The world is a mess.
The world is a mess, you think, again and again, over and over, as you stare out the window and watch the city fall down around you, explode into thousands of stars, crumble into dust and cease to exist.
The world is a mess, and it's not your fault.
Some of it is your fault, maybe, some of it is because you weren't quick enough and you didn't do enough and you didn't want enough, and if you don't want hard and work hard then the universe fucks you over, so really it isn't your fault after all, unless it is. Some it is Hank's fault, you're sure.
People are always asking, did you know about Hank Green.
And in response you say, who the hell is Hank?
Hank is not his bank account.
Hank is not the clothes he wears.
Hank is not a tiny yellow song bird said to represent the soul of France. Hank is not a crumbling city.
Hank is the sum of his actions, and you've never been very good at math.
This isn't a history book, this won't make you eternal, no matter what Hank tells you. This is the beginning of the end. The middle of the end. The end of the end.
This is what you've been waiting for.
"This," he breathes, staring you straight in the eyes and pushing the gun further into your mouth, "is what they've had coming all along."
And you almost don't disagree.
Maybe we should back up a little bit.
Charlie is a nice kid, skinny and tall with an English accent and long brownish hair that gets all in your face when he wraps his arms around you and breathes deeply, in and out, in and out, and he's dying.
Everyone around you is dying. So are you, if at a slightly slower rate, but everyone here has cancer - eye cancer, lung cancer, testicular goddamn cancer. Charlie has chronic leukemia, some kind that usually only happens to the elderly but somehow forced its way into this poor seventeen year old kid's body in some fantastically improbable way. He still has his hair, still isn't quite a member of the death march that goes on in your everyday life, but he's dying.
The reason that he trusts you as someone to wrap his arms around at Cancer Support Group is that he thinks you're dying too. And you are, but not particularly of cancer. Not particularly of anything.
You are dying of life.
How did you end up here? It's a long and complicated story that isn't long or complicated in the least. You're a writer, and an insomniac, and when you can't sleep, you write, and when you can't write, you go fucking crazy.
Last year, you had the worst case of writer's block you've ever had. Got so bad you made yourself go in for a visit to the doctor.
It's not as bad as you think, your doctor said, just write what you know, your doctor said.
At least you're not dying, your doctor said.
And that's where your writer's block started chipping away, slowly, piece by piece.
Death, you decided. I want to write about death.
But you didn't know death, so you couldn't. Yet.
How does a living person come to know death, then? It's simple, simpler than you could have ever dreamed when you were young and broken and trying so hard to keep yourself alive: You surround yourself with it.
You seek it out.
You find it in hospitals, at funerals. You avoid the glares of people you don't know and who don't know you as you stare into the caskets, at the deathbeds of people you don't know and who didn't know you. You find it in old yearbooks and magazines. You find it at support groups for deadly conditions, tumors and parasites and other things that can kill in years and seconds, hours and long lifetimes.
You find it in places you don't belong.
Support Groups are your very favorite.
Hi I'm Insert-Name-Here, Hi Insert-Name-Here, How Are you Feeling Today, I'm Feeling Fine.
It's all very pointless, very futile, and somehow very cathartic.
You participate, even though you do not have tumors or parasites or any other things that are a side effect of death. You pretend that you do. You pretend that you are someone you are not, and it's exhilarating. For the first time in so, so long, you feel words screaming in your hands, pounding in your mind, begging to be written down and made into something worthwhile. For the first time, you feel like you could sleep.
Your name is Colin, Quentin, Miles, Gus. Hi, I have osteosarcoma. Hi, I have parasites eating at my brain. Hi, I'm going to die, and so are you.
Charlie cries, and you want to cry too.
"I'm sorry," he tells you, and you say "no, no, it's all right, you're all right," and he cries some more, and you wish desperately for your chest to tighten, for your eyes to sting, for something to happen, but nothing does. You wish you could cry. Normally you can cry, because Charlie is just a kid and you're wasting your life and the words just won't come out right whenever you try to put them down, but tonight you can't.
This is how you meet Toby Turner.
