You’d think all kinds of dates would stick in your memory. Like the day your parents died, for instance. But I didn’t know how to read a calendar then, and besides, it took me a while to get just what, exactly, was going on.
After that, every day’s so fucked up, just none of them stand out.
Except January 8. January 8, Johnny told me he’d been accepted to hotshot school for math geniuses. Johnny could kill some math. He never bothered to study, but you could see it. Everything he did was perfect, like it would fit in an equation.
Like one time, because I was failing math, Johnny whipped around my book and stared at it for a few seconds, and he started pulling it all out of a hat, like a rabbit. Johnny talked, and I could see math, like colored handkerchiefs, all knotted together. I asked him where he learned all that and he said it was just all up there in his head. He said, “It’s up there in yours, too, you just ignore it.”
Anyway, I remember it was January 8 he told me he was leaving, because January 7 was the day he almost kissed me. His thumb was underneath my chin and my heart let go of all my blood at once. Tingling it all out to the edge of my skin and my knees disappeared, but it had to happen, right? I mean, after all this time?
But it didn’t happen. It didn’t happen, and the next day, he was so excited, he spun me in the air. He said I brought him good luck.
This hotshot school, it was on the wrong side of the country. I didn’t feel like good luck.
Johnny, then he started acting like he was my big brother. He got this look on his face and he said, “You’ve got to get serious.” He said, “The only way out of this place is flying.” He said, “You’ve gotta stop fucking around.”
We were in the mall, and everybody else’s life was still going on around us. Their smiling jaws were still flapping as if their stupid little town wasn’t in the process of losing its only asset.
He put his finger under my chin again, but all he did was say, “Don’t disappoint me.”
On an earlier January 7th, the one that came the year I caught up with my age group in reading but not in math— not, my teacher pointed out, because I didn’t understand, but because I was sloppy--, my first foster mother explained to me that she was going to adopt me. “This means,” she said, “that daddy and I will be your daddy and mommy forever.”
This would mean something to me later, but at the moment, I just tried to make my expressions match hers, so she’d know I was listening.
That January 8th, my new forever mommy didn’t come home and daddy wouldn’t take his face out of his hands, and as I was watching him, a trickle of pee ran down my leg and then the policemen took me back to the station with them.
You might think all these coincidences are impossible, but you’d be wrong. All the world’s religions developed from the desire to please whatever force out there was capable of such symmetry, such perfectly ordered chaos, such endless possibilities in devastation.
Snowflakes, snowdrifts, avalanches. The perfectly patterned fur of a tiger. A volcano.
Our fear of the number 13 stems from our re-creation as a patriarchal society. 13 was good luck for the pagan goddesses. For witches. But good luck for them meant bad luck to those that came after. The number represented an order of things beneficial to the wrong party.
Seven was how many fingers I held up when I met my first new mommy. Seven was the day on the calendar she pointed to when she said, “By this time next month, it’ll be official.”
Even now, when I go to the grocery store, which isn’t often, I buy the seventh box or bag or can of whatever item on the shelf. If I ride the bus, I only sit if the seventh seat is open, that’s the first one on the driver’s side after the three vertical seats. For a long time, if I had to say something, I said it seven times, and I dug in my heels for most of the way through a second year of 7th grade, making no progress, a defense which finally caught the attention of DFACS employees who, upon investigating, found me needing three fingers and an elbow re-broken and set straight, freeing me at last from that cursed house.