Ch. 10: There is no manual for superheroes. Is there?
You often don’t believe something until someone tells you something that you thought you couldn’t believe, but they couldn’t have known what you didn’t believe in the first place.
I again walked out of the same hair salon down the same street when only a block later did it hit me.
The square root of one hundred and forty-four.
My dad’s idea of fun was doing practice SAT exams at the dining room table. Sometimes, we took the tests together, but I would occasionally score higher only because he didn’t finish. He didn’t care about the score or the grade or the clock ticking down. He didn’t care how many I got right of if my score would get me into the right school. He just wanted to work on the problems, ideally together, figure them out, go through the possibilities, even work them backward to double check their accuracy, get to know the numbers and how they all fit together. For him, math was a puzzle and finishing wasn’t even the important part. It was understanding how it worked, the relationships among them, and, like a family at a Thanksgiving reunion, getting to know each one intimately and then figuring out where each fits into the bigger equation.
It wasn’t just the exercise of figuring it out, it was a love affair with the process. It was mathematical, logical, and rational. It was numbers and equations and science. There was an answer or it was an unknown.
There was an answer or it was the unknown.
Twelve was the square root of one hundred and forty-four, but seeing the number twelve on the door after I had the square root of one hundred and forty-four whoosh through my head was, to me, at this point, a great unknown. It was zero divided by zero. It was the square root of a prime number. It didn’t make any sense. I couldn’t figure it out.
I didn’t know what to do.
I sat down on a bench on a canal because not only did I not know where I was going on this fine day, I realized that I had no idea where I was heading in my life. If I couldn’t understand what was happening, how was I going to deal with it? I just wanted it to all go away. But did I really? It was intriguing. But how could I be helpful anyway? What could I possibly do that would make a difference to anyone? Just let me be. There’s certainly someone better.
I sighed. One of those big ones where your lips even push out, you audibly let it go, and your shoulders slump. I closed my eyes. Just for a second.
It was probably just a few seconds, but it might have been a few minutes. It was one of those things. Before I opened them, I sensed that there was someone sitting next to me.
Seriously? Can we stop this please? When is this going to end? Enough with the senses and the feelings and the maybes and the what-ifs and the eyeballs and, ugh, the whatever.
Fine. I opened my eyes.
Yep. Someone next to me. ‘I give up.’
I sighed again. This time less deeply and more of an, ‘OK, fine. What is it this time?’
I looked over. Hmm, that was weird. I instantly recognized her, but couldn’t place her.
She was looking out over the canal. As if I wasn’t even there.
Well, two can play at that game. I looked out over the canal, too. I said nothing and vowed silence until they strapped me up to a rack and threatened to extract my teeth one by one with a blacksmith’s tongs.
“Thank you,” came the sweet voice of a young woman.
I suppose I could have questioned whether or not she was talking to me, but it was getting a little late for questioning things. I vowed to keep things simple.
“You’re welcome,” I said without any idea who the woman was, why she was thanking me, or why I was responding.
“You saved me,” she said.
All I could manage was to push air into the area of my top lip and puff out my cheeks a little in a juvenile gesture of, ‘OK, whatever you say, lady. I don’t know what you’re talking about or who you are.’
As I thought those exact words and said none of them, it hit me who she was. This, for reasons beyond logic, I managed to say out loud.
“Wait a second, you’re jeans vest girl,” I said in a tremendous display of recognition. I looked at her and she turned to look at me.
“Uh,” she started and looked down at her vest, which was indeed of jeans material.
“I saw you earlier today,” I interrupted her thoughts.
“Yeah, that’s when you did what you did,” she said knowingly. Well, knowingly for her.
“But how did you know that I did something? While we’re on the topic, what did I do exactly?”
“I don’t know how you did it or who you are or exactly what you did, but all I know is that I want to thank you for it.”
“But why would you thank me if you don’t know me and can’t say what I did for you? What did I do? What happened? Do you mean on the street earlier today when we passed each other.”
“Yes,” she said. “Earlier. On the street,” she paused and it seemed like it seemed like she didn’t want to go on, like she had something to hide. She continued. “You took something out of me.”
“Uh, what are you talking about?” I asked, even though I, of course, remembered the marble, but I was struggling with the idea that I actually did something and I wanted to hear it from her.
“Um,” she too was struggling with her words. “So, let’s see. I’m going to say something but I have to admit that they don’t feel like my words,” she started.