Toby Turner is a liar and an idiot and you wish he would die. You wish he was dying, like everybody else here in the heart of the Trinity Episcopal church at 7:46 PM on a Tuesday night. He won't tell anybody what kind of cancer he supposedly has, and he twitches constantly and rubs his palms on his jeans and bites the inside of his mouth, and he's a dirty liar.
Tonight you are Augustus, but Toby is so much worse than you will ever be.
You know this because you see him other places. Mondays, brain parasites. Thursdays, blood parasites. Wednesdays. Saturdays. Fridays.
You need this. You need this so much more than him and you're so close, god, you're so close to getting the words out of your head and onto paper, you promise you just need a few more weeks and then Toby Turner can have every support group he damn well wants, but right now you need this and he can just fuck off.
On Mondays, there's a girl. Sarah. She's small and thin and would be pretty if she wasn't already a corpse, and when you ask her what she wanted most in the world, she answers, I wanted kids. I wanted to curate a museum.
Toby doesn't deserve people like Sarah.
Toby doesn't deserve people like Charlie, and Charlie buries his face in your shoulder and sobs and he's just seventeen and you wish you were dying of something other than incurable life syndrome.
People are always asking, did you know about Hank Green.
People are always asking, when did you first meet Hank Green.
This is how you met Hank Green:
Hank makes speeches. Hank stands on streets and outside town halls, shouts about the environment, the overworked, undertaught sheep that inhabit the dying word, preaches to a deaf audience. No one even so much as looks his way. Not once.
Except you. You walk by him every day, and you stop, and you stare. You stare at his mouth, the way his teeth grit and the way his lips form the words you've tried so hard to get out of your hand, and you wonder whether he could help you.
One day, after many, many days of this, he steps down from both his proverbial and literal soapbox in the middle of a particularly loud rant about the virtues of not paying for cable television, and asks what you're doing.
"I, I," you say, because there's no excuse you can come up with that won't make you sound like a complete and utter pervert. I like listening to you talk. I like watching your mouth. I like your words. I don't want you to be ignored.
He smirks, puts a hand on your shoulder.
"I like you," he says, and hands you a card.
Hank Green, phone number, address. Soap Maker, Environmentalist, Entrepreneur.
You manage to tell him that he's interesting, and he says he knows he's interesting, thank you very much, and you don't know how to respond to that. You just laugh, and he laughs, and it's a rough sound that grates at your insides and makes you feel at home.
He tells you to call him, to consider the size of your carbon footprint, and walks away, whistling, hands in his pockets.
The next night, Monday, Sarah is dead. You were expecting it. You didn't want it to happen. You did want it to happen. You have something to cry about now. You can't cry.
Toby is here.
There's Toby, sitting in the back, arms crossed, leg bouncing up and down and up, nervous nervous nervous, nervous because he's a fake, nervous because he's a liar. Scared that he'll be caught.
You're not scared. You've been at this far too long to be nervous. Thing is, nobody cares enough to realize that you're not as sick as you let on, and if they do, they never have the heart to tell you.
Fake fake fake fake fake, he's a fake, he's an actor, he won't let you cry and it's all his fault that you can't sleep anymore, after a whole goddamn year of peace.
He's staring at you. He wants you to notice him. He's wearing a green hoodie and black Converse and all this stupid kid wants is for you to give him a passing glance while he's ruining your life.
You'll give him better.
You walk straight over to him during hug time, adjust your jacket awkwardly, and throw your arms around his shoulders.
"What are you doing?" he hisses, and you tell him that you'll make him a deal. You sound desperate. You don't care.
"No. No. No deal, you don't understand." Toby looks into your face and squints. His arms are pinned to his sides.
"You're very special to me, you know," you whisper, and something about it is a threat, but you aren't sure what. It comes from somewhere deep in your throat, in your chest, and you don't have cancer in either of those places. Today is a parasite day. "You're not sick."
Toby is a parasite.
"Neither are you."
Toby is a cancer.
"Get out," and you're shaking, and, "I need you to leave, please, Toby Turner, if you have even a single shred of decency left in you, then you will turn around and leave this room as soon as I let go of you and you will never come back, not on Mondays or Sundays or Thursdays or ever, okay? Please."
