Triangles

by Cindy Song

Kyle had never been good at math. Ever since that parent-teacher conference when Mrs. Bunson, Kyle’s 6th grade math teacher, concerningly told Kyle’s mom that her son had never heard of the word “addition” before, Kyle had been attending bi-weekly tutoring sessions with an old cardigan-wearing lady who had a hearing aid in her left ear. Most times, the sessions ended with the exasperated tutor in the kitchen, releasing her anguish over the boy’s stupidity through consuming a jumbo bag of dried figs, while the boy himself basked in the glow of a shortened tutoring session and his phone screen, playing Candy Crush.

However, sometimes the sessions ended quite peacefully with neither an angry tutor nor a schadenfreudic tutee. Last Sunday was one of those rare occurrences. The tutoring sessions were held at the old woman’s house, which had the perpetual smell of a combination of detergent and stewed cabbage. Kyle felt like he was inside the belly of a giant laundry-obsessed, cabbage-loving lion. Except the lion wasn’t loving at all.

Sunday’s session started out the same way the sessions always did: Kyle determining the best conditions for a “productive” session that day. Normally, he had to give quite some thought toward the perfect set up.

“I feel like we would be most productive today at 67 degrees,” Kyle exclaimed, scrutinizing the circular table. The necessary materials were already placed on top of it: pencils, erasers, paper, a ruler, a scientific calculator, and a protractor. He tried to ignore the bag of dried figs that was also on the table. For some reason, figs made him want to throw up.

“No, no, that’s too cold. My cats need it to be warm,” the tutor, Mrs. Carol, scolded, hobbling toward the thermostat in an attempt to protect it from any unwanted temperature changes.

“I mean the chairs,” Kyle replied.

He grabbed the protractor from the collection of materials, measured out 67 degrees, then carefully positioned the chairs so that they were a precise 67 degrees apart along the round table. He scrutinized the table once again and let out a dissatisfied grunt. After more heavy thinking and head-scratching, he adjusted the chairs so they were 2 degrees more apart and nodded in approval. Last time, the chairs had been 20 degrees apart and the session before that, a full 180 degrees apart. Kyle heard that switching up the environment made people more productive and thought this was a good way to do so.

“The boy takes OCD to another level,” muttered Mrs. Carol to herself as she watched Kyle move the chairs from 67 degrees to 69 degrees apart.

Kyle and Mrs. Carol settled down into the carefully positioned chairs.

“Today you will learn about triangle similarity and congruency,” said Mrs. Carol. She opened up Kyle’s geometry textbook and embarked on her usual long, winding lecture. “Similar triangles….proportional….compare lengths….congruent….angles of triangles show….” Five minutes into the lecture, Kyle’s eyes started straying toward the clock on the wall every thirty seconds, as if they had a life of their own. Each tick of the clock felt like a million years to him. He imagined his youth slipping away from him through this never-ending torture. It was the worst kind of torture possible--who would want to die because of math? Even dying from skydiving or rock climbing was better because at least you had fun the moments before you died. Kyle Lingberg, age 14. Cause of death: triangle congruency.

Mrs. Carol’s voice continued to drone on and on and on. Kyle sighed. He could be doing so many other things, things much more important: watching TV, hanging out with friends, or expanding his collection of dead butterflies. Kyle briefly wondered if Mrs. Carol was a hypnotist; the way she roamed on and on seemed to lead him into a drowsy sleep. Are old people even allowed to be hypnotists? Kyle thought. He ran over all the hypnosis movie scenes he knew in his mind. There’s that super hilarious scene in “Office Space”....“Trance” had a good one….

He remembered that a couple days ago, he had a conversation with a friend. His friend asked, “If you could hypnotize anyone in the world, who would it be?”

“Albert Einstein,” Kyle had responded. “Because then I could make him take all my math tests for me.”

“You know that dude flunked school, right?”

“Aw man. That’s only ‘cause he was so smart, he totally transcended the structural boundaries and turmoils set by the American educational system.”

“Shit...you’re right. I would hypnotize Einstein too.”

