Our physics professor, Dr. Kucks, pockets his hands and walks the classroom. He is a broad-shouldered man with a Jersey accent.
"Why do you study physics?" he asks.
I glance at the glossy textbook that I hauled here in high heels, feeling like the end of the toothpaste he tries squeezing from the tube. We study physics because graduation from this bricks-and-pillar institution requires us to. It is a shame, since upon stepping into the room all my competence abandons me.
"Where God goes," says Dr. Kucks, "education is valued."
Our classical college attracts few math brains. They told me when I came that somehow Dr. Kucks sweetens the sour subject. He doubles as a medic who can stitch up the wounds we sustain in making war with numbers.
One Friday night I cry over my physics homework, managing just enough wetness to make mascara run. My pen has teeth marks in it. I nearly bite it in half and smear the bursting ink into art. My notes say, "All things, if we look closely, have hills and valleys. We call the places where the hills and valleys interlock friction." Hilly diagrams dare me to delight in precision. They crash down upon the artistic valleys in my brain. The resulting friction infuriates me.
I have a sordid history with math: My 10th grade trigonometry teacher, who looked like a gargoyle, gave me two days of detention for going to a play three times rather than doing my homework. I took it as a point of pride, writing with a flourish my name on the classroom board-fondly called the wall of shame-and threatening to come back and take a picture.
Then came Euclidean geometry in college. One time, on the point of tears, I stood up and announced to the entire library that I needed a smoke. I ran from the library to the field outside, lay down in the frozen grass, and breathed hot breath into the air. When you don't actually smoke, it's the best you can do.
My friend Greg passed by and inquired after my welfare. He received this reply: "I'm about to burn Rome. You got a match?"
As I finish my homework now my father calls. "Hi sweetheart," he says. "I hear you're having a hard time with physics."
"No more than the rest of the natives."
Realizing my lie, I amend, "Alright, maybe a little more than the rest of the natives."
On my 21st birthday, my conscience reproves me for complaining about physics more often than doing it. I remember Dr. Kucks teaching about the Laziness Principle, which says that everything in nature wants to be at the place of lowest energy.
God sends servants to intersect my frustration and lethargy. Just as my friend Greg walked me back to the library and helped solve my geometry, Dr. Kucks lends me hope. In class he asks, "Losing your mind yet?" He chuckles at us and says, "Yeah, yeah, yeah. You gotta scream. You gotta throw things."
With an invitation like that, homework almost sounds exciting.