A Visit
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"Mom, what city was I born in?"

Samuel rocked back and forth on his feet, staring up at his mother and waiting for an answer. She typed a few more words into her document, finishing off the sentence, before turning to her son. The process only took fourteen seconds, which seemed like five minutes in the mind of a child. Samuel, fortunately, was able to keep himself entertained by a bird outside of the window. In the span of his waiting, it had dug up a worm and carried its prey to an unseen nest in the branches of a leafy oak tree.

His mother smiled at him, ruffling his hair and drawing his attention again. "Cleveland, in the Cleveland Clinic. Why do you ask?"

"Oh, I just needed it for my homework!" Samuel was a bright young boy, who had just entered the first grade two weeks ago. Already, it had become apparent that this was a lot more advanced than kindergarten; for starters, there was a distinct lack of naptimes. He'd also received a full four homework assignments in just the ten days he had attended school. Clearly, first grade was no laughing matter, and Samuel was taking it as seriously as he could.

"Well, I'm glad you're able to keep up!" laughed his mother. Samuel beamed with pride, joyous that his mother recognized his hard work. He started to run back to his room, but after eight steps, he turned around. "Mom?"


"Can we visit it?"

Samuel's mom glanced over. "Cleveland?" He nodded. "You sure? There's not much there, and I can always show you some pictures from when you were born, if you'd like." He nodded again, this time with more determination. "Well, I love going places with you. Tell you what: I'm busy with work today, but I don't have anything going on Saturday. How about we take a visit then?"

"Yeah! It'll be fun!"

Two days and eighteen hours later, Samuel was being driven by his mother to Cleveland, a city only fifteen minutes away. His mother hummed along to a song on the radio, while Samuel sat in a booster seat behind her, coloring in one of those color-by-numbers books. Occasionally, his mom would ask him a math problem, and he would swell with pride as he answered it confidently. Math was his favorite subject, a trait he derived from her.

"Have you ever been back here before?" Samuel asked.

"You mean back in Cleveland?"


"Oh, I've been here plenty of times! I have some work here, and there are plenty of friends I visit. It's only a short drive away."

"Uh-huh." Samuel peered out the window and gasped. He'd never seen buildings so tall before! He counted the stories on one of the towers, eventually determining that there were fifty-eight floors. As they approached the city, he saw more and more people lining the sidewalks. He glanced at signs and storefront windows, taking in the scenery. Eventually, his mother pulled into a parking garage. He’d never been inside one before, so he stared at all the cars squished together under one big roof. His mother drove on, eventually reaching the second story, which was a real treat for Samuel; he couldn't believe that they could make buildings like this for cars!

His mom looked in the rearview mirror and noticed his awed expression. "You should see some of the big cities, kiddo. Cleveland is nothing compared to New York."

Samuel's mother pulled into an open space, and he almost immediately bounced out of the car. His mom stepped out more calmly, and he swiftly grasped her hand.

"This is where I was born?"

Samuel's mom looked around. "Well, not here, obviously. But yeah, you were born in this town."

"Whoa!" Samuel considered this. "Why can't I remember?"

"I mean, you were just a baby!" His mother laughed. The two of them walked out of the parking garage, squinting as their eyes adjusted to the intense sunlight. The first thing that Samuel noticed was the smell: the aroma of cooking foods, the stench of garbage, the air of smoke and steam. The combination of scents was surprisingly pleasing, and Samuel sniffed the air, trying to catch every whiff of it.

Samuel and his mother pressed forward, moving through the town. Cleveland wouldn't exactly be considered a tourist destination for most people, but Samuel treated it like a vacation to a faraway country. Even the fast food place they stopped at tasted different to him, even though there was an identical restaurant in their own town.

Finally, at 5:16 P.M., Samuel and his mother arrived at the Cleveland Clinic. They each finished up their ice creams - vanilla for Samuel, chocolate for his mother - and stepped inside. Samuel hadn't been to this hospital since he was born, so the experience seemed brand new to him.

"This is where you were born!" his mother said. "Goodness, I'd forgotten what it looked like."

"Whoa!" exclaimed Samuel. His eyes darted around, trying to take everything in. The hospital was busy, with people in lab coats and scrubs walking in and out of rooms, folks of all kinds being pushed around in wheelchairs, and random people milling around the area.

"Can we go see the rooms?" inquired Samuel. He had already counted out twenty-two doors down one hallway, but he saw room numbers as high as 113, with the numbers increasing as the hallway went on. He could hardly believe there were hundreds of rooms in the hospital.

"Oh, I'm sorry," Samuel's mother said. "But since we're not being taken care of, I don't think we can go in any of the rooms. We need to be patients in order to go into them."

With that, Samuel stretched to his full height of three feet, eleven inches, walked over to the nearest chair, and proclaimed: "Don't worry mom, I can be patient!"

His mother laughed, loudly and longly enough that she drew some concerned glances from nearby people, and sat down next to her son. She gave him a kiss on his head and ruffled his hair, then began looking around. As she did, a change came about her face, her features slowly tightening. Suddenly, and to Samuel's surprise, she wrapped her arms around him, pulling him into a tight hug. Samuel quickly reciprocated. The two of them sat there in silence, embracing each other, before Samuel suddenly asked, "Hey Mom?"

Samuel's mother wiped away some tears that had formed in her eyes. "Yeah, sweetie?"

"What's the biggest number?"

Samuel's mother chuckled softly, amused by the sudden change in mood and subject. "Well, there's no real biggest number. They just keep going on."

"Well, what's the biggest number you know?" asked Samuel. He let go of her, looking into his mother's eyes with an intense wonder.

Samuel's mother considered this. She hadn't expected to start answering math questions, especially right now, but she would never pass up an opportunity to encourage her son's curiosity, and both of them loved to geek out over math knowledge, even if the age discrepancy meant that they had two vastly different forms of geeking out. "Well, have you heard of Graham's number?"

"No. Is that like graham crackers?"

She giggled. "That would be a lot of graham crackers. Graham's number is huge! It's so big that there isn't enough room in the universe to write it down. Everyone just says Graham's number because they can't really say it as an actual number."

Samuel considered this. The universe to him, as a child, didn't seem too big, but he imagined all the paper he could think of, filling up everywhere in the world, with teeny-tiny little 9's across every surface. It was pretty big. Finally, he embraced his mother and said, "That's about how much I love you!"

His mother, tears starting to fall down her cheeks, beamed with joy, and hugged her son again. "That's how much I love you too," she said, meaning every single digit of the incalculably large number.

After a few more minutes in the hospital, the two of them walked back to the parking garage. Samuel tried counting every step back to the car, but he eventually got tired of that and opted to count all of the trucks he passed by. As they arrived at the car, Samuel's mother nudged him. "Hey," she said.

Samuel looked up at her. "Yeah?"

"Would you ever like to come back here with me sometime?"

Samuel grinned widely. "Yeah!" His mom opened the car door and helped buckle him in. "Why? Is there more stuff we can do?"

She smiled. "Yeah, there's plenty of things we can do. But also…" She ruffled his hair. "I'd just almost forgotten about what this city gave me."

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