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From Chapter 4

That year, Henry’s physicality changed. He experienced a growth spurt, which made him appear skinnier. Pimples flourished in his face. His eyesight grew worse, and he had to get thicker glasses.

While walking in the hall one day, he passed a group of older boys. They turned to watch as Henry walked by.  One of them coughed loudly, and Henry thought he heard something under the cough. Then another one of them coughed, and Henry knew immediately that the boys were saying something – a single word that they were concealing under their coughs. When the third boy coughed, Henry finally understood the word: “nerd.”

Henry stopped going to the Catholic church and threw himself into science. It was isolating and lonely, but he relished the social silence and cherished the acquisition of knowledge. The seed planted by The Origin of Species flourished into an ecosystem of scientific facts that rationally made little sense but brought him peace of mind.

In a mid-October science class, as the boys and girls took their seats, one of the boys who called Henry a nerd a few weeks earlier now approached him.

“Kreiser, can I ask you a question about the homework?”

Henry didn’t answer or even look the boy in the face. He just turned over the paper on his desk to conceal his work.

The teacher pulled down the screen. “So … primates, including humans, are highly social. Their well-being, their social status, and therefore the likelihood they will pass on their genes is highly dependent on their ability to socialize.”

As the teacher moved to the projector in the back, Henry shot his hand up. “Henry?”

“Right. But when humans developed thumbs they became different.”

“Yes. Well, it’s not exactly like that.” The teacher turned down the lights.

“Yes, it is,” Henry insisted. “They developed thumbs and then got bigger brains, which means they acted differently.”

“No, Henry. That’s only partially right. But it’s off topic anyway. We’ll discuss how evolution gave rise to these things later in the year.”

“Yeah. But that’s how we—”

“Henry! May I play the movie?!”

Everybody looked at Henry. He blushed from the sudden attention. He looked at Sally, who stared at him in disbelief for a second then turned away, embarrassed for him.

On the screen the jungle came alive. Gorillas picked and preened each other. Then, in a battle, they beat on their chests. Behind a tree, two adults moved in unison. Their pelvic movements led to grunts. The kids in class laughed. Henry, still reeling from the teacher’s reproach and Sally’s scorn, shifted in his chair, turned to the side, and looked at Sally’s side—at the area where her waist curved inward. Then more gorilla grunts. Henry grew angry and wanted Sally to commiserate with him, but she ignored him now. The film’s British narrator explained the gorillas’ sexual intercourse with the most clinical words possible. Henry saw Sally’s shirt buttons straining under puberty’s growing influence. She shifted back in her seat and put her hands in her lap. He looked at where her hands had fallen and watched her slide them between her thighs to cozy up for the movie. Henry gasped. He looked at the screen, and then back at her, and then back at the screen again.