He stares at you some more, jaw trembling. Then he smiles.
"How about we split the week? I'll take Mondays--"
"No. No." You can't believe you're hearing this. He's a selfish, obnoxious kid, a liar, a faker, and he doesn't need this, he doesn't, so why is he even here?
(You're forgetting to imagine him complexly, says the part of your brain that hasn't said a single word since you started coming to support groups, and you shut it down immediately.)
"I - I need the whole thing." You lick your lips. Your throat is dry. "I need all of it."
"Then we'll have to share," Toby shrugs, and you tighten your arms around him as if you could choke him by his biceps. "Augustus."
He says the name just a little too loud, and Augustus is your cancer name, and tonight you are Colin. "Fine, fuck, fine, we'll split, okay?" you say with teeth clenched. "Okay."
So you split - he gets Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, you get Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, Sundays.
You don't have to think about Sarah anymore.
You don't have to think about Toby anymore, and when you see him walking out, you miss him a little bit, even though you don't miss him at all.
I'll never see him again, you think.
What a terrible thing it is to imagine that a person is somehow less than a person.
Words are floating behind your eyelids. You can't quite reach them, and your house is burning down.
Your house burned down.
You went to Florida for a job interview for three days, and your house burned down.
They don't know what happened, just keep telling you that maybe you left the gas on, or a candle lit under a curtain, and they ask if you have someone to stay with, and your house has burned down, and you have nothing.
None of your precious scraps of paper. Not your bed, or your kitchen table, or your bathroom door. Nothing.
You have the clothes on your back, and Hank Green's card in your pocket.
You don't have anything left. Not anything you've written in the past year. Not a single word.
All those lost words buzz like electricity in your fingers. Your head swims. No. No.
You needed this.
You need this.
You call Hank.
You aren't sure what to say, and when he asks what's up, you just say, "Oh god, Hank, my house burned down. Can I. What do I. Hank."
He tells you to come over, sure, why not, just follow the address on the card, and you say, I don't know where that is, and he says, yes you do.
Yes. You do.
But then you ask if you can just meet him at a bar instead, which you do, and after a few too many drinks he asks you why you called him.
"Because I had your card," you answer automatically, and maybe it was the wrong thing to say, but he's laughing again and you like it when he laughs.
"No, I mean really. Why did you call me?"
And you don't really know why either, but he wants you to say something, so you say, "Because I wanted to."
He looks at you. Scrutinizes you. Contemplates you. He considers your glasses, and your puffy hair, and he says, "You wanted a place to stay and I'm the only one you trusted."
A man walks into a bar and decides on a whim that he's going to change your life.
A man walks out of a bar and says, I want you to do me a favor.
A man stands in an empty bar parking lot at three in the morning and tells you to hit him as hard as you can.
Hank is not an imposing man. He's scrawny and blond with big glasses and maybe he was the kid that everyone picked on in school who wants revenge but was never brave enough to pick up a gun, or maybe he wasn't, but something in that moment, something about him terrifies you.
And then you laugh.
"Did you ever consider the size of your carbon footprint like I asked?"
He stares at you, tilts his head and looks up at you through the tops of his glasses, and wow, you realize, he really expects an answer.
"N-No?" you stammer. "I though you were being... Hypothetical. Rhetorical. Um." You're usually far more eloquent than this, you promise.
Something in his eyes snaps. "It was not," he growls, "a rhetorical request."
And you're back to terrified again, palms sweating, neck burning. Toby's face flashes in your mind.
"Just - just think about it, really think about it for a second, okay?" Hank flails his hands about wildly, pushes his glasses up on his nose, makes the air around you seem just a little too thick to breathe. "You are killing the world. You, and all your belongings, and all that carbon dioxide from that fire you didn't start that burned down your house. You are killing us. I am killing us. We are killing us. We are all on a suicide mission."
You stare at him.
"No, god, seriously!" He turns and slams his foot into the tire of the Toyota behind him. "Fuck the world, we all say. I need this, we all say. We're hurting the world, and we're hurting ourselves, and what we all need is to feel a little pain ourselves. Get a taste of our own shitty medicine."
