My high school daughter enters the room wearing a frown and carrying a deceptively thin textbook. "Do you remember anything about trig?" she asks.
I've always encouraged her to ask for help if she needs it, and math is something I'm generally good at. Though it's been nearly 30 years since trig and I crossed paths, I remember my trig class very well.
Unfortunately, the parts that might be of some use to my daughter this evening - sines and cosines, tangents and logarithms - have long since disappeared from memory. All I remember of trig is the romance.
In my mind it looks like a play. The setting is the 1971-72 school year in small-town Pennsylvania. I have landed the female lead as the quiet junior girl sitting near the back of the classroom. Good student, hard worker, comes to class knowing the material - and it's a good thing, since she spends most of the actual class time daydreaming about Bob, the heartthrob.
Bob has the male lead. He's president of the senior class, cute in a John Denver sort of way. Not a scholar, but charming, funny, and well liked by both students and teachers. My crush on Bob, already several years old, has been going nowhere.
Enter Mr. K. and trig. Before Scene I is over, Bob discovers that I am getting the hang of trig faster than he is. By the end of the first act, we are homework phone pals. I am in heaven.
It's intermission, and my daughter still needs a hand. I scan the day's assignment. I used to be so good at this! Now it's totally unfamiliar. "Let me look it over for a minute," I say. "I'll see if anything comes back to me." The audience returns to their seats. Act II is about to begin.
The action moves quickly. Bob and I stay after school to work together on the days before each test. Sometimes it's just the two of us, other times his friends John and Eli tag along. There is wit, banter, and flirtation between trig functions. All their math scores soar.
Eventually, Mr. K. discovers the tutoring arrangement. Teasing and blushing are prominent in the next scene. An observer writes a poem about us for the school paper. ("When Bobby, John, and Eli, too, were having trouble with two plus two....")
At the end of the rising action, my character becomes a bona fide heroine as each of the boys scores a perfect paper - and I miss one - on the last big trig test.
The final act definitely suffers from its adherence to reality. Prom season comes and goes. The traditional high school sweethearts attend. The math tutor does not. Somehow, though, the time has been so sweet, and being part of the production has been so much fun, that the end of the play doesn't seem all that depressing. It has been a good time.
Back in the present, I'm making no progress recovering my glory days as a tutor. "I'm sorry, honey," I tell my daughter. "It's just not coming back to me."
I can't hold her exasperated sigh against her.
"See?" she says. "You're proof that this stuff is worthless. You didn't learn anything in trig, did you?"
Well, now, I wouldn't go that far. I learned that being the smart kid can have its advantages. And I learned that the epilogue can be the best part of the play.
Real romance did finally come out of trigonometry class. No, it wasn't the observer (though I think that twist would have wonderful poetic potential, should I ever decide to turn this saga into a novel).
Among the "extras" in class was another Bob, the one I would eventually fall in love with and marry. He didn't have a role in the original draft of the play, but he's been there for all the rewrites.
"It would be hard for me to explain just how important I think trig is," I tell her.
Then, smiling in a way I'm sure she misunderstands, I say, "Think hard. Isn't there anyone you could phone for help?"
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