An Abundance of Katherines, Page 25John Green
“I would love to be like that. ”
“Yeah, except you wouldn’t, I don’t think. People are supposed to care. It’s good that people mean something to you, that you miss people when they’re gone. I don’t miss Colin at all. I mean, literally. I only ever liked the idea of being his girlfriend—and that is just such a goddamned waste! That’s what I realized—that’s what I cried about the whole way home. Here’s Hollis, really doing something for people. I mean, she works all the goddamned time and now I know it’s not for herself; it’s for all these fugging people in Sunset Acres who get a pension that pays for their diapers. And it’s for everybody at the factory. ”
“. . . ”
“I used to be an okay person, you know. But now I. Never. Do. Anything. For anybody. Except retards I don’t even give a shit about. ”
“But people still like you. All the oldsters, everybody at the factory . . . ”
“Right. Yeah. But they like me as they remember me, not as I am now. I mean, honestly, Colin, I’m the world’s most self-centered person. ”
“. . . ”
“Are you there?”
“It just occurred to me that in point of fact what you just said can’t be true because I am the world’s most self-centered person. ”
“Or maybe we’re tied. Because I’m the same, right? What did I ever do for anyone?”
“Didn’t you stay behind Hassan and let, like, a thousand hornets sting you?”
“Oh. Yeah. There was that. Okay, you’re the world’s most self-centered person after all. But I’m close!”
“Come here. ”
“I am here. ”
“More here. ”
“Yes. Better. ”
“So what do you do about it? How do you fix it?”
“That’s what I was thinking about before you came. I was thinking about your mattering business. I feel like, like, how you matter is defined by the things that matter to you. You matter as much as the things that matter to you do. And I got so backwards, trying to make myself matter to him. All this time, there were real things to care about: real, good people who care about me, and this place. It’s so easy to get stuck. You just get caught in being something, being special or cool or whatever, to the point where you don’t even know why you need it; you just think you do. ”
“You don’t even know why you need to be world-famous; you just think you do. ”
“Yeah. Exactly. We’re in the same boat, Colin Singleton. But it didn’t really fix the problem, getting popular. ”
“I don’t think you can ever fill the empty space with the thing you lost. Like getting TOC to date you doesn’tfix the Alpo event. I don’t think your missing pieces ever fit inside you again once they go missing. Like Katherine. That’s what I realized: if I did get her back somehow, she wouldn’t fill the hole that losing her created. ”
“Maybe no girl can fill it. ”
“Right. Being a world-famous Theorem-creator wouldn’t, either. That’s what I’ve been thinking, that maybe life is not about accomplishing some bullshit markers. Wait, what’s funny?”
“Nothing it’s just, like—I was thinking that your realization is like if a heroin addict suddenly said, ‘You know, maybe instead of always doing more heroin, I should, like, not do heroin. ’”
“. . . ”
“. . . ”
“. . . ”
“. . . ”
“I think I know who’s buried in the Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s tomb, and I don’t think it’s the Archduke. ”
“I knew you’d figure it out! Yeah, I already know. My great-grandfather. ”
“You knew?! Fred N. Dinzanfar, that anagramming bastard. ”
“All the old-timers here know. He insisted on it in his will, supposedly. But then a couple years ago, Hollis had us put up the sign and start giving tours—now I realize it was probably for the money. ”
“It’s funny, what people will do to be remembered. ”
“Well, or to be forgotten, because someday no one will know who’s really buried there. Already a lot of kids at school and stuff think the Archduke is really buried here, and I like that. I like knowing one story and having everyone else know another. That’s why those tapes we made are going to be so great one day, because they’ll tell stories that time has swallowed up or distorted or whatever. ”
“Where’d your hand go?”
“It’s sweaty. ”
“I don’t mi—oh hi. ”
“. . . ”
“. . . ”
“Did I tell you I dumped one of the Katherines?”
