The loneliest number. The number of parties involved in an amoeba’s sex life. The number of gods present in Christianity, the world’s largest religion. In probability equations, one signifies that an event is almost certain to occur.
One was also the number of persons present for my Christmas Eve, 2012.
At twenty-five, I sat on the couch in a cocoon of afghans with a glass of thick eggnog. With every sip, the drink left a trail of ivory like a stretched canvas along the glass’s sides. I drank leisurely and let my tongue curl around the nutmeg and hints of rum as I watched White Christmas on the television set. With the volume up, I could barely hear the emptiness of the house.
The other members of my family were scattered elsewhere: my mom spent the night at her boyfriend’s house, my sister shared time with her boyfriend’s family across the state, and my dad stayed at home with his wife and stepdaughter. I could have been at any one of these locations—could have slept on someone’s couch or air mattress and could have been the outlier. I could have been the one person with nowhere else to go. Instead, I opted to come home to my own empty bed.
Bundled on the reclining leather couch, I envisioned my other friends and relatives curled beneath covers or stretched beneath blankets, possibly watching the same TV program, possibly cooing at the same image of Rosemary Clooney as she sullenly serenaded Bing Crosby. I couldn’t imagine that anyone else sat alone since approximately 86% of people in the United States gathered with extended family that night. Nearly nine-in-ten people were surrounded by loved ones. But where were the other outsiders? Who else spent the night alone? Did anyone else feel this lonely?
The number of humans required to make a baby. The number of polynucleotide strands that make up a DNA double helix. The number it takes to tango. Two is the number of babies my parents had together.
In Judaism, two is the number of witnesses required to validate events such as marriage. Such as divorce.
The number of approximate seconds between every one divorce in the United States. This equates to nearly 2,400 divorces per day.
The number of hours the shortest celebrity marriage lasted. This record belongs to Britney Spears and her brief union with Jason Alexander in 2004.
The number of world wonders. The number of deadly sins. The number of celestial bodies in the solar system visible to the naked eye.
When I was in Grade Seven, my dad moved out of our ranch-style home and into a small apartment a town over. They told my sister and me that Mom needed space.
The apartment sat on the second story of a long rectangular building that rested back from the town’s main street. The entrance’s foyer felt dismal in the bleak and flickering lights. Inside, several pieces of furniture from home sat against the faded walls: an old cream-colored sofa with sagging pillows and a short, faded blue armchair. In a small bedroom in the back corner of the apartment, old bunk beds had been separated and dressed in white paper sheets for my sister and me.
The first night I spent in that apartment, I barely slept. Instead I gazed up at the haloed glow of the street lamp beaming in through the window above the bed. With my naked eye, I searched for stars through the haze. Trucks with growling mufflers sped down Main Street late into the night and my heart rate refused to settle. My heart rate hummed with the mufflers—backfired in protest and spit out barks of restlessness. My heart rate would not still until my sister and I were en route back to my mother and our home.
An equation: (7 x 2) + 1 = my age when I found out the reason for this split had been due to my father’s affairs.
The highest single-digit of the decimal system. The number of lives a cat has. Nine is how dressed up a person can possibly be.
There are nine circles in Hell in Dante’s Divine Comedy. According to Milton in Paradise Lost, it took Satan nine days to fall from Heaven into Hell.
On earth, I’ve found this fall to occur far more rapidly. Here, a fall from grace takes no time at all.
The number of affairs my father indulged in before my mother left him.
The number of days it took the Old Testament God to create the world. The first perfect number, equal to the sum of its divisors (1 + 2 + 3 = 6). The number of impossible things Lewis Carroll’s White Queen once believed before breakfast.
The number of sides that make up a cube. One might associate cubes with squares, with congruence, with the number four. But in actuality, there are sides of a cube we never see.
Six is the number of equations that can explain the entire universe. These six numbers—six physics ratios, six descriptions of the cosmos, six values related to matter and force of gravity and dimensions—depict the laws that comprise the galaxies and allow us to exist.
I imagine humans that consist of only six equations—six directions, six motivations, six options, six sides to us. Six sides that we can always see.
The number of members in my immediate family prior to the divorce. The number of suitcases carted on trips, the number of Halloween costumes my mother sewed each year, the number of seats we occupied in a plane, the number of plates at the dinner table every night, the number of horses rode on trail rides, the number of stick figures drawn in kindergarten, the number of stockings hung by the chimney, the number of safety, the number of family, the number of childhood.
In Buddhism, there are Four Noble Truths: The Noble Truth of Suffering, the Cause of Suffering, the Cessation of Suffering, and the Path leading to the Cessation of Suffering.
In Hinduism, there are four stages of life: Student life, Household life, Retired life, and Renunciation.
To a child, the parents’ renunciation of marriage and household life feels like the jumble of all truths of all religions fused into one: the suffering.
Two-thousand and six:
In the sixth month of 2006, my mother informed me that she was leaving my father. “For good this time.”
I was eighteen years old when she told me and I understood immediately how different things would look going forward. No more even number of stockings at Christmas, no more harmoniously balanced place settings at the table, no more family game nights of Disney Trivia, no more cohesive holidays period. The sum would be different; I would need to relearn the equation of family.
The number of sides to a standard United States stop sign. The atomic number of oxygen. The number of angels in the Islamic religion that carry the throne of Allah, or God, in heaven.
Eight is the number of serious boyfriends I have had in my life, in attempts to create the equation of 1 + 1 = happy.
The number of legs on an octopus. Octopi have no skeletons—no bones to break. They can squeeze their bodies into tight crevices and pass through narrow slits of rock in order to flee their predators. They can alter their colors and skin texture dependent on where and what they need to be. I wonder what it might be like if human beings could replicate this skill. What if we could alter our physiology when we perceive danger?
I picture myself as an octopus, receiving the news of a divorce that will alter my entire vision of childhood, but instead of receiving the blow, I shape-shift. My skin morphs, thickens, changes colors. I collapse, lose memories, reform into a daughter who has always had separate parents and separate families. I am suddenly a daughter who has been passed around with her younger sister on Christmas and Thanksgiving for as long as I can recall. I am adaptable, free. I squeeze through the crevices of loneliness and emerge unscathed.
The number of years my parents waited to conceive me.
The highest rate on the hurricane scale is five. In 2005, during the Atlantic Ocean’s most active hurricane season recorded, five storms were responsible for the most destruction on land.
Five is the number of letters in my last name. Of the original members of my family, my father is the only other person who still shares this name with me.
The percentage that a person’s chance of divorce decreases if he or she marries after age twenty-five.
My father’s age when he exchanged vows with my mother.
Two-thousand and seven:
The year my parents’ divorce finalized. The number of divorces in the United States for that year was 856,000. Per capita, that number sat at 0.36%.
The percentage of children in the United States who will witness the breakup of a parent’s marriage.
The percentage that a person’s likelihood of divorce decreases if his or her parents are still happily married.
The number of years that make up a decade. The number of Christian commandments. The state number for my home state of Virginia.
At ten years old, I attended fifth grade the same year that Princess Diana died in a car accident. In one year, I learned about double negatives in grammar and how not to be unclear; I learned how to execute long division and that separation could be complicated; I learned that even real princesses don’t have happy endings.
The number of times I’ve been married. The number of wedding proposals I’ve received. The number of boyfriends I’ve lived with. The number of genuine risks I’ve taken in a relationship for fear that I would wind up another statistic.
Photo by Jeffrey