0123456789. My life is a code, a series of digits. Always has been, always will be.
For a maths contest veteran, these digits have a life of their own. Or rather, they used to an eon ago. Back then, they were a spell frozen in time, gracefully suspended in mid-air. They were made of golden specks of dust, and when sunlight floods my room as it did then, they start glimmering: no wonder, since they hold the key to a glamorous life.
Or at least, they used to.
I had always believed that there is only one truth. No one told me so explicitly, but I inferred so much from the maths problems I was expected to solve. Hundreds of them—maybe thousands, but I wasn’t counting even then—marched through my life. Some involved complicated tricks of algebra; others seemed to perform geometric stunts on paper. One thing the lot had in common: there may be various ways to solve the problems, but there is only one solution. And if you and your friend came up with different answers... Uh oh, one of you must have gotten it wrong.
It was the same thing with participating in maths contests. At the start of this marathon, I had so many friends, and we were all running side by side. Our eyes were crystal clear, leaving absolutely no space for anything apart from maths problems. Life was like dazzling sunshine on a vast glassy lake. Then the sun hid its face behind looming clouds, and people started falling, one by one, to the sides of the track, devoured by the mist, never to return. When they fell, some of them heaved a sigh, more like a whisper; others broke into a million shards of mirrors, and I dared not look at them, for they reflected me.
0123456789. Then the world was slipping away; I was leaving it behind. Sirens started to wail and lights began to blur. The ground right underneath my feet was spinning, and this time, it was tossing me somewhere far, far, far.
And it all went wrong. Something snapped in me. I used to run on without another care in the world because I had faith in the journey itself. Never for a moment did I question what lay ahead. Never had I allotted some precious time to deliberating my destination. They told me that this was the only way to victory—“You’re on the right track, so don’t you fret.” But the road was not chosen by me; my choice did not count. Back then, the digits that supported my life had a meaning. But now, the secret key would not come to me however I beckoned for it. The invisible surface that had kept my balance was snatched away, and with it, gone was my innocent bliss, my ignorant childhood secured by the code, which no longer protected me.
Instead, it stared me in the face, blankly, without a sense of recognition, as if saying, “Sorry, but have we met before?”
Looking back, I understand that what snapped in me was the blind faith, the steadfast belief that the kid that I was invested in something chosen, because it was “meant for me”, because I “had the gift”. My life was an Enigma. And I had this terrible dream. I was assigned a complicated code for my home door, and was proud for some time for being able to memorize it. But one day, I happened to forget it, and had nothing to do but hold my head and cry. Then suddenly, it dawned on me that all I had to do was climb in through the window. I woke up, shedding tears of joy and revelation.
Maybe I could do the same thing to my numbers. Transform them into my playthings. I began to arrange them according to my mood, and giggled at them, like the little girl that I was; they giggled back at me.
I discovered that I loved literature. Loved it for so long that I had nearly forgotten about it—who would miss breathing, eh? But my voice came back to me, came back of its own accord, like the loyal friend and obedient servant that it is. I was grateful that even after all these silent years, my tongue still had not rusted, and sprang to life as soon as I summoned it, just like my active limbs still had the courage and resignation of flexing in a relaxing stretch at the end of all those miles I put them through. I opened my lips. It felt good after all this time, all these years, racing onward, unquestioning. No need for personal opinions and sentimental expressions then: pure reason ruled, as you succeeded by getting into the best school; you got into the best school by winning awards in maths competitions; and you won these awards with pure reason. Art had been a privilege, reserved for the idle, the whimsical, the folks who drifted on, dancing through life.
After two months of high school, I was finally able to look at the bigger picture of my science magnet school, and that of myself. On one side of the campus, increasing pressure reigns, as artists are forced to lay hide away their canvas and take up scratch paper instead, even if this may mean the withering of the delicate flowers that are just beginning to bloom under their loving touch. Kids are still fed lies. They believe, with doubts now, that they have no other way to the Promised Land than STEM contests. They are encouraged to drop everything down, but once they trudge on, it is hard for them to turn back, as it is literally impossible for us to buy lost time, or more invaluable still, our lost souls—hush baby, speak softly now, lest you wake the dead. But on the other side, youngsters are sheltered, as they are offered the chance to dream up a paradise of their own, even if the riders are banging at the gates, even if the outside sky poses an alarming juxtaposition with the one above their heads. Everybody has a string of digits on their belt. They may be a couple of notes craving for the warm stability of a stave, or they may be spare parts of an engine quietly waiting to be incorporated into a larger scheme.
We live and let live, planets with different orbits, sometimes crashing into one another, only to wave goodbye the next second, trading the crosses we bear for fond memories.
0123456789. Everyone was offered these 10 digits at birth. Maybe I am not that special after all.
Then why am I so one of a kind?
Because I can build a splendid castle with bricks of mud. Because I can assemble a gold watch with the dullest parts. Because I, not anyone else, can endow my own 10 digits, identical to anyone else’s, with their own meaning. Looking down at these 10 numbers, they are not just any digits now—they are MY code. And thanks for asking, but I am going to rearrange them myself, and who cares if they remain an Enigma? They are alive with my breath. I do not need to find the “right” answer, because it is far from the perfect one for me. My answer is dancing, swirling, colorful and brimming with vitality—
Hello 大家好 (๑╹◡╹)ﾉ” My name is Yutong Yang. I am a high school junior born and raised in the seaside boomtown of Shenzhen, China. My pronouns are she/her. When I am not freewriting to emo rap, you will most likely find me delving into interdisciplinary interpretations of some 90s rock opera. I recently penned a guest commentary on Verdi’s La Traviata for 360° of Opera® (@360ofopera on Instagram). I serve on an international council advocating for our oceans, hoping to bridge languages and cultures while engaging in creative advocacy. TWITTER: @LadyScornful INSTAGRAM: @luoshuifufei