You are breathless, but Hank is just out of air.
He gulps and gasps for breath, straightens his back. "So hit me. Hit me before I lose my nerve. I want to feel the earth."
There's something about Hank, something pleading and special and terrible, that makes you want to do it, so you lift your fist to the sky and pray for salvation that could never come from anyone but him.
The first rule of fight club is you don't talk about fight club.
The first rule of fight club is you don't wash the blood off your clothes, but you don't mention it when somebody notices.
The first rule of fight club is you ignore your missing teeth, and when you go to the emergency room you let Hank answer all the questions, and you do not talk about fight club.
A hundred men show up in the bar basement the first night, men you don't know and who don't know you. It's all because they're tired of themselves the way you're tired of your brain and the way Hank is tired of people, and they want to know more. More about themselves. More about the men they're fighting.
When you're fighting a man you've never met (or maybe you have, but at fight club he isn't the same man, because in fight club you don't exist like you exist everywhere else) you get to know him quite intimately, the precise way in which his skin tears and his blood flows and everything he's afraid of.
You know this because Hank knows this.
Hank knows this because your fist in his face brought him clarity he's never had before.
These men are all afraid of something, and most of them are scrawny and weak. Hank calls them his nerdfighters and asks them what they're made of.
The second rule of fight club is you don't talk about fight club.
Who would you fight?
I never knew my father.
The man across from you can be your father. The man you're punching repeatedly in the nose is anyone you want him to be.
"We are all just constructs," Hank explains every night after listing off the rules. "We are nothing but imaginary constructions made up by the people who love us."
He says, "It's time to deconstruct."
He says, "Now, you're nothing."
Who would you fight?
Toby Turner ruined your life.
The man across from you could be Toby Turner, but he isn't, and it's not the same.
Fight Club is Hank's idea, because he wants to continue to feel, and he wants to hurt, and he wants to fight back, and you go along with it because you'd go along with anything Hank did, even though you've only known him for a couple days.
It feels like you've known him for longer.
Hank was around a long time before you met him.
The first rule of fight club is you do not talk about fight club.
You find a book with your name in it, and this is how Hank meets Toby.
For a month, you've lived in Hank's house. Hank's old, abandoned hideout, more like.
No neighbors, he shrugs when you ask him. Nobody around to disrupt my thoughts.
You don't exactly believe it, but why press him for an answer he's not going to give you?
There's a room full of old, falling-apart books that he calls the library. It's not really a library, but you spend most of your time in there anyway. One night, when you should be sleeping and you can't, you find some medical book and flip it open to the first page.
I am John's brain.
I am John's pancreas.
I am John's medulla oblongata.
You are John's medulla oblongata, too, and John's ear lobes, and John's liver.
You are John's overblown sense of importance.
The phone rings, and you run to the kitchen to get it, but no. No. Hank picks up.
"Hi," he says, "oh god, oh wow, hi, I'm dying!"
Hank's brow furrows and he asks who is this and where are you and -
"No, oh man, I took - I took all of these pills, man, oh, and my soul is - I can see my soul." He exhales loudly. "God, please don't save me from this. Dying is so cool. Seriously, this is. I am. Oh man, I am just having a death party over here, you should totally come join me."
So Hank does.
Not join the death party, that is, but pays him a visit at the Hyatt after calling 911. Saves him.
Toby Turner is a liar and an idiot and you wish he would die, but Hank doesn't know that. Hank just thinks he's saving some poor, misguided kid's life.
And Toby says to Hank in the cab home, he says, "Gee, thanks for ruining my dramatic exit from the world. Now it's your responsibility to keep me up all night."
He leans in close and says in Hank's ear, "Hey, if I don't stay awake, I'll die."
And now you are stuck lying on your bed, on top of your sheets, fully clothed, trying to block out the sounds of Hank keeping Toby awake.
And you're losing sleep, but you keep dreaming that it's you and Toby instead, Toby and his twitchy nervousness, Toby and his stupid jokes that no one gets, even though you're fairly certain you're awake.