“You what? No. ”
“I did, apparently. Katherine the Third. I just completely misremembered it. I mean, I always assumed that all the things I did remember were true. ”
“Well, but it’s not as good a story if you dumped her. That’s how I remember things, anyway. I remember stories. I connect the dots and then out of that comes a story. And the dots that don’t fit into the story just slide away, maybe. Like when you spot a constellation. You look up and you don’t see all the stars. All the stars just look like the big fugging random mess that they are. But you want to see shapes; you want to see stories, so you pick them out of the sky. Hassan told me once you think like that, too—that you see connections everywhere—so you’re a natural born storyteller, it turns out. ”
“I never thought about it like that. I—huh. It makes sense. ”
“So tell me the story. ”
“What? The whole thing?”
“Yeah. Romance, adventure, morals, everything. ”
The Beginning, and the Middle, and the End
“Katherine I was the daughter of my tutor Krazy Keith, and she asked me to be her boyfriend one night at my house, and I said yes, and then about two minutes and thirty seconds later she dumped me, which seemed funny at the time, but now, in retrospect, it’s possible that those two minutes and thirty seconds were among the most significant time periods of my life.
“K-2 was a slightly pudgy eight-year-old from school, and she showed up at my house one day and said there was a dead rat in the alley and, being eight, I ran outside to see the dead rat, but instead I found only her best friend Amy, and Amy said, ‘Katherine likes you and will you be her boyfriend?’ and I said yes, and then eight days later Amy showed up at my door again to say that Katherine didn’t like me anymore and wouldn’t be going with me from there on out.
“Katherine III was a perfectly charming little brunette whom I met my first summer at smart-kid camp, which would in time come to be the place for child prodigies to pick up chicks, and since it makes a better story, I choose to remember that she dumped me one morning on the archery course after this math prodigy named Jerome ran in front of her bow and fell to the ground, claiming he’d been shot by Cupid’s arrow.
“Katherine IV, aka Katherine the Red, was a mousy redhead with red-plastic rimmed glasses whom I met in Suzuki violin lessons and she played beautifully and I played hardly at all because I could never be bothered to practice and so after four days she dumped me for a piano prodigy named Robert Vaughan who ended up playing a solo concert at Carnegie Hall when he was eleven, so I guess she made the right call there.
“In fifth grade, I went out with K-5, widely reputed to be the nastiest girl in school because she always seemed to be the one who started lice outbreaks, and she kissed me on the lips out of nowhere during recess one day while I was trying to read Huck Finn in the sandbox, and that was my first kiss, and later that day she dumped me because boys were gross.
“Then after a six-month dry spell, I met Katherine VI during my third year at smart-kid summer camp, and we went together for a record seventeen days and she was excellent at both pottery and pull-ups, two fields of endeavor at which I have never excelled, and although between us we coul
d have made an unstoppable force of intelligence and upper-body strength and coffee mug-making, she dumped me anyway.
“And then came middle school and the severe unpopularity commenced in earnest, but the nice thing about being on the near end of the cool curve is that periodically people will take pity on you, such as sixth grade’s Katherine the Kind, a sweetheart who wore a frequently snapped training bra and whom everyone called pizza face due to an acne problem that wasn’t even that bad, and who eventually broke up with me not because she realized I was damaging what minuscule social standing she had but because she felt that our month-long relationship had hurt my academic pursuits, which she believed to be very important.
“The Eighth wasn’t quite so sweet, and maybe I should have known it since her name, Katherine Barker, anagrams into Heart Breaker, Ink, like she’s a veritable CEO of Dumping, but anyway she asked me out on a date and then I said yes and then she called me a freak and said I didn’t have any pubes and that she would never seriously go out with me—all of which, to be fair, was true.
“K-9 was in sixth grade when I was in seventh, and she was by far the best-looking Katherine to date with her cute chin and the dimples in her cheeks, and her skin perennially tan, not unlike you, and she thought that dating an older man might be good for her social status, but she was wrong.
