Being late, lost, overdrawn and unable to count change

Published in Belle magazine, Dec. 2011

I am, once again, in Commerce City. Although I have lived all of my 27 years in Denver, Colorado, whenever I need to go downtown I somehow get sucked into this labyrinth of  smokestacks and industrial buildings surrounded by ponds of thick steel colored water. It doesn’t matter where I am going. This is where I end up.

     In my purse is a checkbook, teetering, unbalanced, with checks ricocheting all over town. I sincerely try to balance it, but the numbers are slippery and never add up the same way twice. According to my watch, I am already late for my appointment. Which comes as a terrible shock because last I knew, I had an ample block of time that seems to have simply dissolved.

     I need to go north and I pull over to take a look at the mountains, which are always west. This I know. As I look at the mountains, I grope around for which way might be north. A wheel spins in my head, and even my hands, which I try to use like a needle on a compass, refuse to stay left or right. They’re just hands. One of them might be a little dominant.

      That night, at my job as a retail manager in a clothing shop in the mall, I struggle when a customer demands I count out her change instead of what I normally get away with, which is dumping whatever the register suggests into the waiting hand with a nice big smile.

    “Okay, it was $52.82 and you gave me $60.00? So, uh….” I hide my fingers  underneath the register to do some counting. “Three cents brings us to .85 cents and then you get this dime and….hmmmm.”  The customer walks away with her change, eventually, and  a tight lipped what-is-this-country-coming-to look on her face.

     So many people tried to help me throughout my life. My father sat with me night after night with flashcards, trying to drill basic addition into my little head. My math teacher in seventh grade was a kind man, passionate about his job. He spent extra time bent over my desk explaining concepts to me, his eyes igniting when I finally understood something. But at night, while I slept, all gains made during the day were simply wiped away. Every day was a brand new day.  A brand new “I Love Lucy” clown day.

      Many years passed, and I eventually learned to cope.  Now, instead of trying to think when I hit one of the boggy spots in my mind, I go limp. I breathe through rising panic and if I’m driving, now in a Richmond still brand new to me after eight years, I turn right when I am one hundred percent certain I should turn left. Right is wrong when dealing with my brain. I know that I will step out of a store in the mall and go the wrong direction.  I will also lose my car and spend too much money.  I don’t let it bother me.

     Finally, a few months ago, I learned the term for exactly what is wrong with me. Dyscalculia is a learning disorder that includes difficulties with math, money, time, directions, dance step sequences, and mistaken recollection of names.

     Now I know why I head for the bathroom when it’s time to do the Electric Slide at weddings and why I call a good friend’s daughter Sophie, when her name is Sadie, every damn time since she was born four years ago.

    The world of math, supposedly concrete and infallible, is slippery to me. What is real are words and the images my mind connects into endless, effortless stories, unfettered by time, space, money and numbers. It’s not so bad, as long as you aren’t married to me.   



About Julie Geen

I am a freelance writer and creative writing teacher. View all posts by Julie Geen

2 responses to “Being late, lost, overdrawn and unable to count change

  • ana june

    Oh my God, you just wrote my life.
    I’m totally dyscalculic too. I’m toying with the idea of torturing myself in the new year by attempting to finally learn algebra or balance my checkbook or something. I actually did like Euclid in college, but only if I could think about it as less mathy and more creatively (as in, creation).
    Anywhoo….nice to know I’m not alone.🙂

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