I never used my fingers when I was learning to count. Even as a youngster, I didn’t need to actually see something to find the pattern. It was easy for me to accept that one more than two had to be three simply because it couldn’t be anything else. Apparently I was a special case. Apparently I was gifted. And so they put me in accelerated classes and I grew to love math and science for the same reasons I was able count in my head. They were universal, and they made sense. Fact and reason. Rationale and evidence.
And so I was tossed into a STEM field because everyone was confident that I could succeed there. I was good with numbers and confident as ever in biology labs. I was good at that stuff. Somehow, my being good at it was supposed to equate to my being happy in it. And me being me, I didn’t want to disappoint. I took years of chemistry, upper level calculus and statistics, physiology, cell biology…. It goes on and on.
All my adolescence up through this very moment, they’ve pegged me as a numbers girl in lab goggles. But I always loved English and literature, too. I was excited in high school when we had a class period to write an essay on a surprise topic of the teacher’s choosing. I loved my core English class as a freshman in college. My instructor would pull me aside on a regular basis to talk about my potential. I adore Ernest Hemingway and Kurt Vonnegut. Some of my best memories of being 17 are moments with my old student newspaper staff. I’ve been gleefully writing stories and poems and lyrics for as long as I can remember, but no one noticed that spark until it was too late.
My support system is great, but they don’t see the world like I do. They count on their fingers how many opportunities I’m going to have thanks to the path I’ve taken. Women in science are important, they preach. I know they are, and I agree, but talent isn’t much to look at without drive. In my eyes, it feels like they’re counting mistakes and wrong turns. I see my mom and dad, relief in their eyes, as they count all the chances I’ll have that they missed out on – fingers waving in my face and numbers floating between mouths.
But when I think of four hands, I figure it should somehow add up to infinity. I find the romance and poetry in things far sooner than I can pick out the statistic value. I see a story that needs to be told.
Sure, I’m good enough at what I do….but I’m even better at something else. There’s a certain fear inside of me that I’m wasting a gift, and I get a feeling that one day, that fear will win.