“I know the feeling,” I said.
“Oh good, so I’ll just blurt it out,” she said and she looked relieved. “You found me earlier. I don’t know if you were looking for me, but you found me and you took something out of me and I thank you for it. I couldn’t have removed it myself.” She was on a roll and wanted to keep going.
“Did you know,” she started but I interrupted her again.
“I’m going to bet that I don’t know what you’re about to say, no,” I snuck in, trying to make the whole thing a little lighter.
“Did you know that you found me because certain people are meant to connect with other certain people and when they do, it’s just meant to be,” she was spewing words out and it indeed did seem like they weren’t her own. She kept going.
“I don’t mean that you and I are meant for each other and we’re going to get married and live happily ever after,” she said and laughed as she spoke and I held back any commentary. “Not at all, but just for those few seconds, it was you that needed to help me and no one else. You have a,” she looked for a word. “A, I don’t know how else to say it, you have a gift that you can give certain people and you will connect with them, even for just a few seconds or a few minutes and you will help them. Not all people and not help with all things, but there are just matches out there and they happen or they don’t happen. It has a lot to do with luck and timing, but they can happen. It doesn’t mean you can help everybody or everybody even needs your help. But it doesn’t matter. You will find those who match up and those are all you need. I am one of them.”
I had to interrupt. “Did someone send you to tell me all of this? Maybe a hairdresser?”
“A hairdresser? No. No one sent me. I barely even know why I’m here talking to you. My friends are sitting in a restaurant around the corner, but I saw you walk by and I had to thank you for what you did earlier.”
“Could you remind me what I did, exactly, earlier?” I asked.
“No,” she said.
“No you can’t or no you won’t?”
“Both,” she said.
“Oh,” I replied with about all that I had left. “A hint maybe? Just a little something? Anything?”
“You really don’t know, do you?” she asked.
“I really don’t know,” I said. “If I told you what my day has been like, you would think I’m making it all up. I don’t even believe it myself.”
“Please believe it yourself,” she said with such conviction that I, on the spot, believed it myself. Yes, she was that convincing.
“OK,” I said.
“No, really,” she turned to look straight at me.
“OK,” I repeated with more enthusiasm. “Do you know who I am?” I asked.
“I have no idea,” she said so quickly that it could have only been honesty. “And, well, this is probably a little weird, but I also don’t want to know. You helped me, you removed something from my body that has been there a long time and I will be forever grateful, but I don’t want to know you,” she put up a hand and smiled, “No offense,” she said and continued, “and I don’t know you and I don’t even know if we’ll ever see each other again.”
“OK,” was all that I managed. “But,” I started again, “how do you know so much about me or about what I did when I don’t even know what I did?”
“Well,” she looked up and then back in front of her towards the canal. “When you took something out, you also put something in. Now, I don’t know exactly what that is yet, but I know that it’s going to be playful.”
“Playful?” I asked, wondering where that word came from.
“Yeah, I don’t know why I said that, but then again, I don’t even know why I sat down at this bench and started talking to you, so let’s not get too specific here, OK?”
“OK,” I said for what was probably the fourteenth time.
“OK,” she said.
“So now what?” I asked.
“Yes,” I said. “What do we do now?”
“You don’t know what to do next?” she asked.
“Was this in the manual?” I joked — and not very well.
“Forget it,” I waved it away with my hands.
“There is no manual,” she said with more authority that I expected.
“OK,” I said and made a note to not say it again for at least the rest of the day. I was certainly over my limit.
“OK,” she said and stood.
“Oh, you’re leaving?”
“Yes,” she said. “Thank you,” she said yet again. “Thank you from the bottom of my heart,” she paused. “Or, well, from behind and to the right of my heart actually.”
“You do know?” I asked.
Her face was one of the best poker faces I had ever seen. I didn’t know if she knew what happened earlier, didn’t, had no idea, or had been playing me that last ten minutes on the bench. She was that good.
“Bye for now,” she said.
“Bye for now,” I said only because she said it and at this point, I would have copied anything anyone said because my brain and all logic had been removed by one of those big city trash trucks with the ultra-powerful sucking vacuum tubes that literally sucks out the trash from the cans. Except this was my brain.
She turned, took a step, and walked away.
“So,” I said out loud to the entire no one who was listening. “I’ve got that going for me.”