Episode 17: The Purging
In the same closet that he finds the telescope, Spenser comes across a haggard manila folder marked First Year Calculus.
A thick wedge of loose leaf sheets removed from their 3-ring binder. Page after page of notes and calculations. Reams of the stuff. Theorems, rules, formulas scrawled in blocky, generic-looking letters, the silent cry of the faceless undergraduate no longer bound by the shackles of cursive. The precision of his penmanship, line after line, page after page. The care and attention he evidently took in crafting each formula and then working to unlock its secret energies. Such precision is now lost to him. The current state of his handwriting — shrunken and lifeless — looks nothing like this. Is he still capable of expressing himself with such clarity? Such forcefulness?
Spenser comprehends little of what he sees. He did well in this course. Very well. This he remembers. The end result, the A. He knows these pages are his work, his firing synapses rendered tangible, but it seems to belong to another person, another life entirely.
How can this be? Is this information — his understanding of this information —still somewhere in his head, dormant or hidden, awaiting the possibility of activation or discovery? Spenser turns page after page. Nothing comes to him. He might as well be looking at pre-industrial documentary records in another language. Average rainfall levels in Patagonia, annual crop yields in Ukraine.
On one page he finds this statement:
LIMITS AT INFINITY.
IF SUCH A LIMIT EXISTS
It’s the second bit that strikes him. Whose voice is this? That of the professor, making a vital theoretical point? Or is it his own voice — did he have time to jot down what seems now to be a playful response to what he had been told to copy? Or, most confusing of all, was this an important interjection of his own smoldering mind, the feverish addition of the neophyte spurred to ask impossible questions? Was there a time in his life when he had possessed the mathematical fortitude to not only explore, but question, the limits at infinity?
Reams of this stuff. But nothing comes back. Lives within lives.
He throws the folder out and then wishes he hadn’t. Even goes looking for it the next morning, opening the communal dumpster in the building’s parking garage, but that’s as far as it goes. He really doesn’t want to touch anything in there. Can’t stand the smell. Doesn’t shift any of the sodden black bags. Doesn’t plumb the depths.