In the morning, Toby goes home, and Hank comes downstairs for breakfast while you stare into your too-black, too-cold coffee.
"Have fun last night?"
"Loads," he says, and he doesn't smile or frown.
I don't want to share you with him, you try not to say. I don't want to lose you.
"Just try not to fall in love," you mutter, and you roll your eyes.
"Don't call this love," he says.
You're perfectly okay with not calling it love, and you're not perfectly okay with anything else. You pretend that you are.
(Toby and Hank are never in the same room, you notice.)
Hank calls up factories and gives them statistics.
Did you know that you're responsible for insert-percentage-here of the world's pollution?
Did you know you're murdering us all?
We are all on a suicide mission, says the echo of his voice in your head. We are all trying to kill ourselves before something else gets to us.
The factories hang up, and Hank calls more.
Let's save the world, one sinner at a time.
We are all products of a blind society.
Toby is in the kitchen one morning and you ask him what he's doing there.
He looks hurt, confused, and you don't feel bad, because you want him out out out. That's all you want. That's all you've ever wanted.
How did he get your phone number in the first place?
There's a silence, and then Toby just leaves.
You are lying on your bed, and so is Hank, both your arms folded behind your heads, and you look at him, and you say, I think we should have been related.
You say, I think we could have been brothers.
And he says, who says we aren't?
A man walks into your life and drowns you until he's certain you appreciate air.
"How's Toby?" you ask, just to make small talk, which you hate, and he tells you that Toby is really fucked up.
"But at least he's trying to hit bottom," Hank says, almost apologetically. "You couldn't even imagine what bottom is like. Bottom for you is fucking insomnia."
You are John's reconsidered existence.
"Don't ever mention me to him."
"If you ever talk to him about me, I'm out."
"Do you promise?"
God Hank, I promise, okay?
He wants to burn the world down, so he starts with you.
Holding a match above your hand, he says, "It won't hurt that bad. I just want to make a point. Do you trust me?"
"I trust you."
And he lights your hand on fire.
You bite your lip to keep from screaming, clamp one foot down on the other, shut your eyes tight, and in the background of your pain, Hank is saying, "They used to burn people like us at the stake, and now they just burn everything else. This is how the world should feel. Don't you want to fight back now? Don't shut your eyes. Open them right now. Don't you want to fight?"
Yes, you nod, and you don't open your eyes, yes, I want to fight, I want to fight.
He takes the match away and lets you soak your hand.
"I'm still waiting for you to hit bottom," he says, crossing his arms. "You have to give up first."
Believe me, I'm trying.
Toby comes back to your house and demands to know what's wrong with you.
"You're such a douchebag!" he shouts, shrinking in on himself, wrapping his arms around his own chest. "I have called you twenty times since Wednesday."
I didn't hear the phone, you say, Hank's words bubbling up from your throat and coming out your mouth, but that seems a little excessive, doesn't it?
Hank laughs from wherever he is in the house, and Toby doesn't seem to hear it.
"I hate you," he shouts, "I hate you I hate you I hate you." He's like a child, sounds like he should be stomping his feet and rolling around on the ground, and he gives you the most pitiful look you've ever seen in your life, like you're the one he's been sleeping with. You wish Hank was here but you know he can't be. Toby is Hank's problem in the bedroom, and yours in the kitchen.
"Why are you doing this?" he asks. "Did I do something?"
You ruined my life.
"Can I just - stay the night?"
You start to ask why he would even want to. You don't want to give him the satisfaction.
You're starting to hate him a little bit less, and it scares you.
Maybe you're starting to become content in your hatred. Maybe you don't hate Toby Turner, you just hate the idea of Toby Turner. That wouldn't be so bad, except you don't want to live a flat-character life. You don't want to live on a page. You want to really hate and really live and goddamnit, you couldn't even do that until Hank showed up.
Toby isn't really Toby.
Toby is just a construct, imagined up by a man who hates him.
It's time to deconstruct.
It's time to imagine him complexly.
I don't think you've ever imagined me complexly, says Hank's voice in your head, and you punch it in the face until it goes away. Always works.