After what seemed to be nine eternities, Mrs. Carol finally closed her mouth. She proceeded to pick up a chewed-up pencil from the table, and started sketching a triangle on a piece of paper. Every tutoring session went like that; Mrs. Carol would ramble out her lecture on whatever the subject of the day was, then she would write a practice problem for Kyle to do. If Kyle got the problem right, there were no consequences besides a close-up display of Mrs. Carol’s horrific grin. If he got it wrong, well, there would be that sad fig-eating and phone-using situation mentioned previously. In Kyle’s opinion, lectures were the worst and most boring way to teach. It was like college, except Kyle was only in the eighth grade.

Mrs. Carol drew the triangles in an agonizingly slow manner. Her wrinkly hand kept shaking, and she had to keep erasing and redrawing lines to make them straight. How long does it take to draw three lines? As Kyle watched the squiggly shapes slowly form on the paper, his mind wandered to Skylar Evans, the hot red-headed girl in his grade. Last Friday, Skylar wore a miniskirt to school that had a fluttery, drape-y style that swished around her legs when the wind blew. Her skirt had a pattern of triangles in various sizes on it. It looked really cool. Kyle thought the triangles did a great job bringing out the shape of her legs and accentuating her delicate, angular face. He bet Skylar knew what triangle congruency was. She was smart, though probably not smarter than Einstein. No one was smarter than Einstein, probably. He wondered whether Skylar’s favorite shape was a triangle….

“What is the answer?” Mrs. Carol’s sharp, hoarse voice snapped Kyle out of his reverie. He stared down at the paper in front of him. On it was a drawing of a big triangle with a small triangle next to it. Small numbers were scribbled next to the sides of the triangles like ominous death codes.

“Uhhh...” Kyle muttered. He glanced at Mrs. Carol, hoping for a hint but only saw a pair of cruel, relentless, black eyes staring back. Kyle blurted the only response he could think of. “Skylar.”

“What was that? ‘Similar’?” Mrs. Carol asked, scratching the hearing aid in her ear with her bright red pinky fingernail.

Kyle hesitated then slowly nodded, going along with the flow and praying that he was even remotely on the right track. He had no idea what “similar” meant despite the last hour of Mrs. Carol’s lecturing. Mrs. Carol peered at Kyle beneath her glasses, then beamed, her crooked yellow teeth on full display between her red lipstick-smeared lips.

“You’re right!”

The doorbell rang; it was Kyle’s mother, signaling the end of the tutoring session. Mrs. Carol got up from her chair to answer the door while Kyle gathered up his materials, relieved at his narrow and lucky escape from Mrs. Carol’s death glare and fig-eating horrors.

“Kyle was a very good boy today,” Mrs. Carol was crowing to Kyle’s mother. “We worked on determining whether two triangles were similar or congruent using side and angle measurements. I think he grasped the concepts fairly well. He was surprisingly very attentive and quiet during the session, and answered my follow-up question correctly. I think he’s really improving.”

As Kyle’s mom and Mrs. Carol smiled proudly at him, Kyle pretended to grin sheepishly as his mind drifted back to the triangles on Skylar’s skirt….

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    The next day, Kyle was walking down the hallway from his art history class to the cafeteria when he spotted Skylar standing next to her locker. He noticed that this time, instead of wearing her triangle skirt, she was wearing a skirt that had polka dots on it. It wasn’t as nice as the triangle one, but she still looked amazing.

    Adam, a mousy, curly-haired boy who was Kyle’s friend, came up to him.

    “Dude, what’s up?”

    “Hey man. Nothing much, I’m just about to grab some grub.”

    “By grub, do you mean that girl with the wild, red hair over there?”

    Kyle turned to look at Adam in appallment and denial. “Uh, no. I actually meant a ham sandwich and dessert. You know, food.”

    Adam shook his head. “Kyle, I’ve seen you looking at her. Why don’t you go up and talk to her if you got the balls?”

    “I don’t know. We’ve never really talked before or had classes together.”

    “Well, now’s your chance!” Adam snatched Kyle’s lunch money--a crumpled ten dollar bill--out of his hand. “I’ll hold on to this for you. Go!”

