Em’s math anxiety started when the family moved to the suburbs where schools expected all entering second graders to know the purpose of the number zero. She tried adding with it and subtracting, too, but the worksheets kept coming back with big red check marks besides her answers. There was no explanation from the teacher and if Em’s neighbor, Rudy, hadn’t found some wadded up pages in the burning barrel and sat down to explain things, she would never had known that zero was just meant to take up space until something else happened. With Rudy’s help, Em learned to add, subtract, multiply and divide. Later on, she passed algebra and geometry by memorizing his old tests. She dreaded story problems but by the time she reached high school, old Mr. Eagan wasn’t as interested in teaching as he was in filling his tackle box with hand tied flies and bright lures. Em went to college and discovered she could get a BA in reading. Actually, it was called English Literature and she didn’t have to take a single math class, but she dropped out before her senior year because she and her fiancé were going to have a baby. The divorce didn't come until after her husband left her (even though she was pregnant) so she borrowed money and went back to college to get a degree in Education. It was a pragmatic choice based upon child care needs, insurance benefits and vacation days. Em taught third and fourth graders how to read and write and how to listen for hidden music in the heart of a poem. She taught them how to add and subtract and multiply and divide. She taught them how to decode story problems and one day, while showing a shy girl and a twitchy boy all the shapes they could make with bright wooden blocks, Em suddenly understood what algebra was supposed to mean. All the xs and ys suddently made sense. At first she wept and the children were frightened but then Em threw back her head and laughed. It took forty years for Em to understand she wasn't stupid after all.