What do you know about Toby Turner, right now, as he stands in front of you? What do you know? Tear him apart. Go down to his bones and search, as if you've been there before.
You step closer.
He swallows hard.
You know that he is a scared, nervous little kid. You know that he is not sick, except in the head. You know he doesn't want to die, but would like to experience it at least once. You know that's he's a liar and an actor. You know that he is sleeping with Hank, and he wants you to care about him. Why not Hank? Why do you matter more? Maybe it's because you knew him first. All he wants in the world is for somebody to care. His hair is a mess, and his hoodie is too big.
You look into his eyes and say, stay here tonight.
You can hear him through the walls at night.
Toby and Hank.
But mostly Toby.
After that, you can't sleep, so you decide to go to your cancer support group.
One night can't hurt, right?
You've missed this.
There's no one there, though, just Charlie - Charlie who doesn't have his hair anymore, who is just as tall and a little bit skinnier. You can feel his bones when he hugs you and tells you he thought you were dead.
You say, I worried about that myself.
He tells you there's no support group here anymore, but there's a new place, and you're nearly bouncing you're so eager to go wherever it is that isn't here, and isn't where Toby Turner is.
"It's called fight club," he says, and his accent makes it so funny that you would be laughing if you weren't so horrified.
He tries to explain the rules, but you say, yeah, yeah, I know.
"Oh, you're a member?" His eyes widen.
You sigh and say, I guess you could say that.
"Oh, you must have been there from the very beginning. Do you know the guy who runs it? Hank Green?"
I guess you could say that too, you say to Charlie's skeleton, and you finally notice the bruise under his left eye.
After that, the newspapers start to talk about factories halting production, banks burning down.
These things happen more and more often.
The first rule of Project For Awesome? You don't ask questions about Project For Awesome.
"I'm making the world a better place," Hank says, because he explains if you don't ask, "one sinner at a time." He grins, and his mouth is full of teeth and blood.
He gives the nerdfighters an assignment one day: Go out. Pick a fight on the street. You can win or lose, you decide: Do you want to feel, or do you want to teach someone else to feel?
There is no such thing as a wrong decision, Hank says, but there is such a thing as a lie.
Everyone knows that Hank is lying. This is a test. You're supposed to lose.
"We want the world to feel, don't we?" And everyone nods. "We want them to understand that they're being selfish. Well. Two can play at that game, right, boys?"
And everyone nods again.
The point of Project For Awesome, Hank keeps saying, is to make the world a better place. To make everyone think. To make everyone feel.
The second rule of Project For Awesome is you don't ask questions.
It's all spiraling out of control.
You were there when he invented P4A; in fact, you're the reason. A kid came into fight club one night, clinging to Charlie's arm, with an accent like his and a pretty face. You didn't like the way Charlie was looking at him (you still don't), so when it was your turn to fight you pounded his face, his entire self into the ground and kept hitting and punching and destroying until he screamed for you to stop, so you stopped.
You wanted to destroy something beautiful, and you didn't think this guy deserved someone like Charlie.
Nobody deserves someone like Charlie, not even you.
You wanted to destroy something beautiful, so you did, and Hank was inspired.
To start over.
To get a fresh start.
To erase the scourge of history and receive a clean slate in return, on which he (we, he insists) could write anything he (we, he tells you again, feverishly, too close and too intense) wanted.
But Hank doesn't understand that this is not a history book. This is not eternal. History rewrites itself, repeats itself, over and over and over no matter what.
You don't have the heart to tell him.
He wants to bring in students, proteges to sleep in your basement.
In Project For Awesome, no one has a name.
Charlie and his little boyfriend are waiting on your porch the next day, one bag each, two mattresses next to them. Boyfriend has two black eyes and a swollen mouth, and he's still pretty.
"Tell them to go away," Hanks says, "and let them in if they stay for three days."
What do I tell them? you ask, and he just says, "See what they are, and tell them they are too much that. Too young, too fat. Too sick."
You nod and go outside to break Charlie's heart.
"Too young," you tell his boyfriend. "Leave, or I'll call the cops." He doesn't flinch.
