Home > Turtles All the Way Down(3)

Turtles All the Way Down(3)
Author: John Green

“Yeah,” I said.

“You’re not anxious?” she asked. At some point, Dr. Singh had told Mom not to ask if I was feeling anxious, so she’d stopped phrasing it as a direct question.

“I’m fine.”

“You’ve been taking your meds,” she said. Again, not a direct question.

“Yeah,” I said, which was broadly true. I’d had a bit of a crack-up my freshman year, after which I was prescribed a circular white pill to be taken once daily. I took it, on average, maybe thrice weekly.

“You look . . .” Sweaty, is what I knew she meant.

“Who decides when the bells ring?” I asked. “Like, the school bells?”

“You know what, I have no idea. I suppose that’s decided by someone on the superintendent’s staff.”

“Like, why are lunch periods thirty-seven minutes long instead of fifty? Or twenty-two? Or whatever?”

“Your brain seems like a very intense place,” Mom answered.

“It’s just weird, how this is decided by someone I don’t know and then I have to live by it. Like, I live on someone else’s schedule. And I’ve never even met them.”

“Yes, well, in that respect and many others, American high schools do rather resemble prisons.”

My eyes widened. “Oh my God, Mom, you’re so right. The metal detectors. The cinder-block walls.”

“They’re both overcrowded and underfunded,” Mom said. “And both have bells that ring to tell you when to move.”

“And you don’t get to choose when you eat lunch,” I said. “And prisons have power-thirsty, corrupt guards, just like schools have teachers.”

She shot me a look, but then started laughing. “You headed straight home after school?”

“Yeah, then I gotta take Daisy to work.”

Mom nodded. “Sometimes I miss you being a little kid, but then I remember Chuck E. Cheese.”

“She’s just trying to save money for college.”

My mom glanced back down at her book. “You know, if we lived in Europe, college wouldn’t cost much.” I braced myself for Mom’s cost-of-college rant. “There are free universities in Brazil. Most of Europe. China. But here they want to charge you twenty-five thousand dollars a year, for in-state tuition. I just finished paying off my loans a few years ago, and soon we’ll have to take out ones for you.”

“I’m only a junior. I’ve got plenty of time to win the lottery. And if that doesn’t work out, I’ll just pay for school by selling meth.”

She smiled wanly. Mom really worried about paying for me to go to school. “You sure you’re okay?” she asked.

I nodded as the bell sounded from on high, sending me to history.

By the time I made it to my car after school, Daisy was already in the passenger seat. She’d changed out of the stained shirt she’d been wearing into her red Chuck E. Cheese polo, and was sitting with her backpack in her lap, drinking a container of school milk. Daisy was the only person I’d trusted with a key to Harold. Mom didn’t even have her own Harold key, but Daisy did.

“Please do not drink non-clear liquids in Harold,” I told her.

“Milk is a clear liquid,” she said.

“Lies,” I answered, and before we set off, I drove Harold over to the front entrance and waited while Daisy threw away her milk.

Maybe you’ve been in love. I mean real love, the kind my grandmother used to describe by quoting the apostle Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, the love that is kind and patient, that does not envy or boast, that beareth all things and believeth all things and endureth all things. I don’t like to throw the L-word around; it’s too good and rare a feeling to cheapen with overuse. You can live a good life without ever knowing real love, of the Corinthians variety, but I was fortunate to have found it with Harold.

He was a sixteen-year-old Toyota Corolla with a paint color called Mystic Teal Mica and an engine that clanked in a steady rhythm like the beating of his immaculate metallic heart. Harold had been my dad’s car—in fact, Dad had named him Harold. Mom never sold him, so he stayed in the garage for eight years, until my sixteenth birthday.

Getting Harold’s engine running after so long took all of the four hundred dollars I’d saved over the course of my life—allowances, change ferreted away when Mom sent me down the street to buy something at the Circle K, summer work at Subway, Christmas gifts from my grandparents—so, in a way, Harold was the culmination of my whole being, at least financially speaking. And I loved him. I dreamed about him quite a lot. He had an exceptionally spacious trunk, a custom-installed, huge white steering wheel, and a backseat bench clad in pebble-beige leather. He accelerated with the gentle serenity of the Buddhist Zen master who knows nothing really needs to be done quickly, and his brakes whined like metal machine music, and I loved him.

However, Harold did not have Bluetooth connectivity, or for that matter a CD player, meaning that while in Harold’s company, one had three choices: 1. Drive in silence; 2. Listen to the radio; or 3. Listen to Side B of my dad’s cassette of Missy Elliott’s excellent album So Addictive, which—because it would not eject from the cassette player—I’d already heard hundreds of times in my life.

And in the end, Harold’s imperfect audio system happened to be the last note in the melody of coincidences that changed my life.

Daisy and I were scanning stations in search of a song by a particular brilliant and underappreciated boy band when we landed upon a news story. “—Indianapolis-based Pickett Engineering, a construction firm employing more than ten thousand people worldwide, today—” I moved my hand toward the scan button, but Daisy pushed it away.

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