’ll never stop spinning or learning because the dirt on a distant land has more worth than machine printed numbers on a page and the only obligation you’ve never questioned and I never needed college to be successful like I never needed anyone to tell me I could find my own my way and I’m finding it. In my heart, I know I’m finding it.