Waiting for infinity

When I was little, I was always at the doctor, and we were always waiting, my pretty blonde mother and me. A gray partition halved the main waiting room. One side, sick kids; one side, healthy kids. Separate toys. When we walked across the healthy side to reach the sick side I pictured my sickness beaming from my throat and chest and infecting the kids playing with the bright plastic trucks.

Next the nurse let us into the exam room, my pretty blonde mother and me. By this point the journey seemed forever. We’d come from the suburbs to this brick building in the city that smelled like vinegar and grayness. Now we were in the room where the doctor would see us soon, but we still had to wait. The kids books looked dirty and smudgy and old. But each room had a green chalkboard hung on the wall, with a tiny chip of yellow chalk. We played a game. She wrote the number one followed by a string of zeroes, and it was my job to insert the commas, after every three zeroes, starting from the end. This was how big numbers worked.

And the weirdest part about it was that you could do this forever. You could always, always, add more zeroes. You could add zeroes until you filled the entire green chalkboard, until your tiny chip of yellow chalk wore down to dust, until the doctor came in and said strep throat again. This was my first taste of infinity, I guess, more zeroes, more zeroes, like skating in my new skates on the smooth part of the sidewalk, I will always know where to add commas, it’s all so simple, let’s keep going until the doctor gets here. We learned all the names for the numbers: thousand, million, billion, trillion, and when it got really crazy she said she didn’t know anymore, and then it was like we were floating in space.

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