You could call this college a community. If community meant that we were all infants together, desperately seeking a mother’s breast to suck. It was the cheapest formula we could find.

It was a natural fit for me and my siblings: we were home schooled from the start. We had sucked the life out of our mother through a cord, listening to her reading and swimming in her amniotic fluid. We had sucked at her breast while she dreamed up The Greatest Home Education Anyone Has Ever Had, sucked up all she had to teach about proper handwriting and manners and the Great Depression. We sucked our thumbs visiting all the major Civil War battlefields east of the Mississippi and south of the Mason-Dixon. Our father didn’t believe that Martin Luther King Jr. was anybody particularly virtuous, so we sucked that idea right up, too. I thought the Confederate flag was kind of pretty, and I didn’t understand why everyone seemed so pissed about it. Now that mother’s milk had run out she claimed her knowledge ended at logarithms – we enrolled part-time at the college.

You could call it a community. If community meant that we were all peering into the mirror in the girls’ bathroom, studying the progression of images, searching for a revelation about whether our dreams were going to live or die. The dim light of the girls’ bathroom cast our faces in a fluorescent suicidal glow. I began to wear makeup to cover up the facial discoloration. I got several offers of retribution. Is someone beating you up? I’ll take him. Just tell me who. The truth was that I didn’t sleep and I was getting grey-eyed from my goggles. Grey-eyed goddess my ass. Athena never swam three miles before first period.

If previously I lived in a spiritual realm, sustaining myself largely on books from the library and the living water they always were talking about at church, I now lurched into a grotesque physical one. Cigarette smoke wreathed my face and my body fatigued itself wandering around, picking my way around the browning deposits of chewing tobacco. I found little corners of the campus where students were forbidden to smoke, where I could hide and eat the calories of an athlete. It was the boys’ game at lunch, to see what I had brought to eat. The old men studying there only said hello, only shook my hand warmly, only helped me with my physics equations. The young ones saw me differently and I hated it. My mother lamented my boyishness. Why don’t you wear a nice top? She wasn’t the one walking through the halls to the math and science classes, filled with boys and their wet dreams about being engineers and buying big trucks. I gladly fled my house for early morning practice. No one in that pool was awake enough to question my femininity.

No one questioned much at the college. We were all a bunch of babies and we knew it. Looking for mother’s milk, looking for a formula.  

I found mine one day when I looked up to the board and saw a school of fishy equations swimming across the board with sound effects. Swoop wheep hooo, sang the teacher. Chika chicka chickee, that’s our asymptote right there. I stared. This wasn’t math.

Our teacher didn’t have a last name, so we made up rumors. We told anyone who would listen that she had gotten married so many times that she had finally settled on no last name at all. So her name was just Val. Everything about her was pleasantly distracting. She looked like Lady Liberty, slender and graceful with a fat dry erase marker held high in her hand. She had the spirit of the Lady, too. I couldn’t understand a word she said but I wrote them all down. She was going to lift us out of stupidity, she was going to kill mediocrity dead. We were tired, pimpled masses yearning to be free, and she was going to teach us calculus.