An Absolutely Remarkable Thing Page 1

Author: Hank Green

Series: The Carls #1

Genres: Fantasy , Science Fiction


Look, I am aware that you’re here for an epic tale of intrigue and mystery and adventure and near death and actual death, but in order to get to that (unless you want to skip to chapter 13—I’m not your boss), you’re going to have to deal with the fact that I, April May, in addition to being one of the most important things that has ever happened to the human race, am also a woman in her twenties who has made some mistakes. I am in the wonderful position of having you by the short hairs. I have the story, and so I get to tell it to you the way I want. That means you get to understand me, not just my story, so don’t be surprised if there’s some drama. I’m going to attempt to come at this account honestly, but I’ll also admit to a significant pro-me bias. If you get anything out of this, ideally it won’t be you being more or less on one side or the other, but simply understanding that I am (or at least was) human.

* * *

And I was very much feeling only human as I dragged my tired ass down 23rd Street at 2:45 A.M. after working a sixteen-hour day at a start-up that (thanks to an aggressively shitty contract I signed) will remain nameless. Going to art school might seem like a terrible financial decision, but really that’s only true if you have to take out gobs and gobs of student loans to fund your hoity-toity education. Of course, I had done exactly that. My parents were successful, running a business providing equipment to small and medium-sized dairy farms. Like, the little things you hook up to cows to get the milk out, they sold and distributed them. It was good business, good enough that I wouldn’t have had a lot of debt if I’d gone to a state school. But I did not do that. I had loans. Lots. So, after jumping from major to major (advertising, fine art, photography, illustration) and finally settling on the mundane (but at least useful) BFA in design, I took the first job that would keep me in New York and out of my old bedroom in my parents’ house in Northern California.

And that was a job at a doomed start-up funded by the endless well of rich people who can only dream the most boring dream a rich person can dream: being even more rich. Of course, working at a start-up means that you’re part of the “family,” and so when things go wrong, or when deadlines fly past, or when an investor has a hissy fit, or just because, you don’t get out of work until three in the morning. Which, honestly, I hated. I hated it because the company’s time-management app was a dumb idea and didn’t actually help people, I hated it because I knew I was just doing it for money, and I hated it because they asked the staff to treat it like their whole life rather than like a day job, which meant I didn’t have any time to spare to work on personal projects.


I was actually using my degree doing actual graphic design and getting paid enough to afford rent less than one year out of school. My work environment was close to technically criminal and I paid half of my income to sleep in the living room of a one-bedroom apartment, but I was making it work.

I fibbed just now. My bed was in the living room, but I mostly slept in the bedroom—Maya’s room. We weren’t living together, we were roommates, and April-from-the-past would want me to be very clear about that. What’s the difference between those two things? Well, mostly that we weren’t dating before we moved in together. Hooking up with your roommate is convenient, but it is also a little confusing when you lived together through much of college. Before finally hooking up and have now been a couple for more than a year.

If you happen to already live together, when does the “Should we move in together?” question come up? Well, for Maya and me, the question was “Can we please move that secondhand mattress out of the living room so that we can sit on a couch when we watch Netflix?” and thus far my answer had been “Absolutely not, we are just roommates who are dating.” Which is why our living room still had a bed in it.

I told you there would be drama.

Anyway, back to the middle of the night that fateful January evening. This shitty app had to get a new release into the App Store by the next week and I had been waiting for final approvals on some user interface changes, and whatever, you don’t care—it was boring work BS. Instead of coming in early, I stayed late, which has always been my preference. My brain was sucked entirely dry from trying to interpret cryptic guidance from bosses who couldn’t tell a raster from a vector. I checked out of the building (it was a coworking space, not even actual leased offices) and walked the three minutes to the subway station.

And then my MetroCard got rejected FOR NO REASON. I had another one sitting on my desk at work, and I wasn’t precisely sure how much money I had in my checking account, so it seemed like I should walk the three blocks back to the office just to be safe.