You turn to Charlie.
"Too young?" he says, and slowly, you shake your head.
"Too..." You swallow. "It's not that kind of suicide club, McDonnell."
He doesn't flinch either.
Hank screams and insults them and throws their stuff around.
They don't move.
You go out to beg them, plead for them to just go, please go, please leave.
On the third day, Hank tells them to come in the house.
The house is always full, and in the news men wearing black shirts and pants are always getting into fights or breaking into factories or planting trees, one or the others. It's always something.
Hank is never home.
You're worried. You miss him. You never say a word.
Toby comes over, and you decide that you hate the idea of Toby but not the person Toby, so you let him badger you into taking a walk down the empty street at midnight and you talk about everything but Hank. He never asks where Hank is, but you wouldn't know what to tell him even if he did.
It's thirty seven degrees and even though he's wearing short sleeves, he gives you that goddamned hoodie when you start to shiver.
You wish you could fall in love.
You wish you could sleep.
You wish you could cry, because Toby's just a kid and you haven't written a word in months.
You walk in, and it's colder than thirty seven degrees. It is freezing. It is below freezing. It is frozen, and so are you.
You gave Toby his hoodie back before he left. You wish you hadn't.
"What's going on?" you ask, and no one answers. So you ask again. Scream it.
The nerdfighters look uncomfortable. They shift from foot to foot, and one mumbles, "The first rule of P4A is you don't ask--"
"I know the damn rules, now tell me what's going on."
One of them slowly steps forward and peels a blanket off the table in the middle of the room, and oh. Oh god. Oh no. Your knees buckle and you want to vomit. You want to vomit. You want Hank back. You want Toby's hoodie. You want to vomit.
"We were on a mission, sir, and he--"
"Fuck missions!" you yell. There are tears in your eyes. You are crying. You are not crying yet. "Fuck this Project For Awesome, fuck all of you!"
You stumble forward, run to the table as fast as you can without breaking yourself, and there's Charlie, bloody and blackened and dead dead dead, he's not alive anymore and it wasn't even the fucking cancer that got to him, and it's not that kind of suicide club, but it is, it is, and it always has been.
The Project is over, you say. The Project has served its purpose. You touch Charlie's hairless head and there's a hole in his stomach and his eyes are open.
He turned eighteen last month.
You wonder if Hank would even care.
Boyfriend is in the corner breathing deeply, in and out, in and out, and Charlie is dead.
"Um, sir," one says hesitantly. "You can't just cancel P4A."
"Yes I can. Yes I can. I am the closest thing to Hank Green we have right now and I say we're shutting it down, fuck Hank, fuck the Project. Fuck." You grab fistfuls of Charlie's bloody shirt and sob, sob, sob.
"What do we do with the body?"
"Do we hide it in the garden?"
"No! No!" You breathe. You breathe. You wish you couldn't breathe. "We're giving Charlie a proper burial, okay? Okay?"
There is a noise of deep concern from the crowd, and that same stupid nerdfighter says, "Charlie? We don't have names in P4A, sir."
You have never been this angry in your life. You would suddenly give anything for them all to stop thinking like Hank and think like normal human beings for just. one. second. Where is Hank? Why isn't he here?
What would he think?
"This kid," you say, voice shaking, "is Charlie. His name is Charlie McDonnell. He has a name, and we are going to bury him, and he is dead because of you."
"His name is Charlie McDonnell," the guy repeats quietly, then again. Louder. "His name is Charlie McDonnell."
"Only in death do we have names," says another.
No, no, you don't understand, you want to say, you don't get it, but they're chanting, louder and louder and louder.
His name is Charlie McDonnell.
You are John's Complete Emotional Breakdown.
You wake up at SeaTac.
You wake up all around the world, in airports and on airplanes and everywhere.
You wake up at Northwestern.
You will find Hank, and he will explain this to you.
You see Charlie's face in the dreams that you don't have, in the nightmares that haunt you at every waking hour.
A man walks into a bar and the bartender says, "How are you today, Hank?"
