@loripalminteriTweets by @loripalminteri
It was a dreaded hour. Knowing that soon, there would be a timed multiplication test. In middle school, I was still so tiny, my feet didn’t reach the floor from my chair, and my legs would swing back and forth with anxiety. Those timed math tests filled me with such abominable fear, it shakes me to this day. My heart would beat rapidly as the teacher handed out the test, warning about the repercussions of cheating. How old was the youngest person to have a heart attack, I wondered. Could middle school kids have heart attacks? Then, I almost wished I did. At least I wouldn’t have to take this timed multiplication test. Why the fuck would teachers do that to their students? I would fail that test today. For certain. I’m so reliant on a calculator, it’s pathetic.
While a bright student in all other subjects, math remained my Achilles heel and arch nemesis. My stomach hurt going to math classes throughout my youth, and I would toss and turn in my sleep the night before a math test. I don’t think I made eye contact with any of my math teachers, ever.
When I was in high school, I failed a math midterm, which was supposed to be a foreshadowing on how you would do on the regents. Well, that threw me into full blown panic mode. I asked my parents to hire a tutor, and they refused because math tutors were really expensive. They insisted my sister help me with math (my sister, forever my opposite, was really only very good at math). She tried to help me, but she wasn’t much of a teacher. In her defense, math just never clicked with me so it was frustrating for her to show me something that was so obvious to her. In my defense, she’d show me once and then call me retarded if I didn’t get it.
I was terrified to fail the math regents. Could that hold me back from going to a good college? Or worse, force me into summer school. Why the fuck couldn’t I grasp math? Learning math was like someone was teaching me hieroglyphics in Cantonese. I just wanted to read books and write stories. Why do I need to know half of this shit?
Now, I would be the first to tell you that guidance counselors are useless, if not detrimental, often giving students the WORST advice imaginable (until college, I had a great guidance counselor in college who helped steer my life). I have never been much of a crier. Crying was frowned upon in my household growing up, and my sister often cried, and we all found this very annoying. Crying was for the weak and to do in private. But when I went to my guidance counselor about my struggles in math, I burst into tears as I was under a tremendous amount of unnecessary stress that I was putting on myself. My guidance counselor was quick to stop me from crying, and set up a tutor, three times a week during my study hour. I did pass my regents with a 66. A grade I was super proud of even though my parents were not.
When I first entered college, I was planning on being a journalist. This, I hoped, would require no math for the remainder of my life. In my research, I learned that a lot of schools required journalist majors to take statistics, so I registered for stats class at Suffolk to fill my one and only math requirement, forever. This was the last math class I’d ever have to take.
But statistics was hard as fuck. Our class started with 33 kids, and 7 kids took the final. Every week, one or two students dropped out. Our teacher was very good, and a sweetheart. She really did her best to help us understand, and offered extra help hours. But once again, I had perpetual pending anxiety about this class. I knew it was going to ruin my 4.0 GPA.
After some crying alone in my car, I decided to reach out to my favorite high school math teacher (and the only one who successfully helped me understand algebra and pre-calc) and ask her to tutor me. She obliged. And after every session, she refused to take any money from me. If it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t have passed a single test. For whatever reason, I hate asking people for help. I feel like a burden and like to solve my own problems. However, sometimes, it’s more than okay to ask for help. People are often not only willing to help, but happy to, a lesson I have to learn over and over.
To be clear, I never got above a 78 on any statistics test. I was resigned to my perfect GPA no longer being perfect. But at least I got through and didn’t have to do any more math going forward. However, when the final grades came around, I got an A. I was as confused as I was all year in that class. Perhaps stupidly, I confronted my professor about my grade. How could this be right? I never even got a B. She said I consistently had the highest grades in the class, so the class grades were all curved to my scores. Therefore, I got an A. Huzzah! I had forgotten all about the curve! Alas, I am an idiot, but I am the smartest idiot! I remained a 4.0 student, because other people are dumber than me! Actually, the real reason is because I had help. I cannot take the full credit for this one. I skipped through the parking lot, and jumped up and clicked my heels. Half because I got an A, half because math was over for me. I rejoiced and told my math tutor, and got her a nice gift for being so generous with her time and patience with my lack of understanding with numbers. Thanks not only for helping me, thanks for really wanting to.
Of course, I would later abandon journalism (and thank God I did) to pursue television writing and production. I hardly even had tests. All my assignments and finals were filmed projects or essays, which was just the way I liked it. I still got stressed out a lot, but I knew I could tackle writing on my own, so there was less dread involved. Actually, I looked forward to writing papers because I was/am a giant nerd.
I had falsely thought I was free of math. Yet, my chosen profession as a writer and comic paid very little money (often times paid in booze, pizza, notebooks, etc), and to sustain an apartment and pay bills, I had to get an additional job, doing what else– accounts receivable. Math. Fuck.
My boss had repeatedly complimented me on how thorough and focused I was at my job. But this was only because I made frequent mistakes because I STILL SUCK AT MATH. Even worse, I had to sometimes explain math on the phone to other people who are really bad at math. I would get as frustrated with them on the phone as my sister did with me. It was difficult not to get impatient and curse at them. Trust me, if I can grasp this, you can. I’m truly a half wit when it comes to numbers. My brain doesn’t even see them correctly. It would appear I’m dyslexic because I often mix up 6’s and 9’s. God, do I need a career that revolves around words and not numbers.
Even when I babysat middle school kids, I couldn’t help them with their math homework. Geez, just when I thought I was really smart, a child is showing me how to do long division, and I still don’t get it. I guess we all have our strengths and weaknesses. My weaknesses include math, looking comfortable in social settings, and cutting a straight line (for some reason, I’ve never been good with scissors).
I still despise math. I always will. I’ll despise it like it killed my whole family and threw acid in my face.