The walk sign is on, so I cross 23rd, and a taxicab blares its horn like I shouldn’t be in the crosswalk. Whatever, dude, I have the walk light. I turn to head back to the office and immediately I see it. As I approach, it becomes clear that it is a really . . . REALLY exceptional sculpture.

I mean, it’s AWESOME, but it’s also a little bit “New York awesome,” you know?

How do I explain how I felt about it? I guess . . . well . . . in New York City people spend ten years making something amazing happen, something that captures the essence of an idea so perfectly that suddenly the world becomes ten times clearer. It’s beautiful and it’s powerful and someone devoted a huge piece of their life to it. The local news does a story about it and everyone goes “Neat!” and then tomorrow we forget about it in favor of some other ABSOLUTELY PERFECT AND REMARKABLE THING. That doesn’t make those things unwonderful or not unique . . . It’s just that there are a lot of people doing a lot of amazing things, so eventually you get a little jaded.

So that’s how I felt when I saw it—a ten-foot-tall Transformer wearing a suit of samurai armor, its huge barrel chest lifted up to the sky a good four or five feet above my head. It just stood there in the middle of the sidewalk, full of energy and power. It looked like it might, at any moment, turn and fix that empty, regal stare on me. But instead it just stood there, silent and almost scornful, like the world didn’t deserve its attention. In the streetlight, the metal was a patchwork of black-as-night matte and mirror-reflective silver. And it clearly was metal . . . not some spray-painted cardboard cosplay thing. It was stunningly done. I paused for maybe five seconds before shivering both in the cold and in the gaze of the thing and then walking on.

And then I. Felt. Like. The. Biggest. Jerk.

I mean, I’m an artist working way too hard at a deeply uninteresting job to pay way too much in rent so I can stay in this place—so that I can remain immersed in one of the most creative and influential cultures on earth. Here in the middle of the sidewalk is a piece of art that was a massive undertaking, an installation that the artist worked on, possibly for years, to make people stop and look and consider. And here I am, hardened by big-city life and mentally drained by hours of pixel pushing, not even giving something so magnificent a second glance.

I remember this moment pretty clearly, so I guess I’ll mention it. I went back to the sculpture, got up on my tiptoes, and I said, “Do you think I should call Andy?”

The sculpture, of course, did nothing.

“Just stand there if it’s OK for me to call Andy.”

And so I made the call.

But first, some background on Andy!

You know those moments when your life shifts and you think, I will definitely, without a doubt, continue to love and appreciate and connect with all of these cool people I have spent so many years with, despite the fact that our lives are changing a great deal right now, and then instead you might as well unfriend them on Facebook because you ain’t never gonna see that dude again in your whole life? Well, Andy, Maya, and I had somehow (thus far) managed to avoid that fate. Maya and I had done it by occupying the same four hundred square feet. Andy, on the other hand, lived across town from us, and we didn’t even know him until junior year. Maya and I, by that point, were taking most of the same classes because, well, we really liked each other a lot. We were obviously going to be in the same group whenever there was a group project. But Professor Kennedy was dividing us up into groups of three, which meant a random third wheel. Somehow we got stuck with Andy (or probably, from his perspective, he got stuck with us).

I knew who Andy was. I had formed a vague impression of him that was mostly “that guy sure is more confident than he has any right to be.” He was skinny and awkward with printer-paper-pale skin. I assumed he began his haircuts by asking the stylist to make it look like he had never received a haircut. But he was always primed for some quip, and for the most part, those quips were either funny or insightful.

The project was a full brand treatment for a fictional product. Packaging was optional, but we needed several logo options and a style guide (which is like a little book that tells everyone how the brand should be presented and what fonts and colors are to be used in what situations). It was more or less a given that we would be doing this for some hip and groovy fictional company that makes ethical, fair-trade jeans with completely useless pockets or something. Actually, it was almost always a fictional brewery because we were college students. We were paying a lot of money to cultivate our taste in beer and be snobby about it.

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