My name is Catherine. I am 25 years old, but age doesn’t matter to me anymore. Five years ago, I started to work on my undergraduate mathematics degree at Northwestern University. My father is the famous genius of the family, but I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t gifted with a sense for numbers too. My best memories of my dad are of us sitting at the kitchen table working through my math homework. He always knew the answer within five minutes, but he let me work at it in my own way, nudging me in the right direction when I went astray. Sometimes he’d show me what he was working on, and through a certain amount of explanation on his part, I’d be able to understand the advance concepts he was working with and even suggest a different perspective of how to attack the problem. Four years ago, my dreams of college evaporated when my dad fell sick again. Not sick as in pneumonia or something, sick as in mentally ill. The hardest part of those four years was when my dad thought he was lucid again. He’d come running down the stairs and excitedly chatter at me about a brilliant breakthrough. In the beginning I would ask to see what he had written, but after two or three notebooks full of gibberish, I stopped asking. Some people say that his brilliance came with a price, which he was paying now. If that’s true about him, is it true about me? In those four years I rarely saw anyone other than my dad.
My greatest social interactions were with the people at the local supermarket where I would go to grab my weekly groceries. We live in Chicago, near the University, since our house was part of their bribe to have my dad work in their math department.I grew up in this home. It’s a modest two story with a couple bedrooms and an office for my dad. It is now the year 2000. I watched the ball drop on New Year’s on TV with my dad, while our neighbors and students from the University partied like crazy. I hadn’t heard so much clamor since the Chicago Bulls won the NBA Championship two years ago in 1998. My dad and I don’t generally watch sports, but he was going through a phase in his illness where he needed something to focus on, so he chose the NBA Championship. Currently I am sitting on the back porch on a wooden lawn chair, made softer by some worn-out cushions. It is fairly late, 11pm or midnight, and the crisp September air is warm and a bit muggy.Inside the house, a funeral-reception-turned-party is raging on. The partiers have reached the point where they have consumed so much alcohol that they are extremely obnoxious and insensitive. I don’t like crowds in the first place and I was against the reception from the start, but my sister, Claire, insisted. When I look up from my quiet spot on the porch, I see our spacious backyard, the lawn overgrown, with unkempt and barren apple trees roughly marking the boundaries of the space.
In the far corner is a shed, and in front of it are a couple of flimsy chairs. The shed hasn’t been used in years, but I remember the night I found my dad sitting in one of those chairs, working hard at scribbling nothings in his notebook in the middle of a freezing night. A few stars shine through the polluted atmosphere, and their steadiness calms me. There are other wooden chairs on the porch, all of them empty except for the seat next to me, which is occupied by Hal. Hal is an interesting guy. He’s a few years older than me, but at times, I feel like I’m the older one. He was a grad student of my father’s, and I’ve seen him around my father’s office. He even came to our house one time, unknowingly walking right into the middle of one of mine and my dad’s stupid arguments. He seems a little bit sexist, indicating that because I’m a woman I can’t possibly have an aptitude for math, but he’s intelligent enough to hold a decent conversation. He’s cute and he really seems to care about me. It’s refreshing to have someone to talk to who knew my father even in his times of illness. About a week ago, my dad died, which is the reason for the current funeral reception. I’ll admit that I was relieved when he finally passed, but now I don’t know what I’m doing with my life. I didn’t know what I was doing when I was taking care of him, but at least I had a purpose. Now all I can think about is how long it will take for illness to set into my mind. Is it even worth going to college and finding a job if I’m just going to end up frustrated and insane? I want to get away from these partiers. They all claim to have loved my dad, to have worshipped my dad, but where were they when he was sick? Why didn’t they visit at least once? It probably would’ve done my father some good to see familiar faces and talk about old memories.
Even Claire was absent throughout his illness. She claims to have done her part by paying some bills, but my father needed stimuli for his brain, not money. There were times when I didn’t know if I could handle staying cooped up with him anymore, and I’d leave for a few hours on the pretense of grocery shopping, just to take a breather and try to forget about the misery that was waiting for me back in my home. I want to be friendly with Hal. It’s been so long since I was able to talk to anyone about how I feel, or about anything other than the TV shows we watch or absolutely insane theorems and proofs. I want to feel something other than exhaustion and weariness and the feeling that I’m about to melt from all the stress. Hal was the only one I ever saw actually come to my dad’s house during his condition. He’s always been a bit nerdy, and his timing is never right, but at least he’s been there. I want to find purpose in my life. I’ve written a proof that could shake things up in the mathematical world, but I don’t know what to do with it. I don’t want to end up like my father, contributing brilliance to strangers and illness to his family. I’m scared because if I publish that proof, it will bring me a step closer to my father’s life. There’s a part of me that wants to publish, that tells me that I’m unique, but that part is so much smaller than the heavy doubt I feel. I would love to go back to school, to hone my technique, learn new skills, and then share them with students of my own, but how can I get my hopes up about that if I’m just going to deteriorate? I need a push. It doesn’t matter in what direction, but I need someone to push me so that I can make up my mind.