Your heart stops and starts and stops and starts and you are acutely aware of this.
"What did you say?"
His eyes narrow, and again, he calls you the wrong name with the wrong inflection and everything is wrong.
The world is a mess, and you can't handle it.
You are not Hank.
"I'm not Hank."
You go back and forth, I'm Not Hank, Yes You Are, No I'm Not, until finally he wins and you leave.
A man walks out of a bar, and he isn't the same man he was when he walked in.
You call Toby from your hotel room.
In lieu of hello, you say, "Have we had sex?"
Again: "Toby, I need you to tell me, have we had sex with each other?"
He's quiet for a moment. You can hear him breathing.
He says, "What are you playing at, Hank?"
You inhale, and the air hurts your tired lungs but you need it now more than ever. "How did we meet?"
"How did we meet? I - god. At the support groups, are you okay? What's wrong with you, Hank, do you need me to come pick you up from somewhere?"
He keeps calling you Hank and you don't know of anything else to say, so you say, "I'm so sorry, Toby," and hang up.
And when you turn around, Hank is there.
"You broke your promise," he says.
And you say, can you really break a promise if you just made it to yourself?
Hank laughs, and it's a rough sound that grates at your insides and makes you feel like you're dying or maybe just falling into a coma.
"Oh believe me," he says, kneeling at the foot of your bed, pushing up his glasses. "You can."
He says, "I'm glad you figured it out on your own."
He says, "What are you going to do now?"
You say, "What about Toby?"
"Toby loves you."
Toby loves you.
"Toby doesn't know the difference."
Toby doesn't know the difference between you and Hank. How could he? There is no difference. Yes, there is.
"You're not even here," you say, and you're proud that your voice is only shaking a little bit as you reach up to adjust your glasses. "You're just a hallucination."
There's a guitar at home.
Hank writes music, and you've never touched a guitar in your life.
Hank raises an eyebrow.
"Or maybe that's you."
It's not true.
You know this because Hank knows this.
"I'm going to kill you, and you're going to be an example."
You wake up at home.
You wake up in Hank's car. Your car. It's somebody's car, and you're awake in it.
"Oh, good." Hank smiles like he's genuinely happy. There, we're all right. There, we can be friends again. "You're awake."
Hank tells you again that he's going to kill you, and you wish he was lying.
"Remember, we're all just constructs," he says, "some of us more than others."
We are all just constructs made up by people who love us, so where the hell are we when nobody loves us?
We are all constructs.
You love Hank.
Time to self-destruct, now.
"This factory is going to explode. There's a bomb in it, and then they'll see."
Hank has a gun, and the gun is in your mouth.
Hank has a bomb, and the bomb is in a factory directly across from the building you're in now.
The factory across from you could be Toby Turner.
"This," he breathes, staring you straight in the eyes and pushing the gun further into your mouth, "is what they've had coming all along."
Four minutes, he says.
You don't mind if you die now. You're just glad you aren't dying.
"What are you - no, wait!" shouts somebody, and the Somebody is Toby. There are some nerdfighters behind him, pinning his arms behind his back. They let him go and hurry back down the stairs as soon as they see you. "Oh god, Hank, don't do it. I don't - what's--"
Hank is gone now, and you're just some guy on the top floor of some building holding some gun in your mouth in front of a very confused man who doesn't know quite who you are.
You won't really die, you realize. You're just killing Hank.
"I'm not Hank!" you yell. "I'm killing Hank, I'm not Hank!"
"I love you!" Toby yells back. "I think! Maybe! So please don't shoot yourself. Stop!"
You do stop. For a second.
"I like you a lot too, Toby Turner," you shout. And then you pull the trigger.
It hurts like hell, but you're not dead.
The world behind you explodes, and you're still not dead.
The world is a mess, you think as you turn around, blood still flowing from your face, and Toby runs up and doesn't say anything at all.
The world is a mess. The city is crumbling. The factory is falling down.
You met me at a very strange time in my life, you tell him, and you smile.
There are words swimming in front of your eyes, just within your grasp, and you feel like you could sleep.
You write a story in your head and decide to put it down on paper when you have time.