    Kyle nervously approached Skylar, who was stuffing books from her locker into her backpack. Kyle’s eyes widened at the amount of books that she kept in her locker, and at their titles: Calculus Made Easy, Civil Disobedience, The Wealth of Nations, and 101 Ways to Profit in the Natural Hair Care Business. What kind of fourteen year old reads these books? he thought. What kind of fourteen year old reads books?

    Kyle cleared his throat. “Um. Hey.”

    Skylar turned to face him. Kyle felt like his entire body had turned into an icky ooze of expired jello when her green eyes made contact with his.

    “Oh, hi. What’s your name?”

    They traded names, then last names, then favorite classes, then plans for the afternoon, then plans for the weeKyled, and then phone numbers. Kyle completely forgot about his plans to buy some “grub”, but it didn’t matter anyway because Adam had secretly used Kyle’s lunch money to buy himself lunch.

    Alright, this is it. I’m going to ask her out. Kyle closed his eyes, mustering up all his courage, channeling all his strength, and pushing away all his insecurities. Just as when he was about to open his mouth to deliver the fateful question, a tall boy wearing sunglasses and a leather jacket approached them. As if in a dream--and not a good dream--Kyle watched the boy whisper “hey Sky” into Skylar’s ear, put his arm around her shoulders, then plant a kiss on her left cheek.

    Skylar turned to Kyle, blushing. “Austin, have you met my new friend, Kyle? Kyle, this is my boyfriend, Austin.”

    “Uh, nice to meet you Austin. Sorry, I have to get back to my friend haha, nice to meet you guys!” Kyle let the words rush out of his mouth, trying to ignore the snide look Austin was giving him. He then sped-walked away towards where Adam was awaiting him with a cheeseburger and chocolate milkshake in hand.

    “Hey dude. Sorry I spent your moola. I was hungry.” Adam said, slurping loudly at his milkshake. He eyed Skylar and Austin, who were now kissing each other on the mouth. “That’s tough. Love triangles suck, don’t they?”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    It sucked. Life sucked. Even worse, math sucked. Kyle couldn’t think of another time in his life when he hated math more. Sure, that time in 4th grade when he threw a tantrum because the teachers made everyone do math problems on Pi Day instead of actually eating pie was pretty bad. But nothing could compare to the drowning hatred and grief Kyle felt whenever he looked at Mrs. Carol’s shaky triangles. He couldn’t even look at circles anymore without feeling the same sense of despair. Wednesday night’s tutoring session was one of the most sufferable ones he’d ever experienced. He hadn’t even bothered to arrange the chairs.

    “Are you listening to me, young man?” Mrs. Carol spat through her crooked teeth while glaring at Kyle through her crooked glasses.

    Kyle let himself nod.

    “Good. Now, moving on. The 30-60-90 triangle is a special triangle….”

    A special triangle. What the heck even was a special triangle? Why is it special? What makes it any different from the other triangles? Aren’t all triangles special? No--no triangles were special because math didn’t matter. The lecture went on and on until Kyle felt like drier than a dried fig. Kyle Lingberg, age 14. Cause of death: triangles.

    “Let’s move on to a practice question,” Mrs. Carol took a sheet of paper, smoothed it down on the table in front of her, and started the process of drawing a triangle. After five minutes, the triangle was complete and Kyle was put to the task.

    He stared at the triangle. One angle was labeled 30 degrees with another angle forming a tiny square shape in the corner. One side was labeled square root of three. Kyle had no idea what to do nor did he really care. Triangles were stupid. Who needed them in real life?

    “I don’t know,” Kyle said, pushing the paper away. Mrs. Carol nodded at him, smiling. “You know? Go on and solve it then.”

“I said I DON’T know,” Kyle exclaimed. He crumbled up the piece of paper and pushed it away from him, pulling out his phone instead. A more important task was awaiting him. He needed to do some serious candy destroying and move up levels. He was glad that the colorful candies were all round, square-shaped, or jelly-bean-shaped. No one needed triangles when they could take pleasure in the simple things in life, like Candy Crush.

With a defeated sigh, Mrs. Carol picked up her bag of dried figs and retreated to the kitchen. It seemed that she would have to go over triangles again with Kyle the next session.

 

THE END


 

Published by Cindy Song