Colin brought the car to a full stop twenty feet in front of the stop sign and said, “Are you sure?” And she just kept smiling. “Well, tell me,” he pleaded.
“Okay, well I didn’t FIX it, but I have an idea. I suck at math—like really, really suck, so tell me if I have this wrong, but it seems like the only factor that goes into the formula is where each person fits on the Dumper/ Dumpee scale, right?”
“Right. That’s what the formula’s about. It’s about getting dumped. ”
“Yeah, but that’s not the only factor in a relationship. There’s, like, age. When you’re nine, your relationships tend to be shorter and less serious and more random than when you’re forty-one and desperate to get married before your flow-o’-eggs dries up, right?”
Colin turned away from Lindsey and looked at the intersecting roads before him, both utterly abandoned. He thought it through for a while. It seemed so obvious now—many discoveries do. “More variables,” he announced enthusiastically.
“Right. Like I said—age, for starters. But a lot of things go into it. I’m sorry, but attractiveness matters. There’s this guy who just joined the Marines, but last year he was a senior. He was like 210 pounds of chiseled muscle, and I love Colin and everything, but this guy was dead sexy and also really sweet and nice, and he drove a tricked-out Montero. ”
“I hate that guy,” Colin said.
Lindsey laughed. “Right, you totally would. But anyway, total Dumper. Self-professed proponent of the 4 Fs: find ’em, feel ’em, fug ’em, and forget ’em. Only he made the mistake of dating the only person hotter than him in Middle Tennessee—Katrina. And he became the clingiest, neediest, whimperingest little puppy dog and finally Katrina had to ditch him. ”
“But it’s not just physical attraction,” Colin said, reaching into his pocket for his pencil and notepad. “It’s how attractive yo
u find the person and how attractive they find you. Like, say there’s this girl who’s very pretty, but as it happens, I have a weird fetish and only like girls with thirteen toes. Well, I might be the Dumper if she happens to be ten-toed and only gets turned on by skinny guys with glasses and Jew-fros. ”
“And really green eyes,” Lindsey added nonchalantly.
“I was complimenting you,” she said.
“Oh. Mine. Green. Right. ” Smooth, Singleton. Smooth.
“Anyway, I think it needs to be way more complicated. It needs to be so complicated that a math tard like me won’t understand it in the least. ”
A car pulled up behind them and honked, so Colin returned to driving, and by the time they were in the cavernous parking lot of the nursing home, they had settled on five variables:
Popularity Differential (C)62
Attractiveness Differential (H)64
Dumper/Dumpee Differential (D)63
Introvert / Extrovert Differential (P)64
They sat in the car together with the windows down, the air warm and sticky but not stifling. Colin sketched possible new concepts and explained the math to Lindsey, who made suggestions and watched his sketching. Within thirty minutes, he was cranking out the basic she-broke-up-with-him frowny-face graph67 for several Katherines. But he couldn’t get the timing right. Katherine XVIII, who cost him months of his life, didn’t look like she lasted any longer, or mattered any more, than the 3. 5 days he spent in the arms of Katherine V. He was creating too simple a formula. And he was
still trying to do it completely randomly. What if I square the attractiveness variable? What if I put a sine wave here or a fraction there? He needed to see the formula not as math, which he hated, but as language, which he loved.
So he started thinking of the formula as an attempt to communicate something. He started creating fractions within the variables so that they’d be easier to work with in a graph. He began to see before even inputting the variables how different formulas would render the Katherines, and as he did so the formula grew increasingly complicated, until it began to seem almost—how to put this not so dorkily—well, beautiful. After an hour parked in the car, the formula looked like this:
68That does not count as math, because one does not have to understand how it works or what it means in order to think that it looks sort of beautiful.
“I think that’s close,” he said finally.
“And I sure as shit don’t understand it at all, so you’ve succeeded in my eyes!” She laughed. “Okay, let’s go hang with the oldsters. ”
Colin had only been in a nursing home once. He and his dad drove to Peoria, Illinois, one weekend when Colin was eleven to visit Colin’s great-great-aunt Esther, who was in a coma at the time and therefore not very good company.
So he was pleasantly stunned by Sunset Acres. At a picnic table on the lawn outside, four old women, all wearing broad, straw hats, were playing a card game. “Is that Lindsey Lee Wells?” one of the women asked, and then Lindsey brightened and hastened over to the table. The women laid down their cards to hug Lindsey and pat her puffy cheeks. Lindsey knew them all by name—Jolene, Gladys, Karen, and Mona—and introduced Colin to them, whereupon Jolene took off her hat, fanned her face, and said, “My, Lindsey, you do have a nice-looking boyfriend, don’t you? No wonder you don’t come ’round to visit us no more. ”
“Aw, Jolene, he ain’t my boyfriend. I’m sorry I haven’t been around as much. I been so busy with school, and Hollis works me like a dog down at the store. ”