“Katherine X—and yes by then I had realized certainly that this was an awfully odd statistical anomaly, but I wasn’t actively pursuing Katherines so much as I was actively pursuing girlfriends—was a smart-kid-summer-camp conquer, and I won her heart by, you guessed it, running in front of her bow on the archery course and claiming I’d been shot by Cupid’s arrow, and she was the first girl I ever French-kissed, and I didn’t know what to do so I sort of kept darting my tongue out from behind closed lips like I was a snake, and it didn’t take very much of that for her to want to be just friends.
“K-11 wasn’t so much a dating thing as a going-to-the-movies-once-and-holding-hands-and-then-me-calling-and-her-mother-saying-she-wasn’t- home-and-then-her-never-calling-me-back thing, but I’d argue it counts, due to hand-holding and also due to the fact that she called me a genius.
“At the start of the second semester of ninth grade, a new girl showed up from New York and she was as rich as they come, but she hated being rich and loved The Catcher in the Rye, and she said I reminded her of Holden Caulfield, presumably because we were both self-absorbed losers, and she liked me because I knew a lot of languages and had read a lot of books, and then she broke up with me after twenty-five days because she wanted a boyfriend who didn’t spend so much time reading and learning languages.
“By then I had met Hassan, and for about ten years, I’d had an obsessive crush on this brunette with blue eyes from school whom I’d always called Katherine the Best and Hassan played like Cyrano and told me exactly how to woo her because as we know from Katrina, Hassan is actually quite good at that stuff, and it worked and I loved her and she loved me and it lasted for three months, until November of tenth grade, when she finally broke up with me because she said, and I am quoting directly here, that I was both ‘too smart and too dumb’ for her, which marked the beginning of Katherines having ridiculous, idiotic, and frequently oxymoronic reasons for breaking up with me.
“A pattern that continued with the always-clad-in-black Katherine XIV, who I met that spring when she came up to me at a coffee shop and asked if I was reading Camus, which I was, and I said I was, and then she asked if I had ever read Kierkegaard, and I said I had because I had, and then by the time we left the coffee shop we were holding hands and her phone number was in my brand-new cell phone, and she liked to take me for walks on the lakeshore, where we’d watch the waves crashing against the rocks on the shoreline, and she said there was only one metaphor, and that the metaphor was water beating against rocks—because, she said, both the water and the rocks ended up worse off in the bargain, and then when she dumped me in the same coffee shop where we’d met three months before, she said she was the water and I was the rocks and we were just going to keep going at each other till there was nothing left of either of us—and when I pointed out that, really, water doesn’t suffer any negative effects whatsoever from slowly eroding the rocks on the lakeshore, she allowed as to how that was true but dumped me anyway.
“And then that summer at camp I met K-15, who had that kind of puppy-dog face with the big brown eyes and drooping eyelids that just sort of made you want to take care of her, only she didn’t want me to take care of her, because she was a very empowered feminist who liked me because she thought I was the great mind of my generation, but then she decided I would never be—and again I’m quoting—‘an artist,’ which was apparently cause for dismissal even though I had never claimed to be an artist—and in fact if you have listened closely you have already heard me freely admit that I suck at pottery.
“And then after a horrendous dry spell, I met Katherine XVI on the roof deck of a hotel in Newark, New Jersey, during an Academic Decathlon tournament in October of my junior year, and we had about as wild and torrid an affair as you can possibly have over the course of fourteen hours at an Academic Decathlon tournament, which is to say that at one point we had to kick her three roommates out of her hotel room so we could make out properly, but then even after I emerged from the tournament with nine gold medals—I sucked at Speech—she dumped me on account of how she had a boyfriend back home in Kansas and she didn’t want to dump him, so I was the next logical person to dump.
“Katherine XVII I met—I’m not going to lie about it—on the Internet the next January, and she had a pierced nose with a ring in it and had this immensely impressive vocabulary with which she was able to talk about in-die rock—one of the words she used that I didn’t initially know the definition of was, in fact, ‘indie’—and it was fun to listen to her talk about music and one time I helped her dye her hair, but then she broke up with me after three weeks because I was sort of ‘emo nerd’ and she was more looking for ‘emo core. ’