Eventually, he found the bed too comfortable for his state of mind, so he lay down on his back, his legs sprawled across the carpet. He anagrammed “yrs forever” until he found one he liked: sorry fever. And then he lay there in his fever of sorry and repeated the now memorized note in his head and wanted to cry, but instead he only felt this aching behind his solar plexus. Crying adds something: crying is you, plus tears. But the feeling Colin had was some horrible opposite of crying. It was you, minus something. He kept thinking about one word—forever—and felt the burning ache just beneath his rib cage.
It hurt like the worst ass-kicking he’d ever gotten. And he’d gotten plenty.
It hurt like this until shortly before 10 P. M. , when a rather fat, hirsute guy of Lebanese descent burst into Colin’s room without knocking. Colin turned his head and squinted up at him.
“What the hell is this?” asked Hassan, almost shouting.
“She dumped me,” answered Colin.
“So I heard. Listen, sitzpinkler,5 I’d love to comfort you, but I could put out a house fire with the contents of
my bladder right now. ” Hassan breezed past the bed and opened the door to the bathroom. “God, Singleton, what’d you eat? It smells like—AHHH! PUKE! PUKE! AIIIIEEE!” And as Hassan screamed, Colin thought, Oh. Right. The toilet. Should have flushed.
“Forgive me if I missed,” Hassan said upon returning. He sat down on the edge of the bed and softly kicked Colin’s prostrate body. “I had to hold my nose with both fugging hands, so Thunderstick was swinging freely. A mighty pendulum, that fugger. ” Colin didn’t laugh. “God, you must be in some state, because (a) Thunderstick jokes are my best material, and (b) who forgets to flush their own hurl?”
“I just want to crawl into a hole and die. ” Colin spoke into the cream carpet with no audible emotion.
“Oh, boy,” Hassan said, exhaling slowly.
“All I ever wanted was for her to love me and to do something meaningful with my life. And look. I mean, look,” he said.
“I am looking. And I’ll grant you, kafir,6 that I don’t like what I’m seeing. Or what I’m smelling, for that matter. ” Hassan lay back on the bed and let Colin’s misery hang in the air for a moment.
“I’m just—I’m just a failure. What if this is it? What if ten years from now I’m sitting in a fugging cubicle crunching numbers and memorizing baseball statistics so I can kick ass in my fantasy league and I don’t have her and I never do anything significant and I’m just a complete waste?”
Hassan sat up, his hands on his knees. “See, this is why you need to believe in God. Because I don’t even expect to have a cube, and I’m happier than a pig in a pile of shit. ”
Colin sighed. Although Hassan himself was not that religious, he often jokingly tried to convert Colin. “Right. Faith in God. That’s a good idea. I’d also like to believe that I could fly into outer space on the fluffy backs of giant penguins and screw Katherine XIX in zero gravity. ”
“Singleton, you need to believe in God worse than anyone I ever met. ”
“Well, you need to go to college,” Colin muttered. Hassan groaned. A year ahead of Colin in school, Hassan had “taken a year off” even though he’d been admitted to Loyola University in Chicago. Since he hadn’t enrolled in classes for the coming fall, it seemed his one year off would soon turn into two.
“Don’t make this about me,” Hassan said through a smile. “I’m not the one who’s too fugged up to get off the carpet or flush my own puke, dude. And you know why? I got me some God. ”
“Stop trying to convert me,” Colin moaned, unamused. Hassan jumped up and straddled Colin on the floor and pinned his arms down and started shouting, “There is no God but God and Muhammad is His Prophet! Say it with me, sitzpinkler! La ilaha illa-llah!”7 Colin started laughing breathlessly beneath Hassan’s weight, and Hassan laughed, too. “I’m trying to save your sorry ass from hell!”
“Get off or I’m going there quite soon,” Colin wheezed.
Hassan stood up and abruptly moved to serious mode. “So, what’s the problem exactly?”
“The problem exactly is that she dumped me. That I’m alone. Oh my God, I’m alone again. And not only that, but I’m a total failure in case you haven’t noticed. I’m washed up, I’m former. Formerly the boyfriend of Katherine XIX. Formerly a prodigy. Formerly full of potential. Currently full of shit. ” As Colin had explained to Hassan countless times, there’s a stark difference between the words prodigy and genius.
Prodigies can very quickly learn what other people have already figured out; geniuses discover that which no one has ever previously discovered. Prodigies learn; geniuses do. The vast majority of child prodigies don’t become adult geniuses. Colin was almost certain that he was among that unfortunate majority.
Hassan sat down on the bed and tugged at his stubbly second chin. “Is the real problem here the genius thing or the Katherine thing?”
“I just love her so much,” was Colin’s answer. But the truth was that, in Colin’s mind, the problems were related. The problem was that this most special, magnificent, brilliant boy was—well, not. The Problem itself was that He didn’t matter. Colin Singleton, noted child prodigy, noted veteran of Katherine Conflicts, noted nerd and sitzpinkler, didn’t matter to Katherine XIX, and he didn’t matter to the world. All of a sudden, he wasn’t anyone’s boyfriend or anyone’s genius. And that—to use the kind of complex word you’d expect from a prodigy—blew.
“Because the genius thing,” Hassan went on as if Colin hasn’t just professed his love, “is nothing. That’s just about wanting to be famous. ”
“No, it’s not. I want to matter,” he said.
“Right. Like I said, you want fame. Famous is the new popular. And you’re not going to be America’s fugging Next Top Model, that’s for goddamned sure. So you want to be America’s Next Top Genius and now you’re—and don’t take this personally—whining that it hasn’t happened yet. ”
“You’re not helping,” Colin muttered into the carpet. Colin turned his face to look up at Hassan.