I was 13 years old when my mother was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. At the time, she was a mail carrier for the United States Postal Service, and I was a middle school student at Frederick Douglass Academy IV in Brooklyn, NY. We lived in Harlem, but we would commute to the neighborhood where she worked, and every morning we would get up at 0500, brush our teeth, get dressed, and head down to our car. I would continue sleeping in the car, but mom would drive to work, and my sister, currently in high school at Bushwick High School, would ride shotgun in the front seat.
We did this every day. In the freezing cold, in hail, in thunder, and on bright sunny days. Then one day, we didn’t do it anymore. My world changed, and that morning drive in the Mitsubishi Montero Sport became a train ride on the A and then a transfer to the J train. Each morning and afternoon, I made my way to school and back home. Oftentimes, it would turn into homework or reading time. I must have passed over a million strange faces in all of those hours, but I realize that from a young age I have found the most comfort in solitude. Even on a crowded subway train, I realized that I was alone, unknown. A person with my own identity, my own freedom, and at 13 years old, freedom is welcome.
I grabbed the Metro tabloid every morning and stuffed it in my backpack. I read classified ads, saw movie announcements, a printout of what’s on tv, and I read stories of tragedy; houses that went up in flames, people who saw their last sunrise, and thievery. I was always intrigued by the Obituary column. It mostly chronicled people’s accomplishments while in life, and I wondered why certain things were deemed noteworthy while others were not. I thought, in my obituary, I want them to write down my favorite food, my favorite book. So that people can try them, and then they can say, man, he had some good taste. Or, I never knew he loved pizza so much, let’s go eat a slice in his honor. Instead, they’ll know where I studied, where I worked, and basically how I spent my time.
On the train is where I first learned how to play Sudoku. There really isn’t much to explain here, but it became the sole reason why I grabbed the metro tabloid. After a while, I was less interested in happenings of the world and more interested in organizing these numbers in such a manner that they don’t come into conflict with any other one of their type. And that is essentially the premise of Sudoku, 9 numbers, 9 identities. If I am a 1, I should stand in such a way that if I look up/down or sideways, I shouldn’t see another 1. And there shouldn’t be another 1 in the same room as I. But there really is no competition in this game, so I wonder why it was invented.
Why can’t you have a room full of 1s and 2s, and why must they be ignorant of the other’s existence? It’s a curious thing, but in the midst of my mother’s diagnosis, it was this concept that caught my attention. I wonder sometimes how I was able to cope with all of the changes, what did I do right, what did I do wrong? But I don’t really think there is an answer. The tendency to look inward and solve simple problems in the midst of large problems is the simplest, most effective manner to live life. If you’re stuck in a bad situation, try and figure out something about the world. Perhaps that’s why these games were made, because life was unpleasant at a point. You didn’t have entertainment shows, basketball games, video games. You had life. Sometimes pain, sometimes betrayal, sometimes sickness, and long commutes.