We got the kids Rubik’s cubes for the fifth night of Hanukkah. And when I say “we got the kids,” you can feel free to substitute “Susan got,” because that’s kind of the truth.
I haven’t had a Rubik’s cube since fifth grade, where I cycled through several of them, although I never had a real one, only shoddy imitation cubes in pastel colours and teeny tiny keychain versions. Still, I did a good job with what I had. At some point, I acquired this book,
which I read carefully and followed faithfully and eventually memorized. And then I got to the point where I could solve the cube in under a couple of minutes. Like many other kids in my fifth grade class, I was obsessed. We used to sneak our cubes into class and fiddle with them underneath our desks — just as how, today, I imagine kids must try to sneak iPods or DSes or whatever it is those crazy youngsters play with these days. Our fifth-grade teacher banned them during classroom hours, and once I remember doing just a little bit of shit-disturbing and miming the cube-solving motions underneath my desk, so that I could hold up my empty hands when she called me on it. I’m sorry for that, Mrs. Disend.
Today, all I can remember is how to solve the top two rows of the cube. I can’t think about it. I just have to surrender to muscle memory and the formulae I committed to heart, that carved a new groove into my brain — L-minus R-plus F-plus-plus L-plus R-minus-B2; L-minus R-plus F-plus-plus L-plus R-minus with its own particular singsongy chant — and feel my decades-older fingers manipulating the surfaces. But they are still the same fingers.
The bottom third of the cube still eludes me. But not for long! [Cue evil laughter] Because this is now and not 1982, I went on the Internet last night and Googled The Simple Solution to the Rubik’s Cube. It’s long out of print, but copies still float around, and one of them will be mine soon. It may come from Minnesota, or from the UK: we’ll see. (If you have one you’re willing to part with, by the way, let me know.) I thought briefly about ordering a different book, something easily available on Amazon, but then I realized that I don’t want to learn a new language. I want to reanimate something that already exists inside me, reactivate the neural pathways created so long ago. I wonder what else will come up once I manage to access my muscle memories from 1982: fifth grade, just a bit older than Rowan is now. I don’t mean to get all woo-woo here, but it seems highly likely that memories and emotions were forged into the same tissues as movement. Ask any body therapist — they’ll tell you I’m onto something.
Also, I want Rowan — so keen on acquiring languages, mastery — to learn how to solve the cube, too, so then we can have battles and I can slay him (cf., Ms. Pac-Man), until he, inevitably, slays me.