“Wow.” He turns his head to look at me and I can see him trying to come to terms with just how sick I am.
I look away. “The settlement paid for it.” Before he can ask I add: “The trucker who killed my dad and brother fell asleep behind the wheel. He’d been working three shifts in a row. They settled with my mom.”
He turns his head back towards the ceiling. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s strange because I don’t really remember them. Meaning I don’t remember them at all.” I try to ignore the feelings that surface when I think about them. There’s sadness that’s not quite sadness, and then guilt. “It’s weird to miss something you’ve never had or don’t remember having, anyway.”
“Not so weird,” he says. We’re both quiet and he closes his eyes.
“Do you ever wonder what your life would be like if you could just change one thing?” he asks.
Not usually, but I’m starting to. What if I weren’t sick? What if my dad and brother hadn’t died? Not wondering about impossible things is how I’ve managed to be relatively Zen.
“Everyone thinks they’re special,” he says. “Everyone’s a snowflake, right? We’re all unique and complicated. We can never know the human heart, and all that?”
I nod slowly, certain I agree with what he’s saying now, but equally certain that I’m going to disagree with whatever’s next.
“I think that’s nonsense. We’re not snowflakes. We’re just outputs for a set of inputs.”
I stop nodding. “Like a formula?”
“Exactly like a formula.” He props himself up to his elbows and looks at me. “I think there are one or two inputs that matter the most. Figure those out and you’ve figured out the person. You can predict anything about them.”
“Really? What am I going to say now?”
He winks at me. “You think I’m a brute, a heretic, a—”
“A crackpot,” I complete for him. “You don’t really believe we’re math equations?”
“I might.” He lies back down.
“But how do you know which input to change?” I ask.
He sighs a long, suffering sigh. “Yeah, that’s the problem. Even if you could figure out which one to change, then how much should you change it? And what if you can’t change it precisely enough? Then you couldn’t predict the new output. You could make things worse.”
He sits up again. “Imagine, though, if you could just change the right inputs you could fix things before they went wrong.” He says this last part quietly, but with the frustration of someone who’s been trying to solve the same unsolvable problem for a long time now. Our eyes meet and he looks embarrassed, like he’s revealed more than he meant to.
He lies back down and throws a forearm across his eyes. “The problem is chaos theory. There are too many inputs to the formula and even the small ones matter more than you think. And you can never measure them precisely enough. But! If you could, you could write a formula to predict the weather, the future, people.”
“But chaos theory says you can’t?”
“You needed a whole branch of mathematics to tell you that people are unpredictable?”
“Had that figured out, did you?”
“Books, Olly! I learned it from books.”
He laughs, rolls onto his side, and laughs some more. He’s infectious and I’m laughing, too, my whole body responding to him. I watch for the dimple that I’m no longer supposed to be paying attention to. I want to put my finger into it and keep him smiling forever.
Maybe we can’t predict everything, but we can predict some things. For example, I am certainly going to fall in love with Olly.
It’s almost certainly going to be a disaster.
ob•ses•sion (əbˈseSHən) n. pl. -s. 1. acute (and completely justifiable) interest in something (or someone) acutely interesting. [2015, Whittier]
My constant IMing with Olly is catching up with me. I fall asleep during not one but two movie nights with my mom. She begins worrying that something’s wrong, that my immune system is compromised somehow. I tell her it’s simpler than that. I’m just not getting enough sleep. I guess I understand why, given our situation, her doctor’s brain would go immediately to the worst-case scenario. She tells me what I already know, that lack of sleep is not good for someone with my condition. I promise to be better. That night I only IM with him until 2 a.m. instead of our usual 3 a.m.
It feels strange not to talk to my mom about something, someone, who’s becoming so important to me. My mom and I are drifting apart, but not because we’re spending less time together. And not because Olly’s replacing her. We’re drifting apart because for the first time in my life, I have a secret to keep.