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The Best Possible Answer
Author:E. Katherine Kottaras

The Best Possible Answer by E. Katherine Kottaras

To Matthew and Madeline

Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.

—Rainer Maria Rilke


Viviana Rabinovich-Lowe’s College Application Checklist

□ May: AP Exams

□ June–July: Design and Engineering Summer Academy

□ August: Work on College Apps; Study for SAT

□ September: Finalize Stanford Application

□ October: SAT General Test; Submit Early Action Application to Stanford

AP Physics Exam: Sample Question

A girl is traveling home from the AP physics exam on her bicycle. She is traveling at x m/s and can stop at a distance d m with a maximum negative acceleration. If the bicycle travels at 2x m/s, which of the following statements are true?

(A) The girl is so stressed, exhausted, and overworked that she falls asleep while riding her bike.

(B) That’s right; she loses momentum after taking a three-hour exam on the laws of gravity.

(C) The girl won’t know for a few months how she did on the actual test.

(D) But it couldn’t have been good, considering she couldn’t get from point A to point B without falling on her face.

(E) All of the above.

You know the answer.

(Hint: Test-prep research shows you should actually always pick E.)

And now my mom wants me to explain that answer, not just mark the bubble black and call it a day. I also have to analyze data and make relevant observations and explain the process by which I’ve managed to land myself in a hospital room with a CT scan, a mild concussion, and a hideous gash on my forehead that probably makes me look like something out of The Walking Dead.

She stands at the edge of my bed, her face heavy with worry, her voice pained with the shame of what I’ve done, of who I am.

“How did you get to this place, Viviana?”

“How could you have done this, Viviana?”

“I can’t take much more, Viviana.”

I close my eyes and turn on my side. “I’m too tired to talk about it, Mama.”

My little sister runs into the room and turns up the TV.

“Come on, Mila,” my mom grunts at her. “Let’s go.” But before they leave the room, my mom leans over the bed and whispers in my ear: “We’ll talk about this when we get home.”

But I don’t want to leave this bed. This bed has crisp white sheets and a soft fleece blanket. It smells like bleach, which smells like peace to me, and in it I can lie still and watch Jeopardy! on mute so I can guess without knowing what the contestants are saying or how condescending Alex Trebek is. It doesn’t matter if I get the answers right or wrong—it only matters that I tried. There’s a call button if I get thirsty or want Jell-O or an extra pillow, and I don’t know my roommate’s name, nor do I care, so long as she keeps her TV on mute, too.

In this room, there are fluorescent lights and beeping machines, but there is no phone with the interminable notifications and reminders, no AP or SAT study guides, no agenda, no laptops, no books. All that was confiscated from me the minute they checked me in. I wish they’d keep it all forever.

The doctor meets my mom right at the door so that they can consult about my “mental state of being.” My mom closes the door halfway, and though she thinks she’s whispering, I can hear every word. Maybe part of it is the cold familiarity of a hospital room, the fact that we’ve spent too much time in consultations about her own prognosis and ultimate fate, which has turned out good so far but is still yet unknown—her accent isn’t usually that noticeable, but I can hear it’s thicker with the stress of what I’ve done and where I am.

She’s so very mad at me.

My chest starts to tighten with that light stabbing of anxiety that I’ve been feeling for months. It’s a remnant of the Episode that brought me here.

I take three deep breaths.

That’s what the nurses told me to do if I feel it coming on again.

But my lungs are cold and tight.

I have to force myself to settle down. Because I will not fall into panic. I will not lose control again.

Simply put, I don’t have time.

I still have the AP English exam next week and finals and then getting packed for the Academy, not to mention fall SATs and summer reading lists and all my college applications.

I will not fail.

Not again.

“Psst. Vivi, you okay?” It’s Mila, at the foot of my bed. She’s snuck away from our mom. I don’t open my eyes. I don’t feel like talking to anyone.

She pokes my leg. “I know you’re awake. You were just playing Jeopardy! You were wrong about the tiger question. The Sumatran is the smallest subspecies of tiger, not the Burmese.” She’s way too smart for an eight-year-old.