It was so pathetically easy to forget about Chuck, to talk about prom even though I didn’t give a shit about prom. Such was life that morning: nothing really mattered much, not the good things and not the bad ones. We were in the business of mutual amusement, and we were reasonably prosperous.
“Did you know that for pretty much the entire history of the human species, the average life span was less than thirty years? You could count on ten years or so of real adulthood, right? There was no planning for retirement. No planning for a career. There was no planning … And now life has become the future. Every moment of your life is lived for the future.”
Even though I could see her there, I felt entirely alone among these big and empty buildings, like I’d survived the apocalypse and the world had been given to me, this whole and amazing and endless world, mine for the exploring.
“It’s a paper town. I mean, look at it, Q: look at all those cul-de-sacs, those streets that turn in on themselves, all the houses that were built to fall apart. All those paper people living in their paper houses, burning the future to stay warm. All the paper kids drinking beer some bum bought for them at the paper convenience store. Everyone demented with the mania of owning things. All the things paper-thin and paper-frail. And all the people, too. I’ve lived here for eighteen years and I have never once in my life come across anone who cares about anything that matters.
“I didn’t need you, you idiot. I picked you. And then you picked me back … And that’s like a promise. At least for tonight. In sickness and in health. In good times and in bad. For richer, for poorer. Till dawn do us part.”
And I wanted to tell her that the pleasure for me was in planning or doing or leaving: the pleasure was in seeing our strings cross and separate and then come back together.
[M]aybe Margo needed to see my confidence. Maybe this time she wanted to be found, and to be found by me. Maybe — just as she had chosen me on the longest night, she had chosen be again. And maybe untold riches awaited he who found her.
I refused to feel any kind of sadness over the fact that I wasn’t going to prom, but I had — stupidly, embarrassingly — thought of finding Margo, and getting her to come home with me just in time for prom, like late on Saturday night, and we’d walk into the Hilton ballroom wearing jeans and ratty T-shirts, and we be just in time for the last dance, and we’d dance while everyone pointed at us and marveled at the return of Margo, and then we’d fox-trot the hell out of there and go get ice cream at Friendly’s.
Standing before this building, I learn something about fear. I learn that it is not the idle fantasies of someone who maybe wants something important to happen to him, even if the important thing is horrible … This fear is bears no analogy to any fear I knew before. This is the basest of all possible emotions, the feeling that was with us before we existed, before this building existed, before the earth existed. This is the fear that made fish crawl onto dry land and evolve lungs, the fear that teaches us to run, the fear that makes us bury our dead.
YOU WILL GO TO THE PAPER TOWNS
AND YOU WILL NEVER COME BACK
“Let me give you some advice: let her come home. I mean, at some point, you gotta stop looking up at the sky, or one of these days you’ll look back down and see that you floated away, too.”
“You know your problem, Quentin? You keep expecting people not to be themselves. I mean, I could hate you for being massively unpunctual and for never being interested in anything other than Margo Roth Spiegelman, and for, like, never asking me about how it’s going with my girlfriend — but I don’t give a shit, man, because you’re you.”
“I know it’s impossible for you to see peers this way, but when you’re older, you’ll start to see them — the bad kids and the good kids and all kids — as people. They’re just people, who deserve to be cared for. Varying degrees of sick, varying degrees of neurotic, varying degrees of self-actualized.”
“The longer I do my job … the more I realize that humans lack good mirrors. It’s so hard for anyone to show us how we look, and so hard for us to show anyone who we feel.”
The fundamental mistake I had always made — and that she had, in fairness, always led me to make — was this: Margo was not a miracle. She was not an adventure. She was not a fine and precious thing. She was a girl.
I couldn’t help but think about school and everything else ending. I liked standing just outside the couches and watching them — it was a kind of sad I didn’t mind, and so I just listened, letting all the happiness and the sadness of this ending swirl around in me, each sharpening the other. For the longest time, it felt kind of like my chest was cracking open, but not precisely in an unpleasant way.
“I know you want to find her. I know she is t he most important thing to you. And that’s cool. But we graduate in, like, a week. I’m not asking you to abandon the search. I’m asking you to come to a party with your two best friends who you have known for half your life.”
It is so hard to leave — until you leave. And then it is the easiest goddamned thing in the world.
I blame her for this ridiculous, fatal chase — for putting us at risk, for making me into the kind of jackass who would stay up all night and drive too fast. I would not be dying were it not for her. I would have stayed home, and I have always stayed home, and I would have been safe, and I would have done the one thing I have always wanted to do, which is grow up.
“Oh bullshit. You didn’t come here to make sure I was okay. You came here because you wanted to save poor little Margo from her troubled little self, so that I would be oh-so-thankful to my knight in shining armor that I would strip my clothes off and beg you to ravage my body.”
“People love the idea of a paper girl. They always have. and the worst thing is that I loved it, too. I cultivated it, you know … Because it’s kind of great, being an idea that everybody likes. But I could never be the idea to myself, not all the way.”
She can see it in my face — I understand now that I can’t be her and she can’t be me. Maybe Whitman had a gift I don’t have. But as for me: I must ask the wounded man where he is hurt, because I cannot become the wounded man. The only wounded man I can be is me.
Imagining isn’t perfect. You can’t get all the way inside someone else. I could never have imagined Margo’s anger at being found, or the story she was writing over. But imagining being someone else, or the world being something else, is the only way in.
When did we see each other face-to-face? Not until you saw into my cracks and I saw into yours. Before that, we were just looking at ideas of each other, like looking at your window shade but never seeing inside. But once the vessel cracks, the light can get in. The light can get out.
After we kiss, our foreheads touch as we stare at each other. Yes, I can see her almost perfectly in this cracked darkness.