I was still a newbie to the fandom, so this is as much an Eduardo character-study as anything.
this, my excavation - 2,077 words, G
Eduardo, Mark (OT4); post-dep. Eduardo finishes earning his degree, but Harvard is not quite the same.
Of all the lonely places in the world, Eduardo has never pictured the Harvard campus to be one of them. Even in his earliest days, shocked by the cold and wondering how he was going to survive January if September was this harsh, the campus was so full of possibility that it hardly seemed to matter.
He’s rarely ever had the feeling of being alone in a crowd. Harvard felt like a community, a place to belong. Eduardo had a single, something his father had insisted on so that he wouldn’t have any distractions from his studies. He was grateful for that in his first semester, especially when finals turned him into a mess of panic and puffy, sleep-deprived eyes, not-so-quietly losing his shit while hunched over his Mac, surrounded by books, notes, and empty coffee cups.
Sure, maybe he was missing out. No matter how much money Harvard students came from and no matter how much bravado they claimed to have, so many of the freshman class were just eighteen, after all. Even those who grew up away from home at private schools still needed people to cling to, to figure out this new college experience, classes and homework and trying desperately to build and maintain a social life.
It was all that much harder back when Eduardo was a freshman. If you wanted to get to know someone, you had to be introduced, or to introduce yourself, make connections the hard way. First impressions. Personality. Now, he supposes, the freshman can make Facebook groups so that the first time they meet in person, it’s like meeting old friends.
But no, for Eduardo, the fact that he didn’t have to share a dorm and learn to live with other people never made him feel like he was missing out on anything. Floor parties, parties at BU, fraternities—they were all great, and he knew he needed to make himself known. But he wasn’t kidding himself: he didn’t do it for himself. He did it for his father. Eduardo didn’t need to be held accountable for his daily life, thank you very much, not since leaving that household. The single dorm suited him.
Loneliness was never on the menu, except maybe in retrospect. The whole point of showing up at frat parties was to meet people — girls, yes, but Eduardo figured he had plenty of time for that. Maybe it was rebellion, the reason he picked Mark Zuckerberg out of the crowd at that AEPi party his sophomore year. His father wanted him to connect with the sons of important people, make friends in his business and economics classes, form connections that would pave the way for him later in life (his father’s words, not his, but they echoed in Eduardo’s head often enough). Mark was none of these people. There’s no way Eduardo could have known his name or his major just from looking at him, especially because the only thing any of the people in the room had in common was their religion. But Eduardo didn’t make friends to make connections. He liked people in general, especially back then when it rarely entered his mind that he could be hurt. That he could be the one disappointed, rather than doing all the disappointing.
Mark Zuckerberg, as it turned out, was not an easy person to like. Eduardo had made him smile, though, or as close to a smile as one could get from Mark back then, and they’d fallen together into banter so easily. Eduardo remembers filing away information about him, assuming that Mark wouldn’t like the kind of person who was quick to laugh or anyone too loud, but, well, that was before Eduardo met Dustin Moscovitz. It’s not that Mark welcomed Dustin with open arms or anything, but he seemed to like bitching at Dustin to either shut up or calm down, and Dustin never ever listened anyway.
So maybe that was the connection. It took Eduardo the first few months of being Mark’s friend to figure out why Mark kept him around at all. Mark didn’t exactly open up, but he didn’t shut himself down, either, so Eduardo kept coming back, just like Dustin, and Mark kept letting Eduardo walk with him to class or meet him for lunch. Kept letting him into the suite at Kirkland. The point was that Eduardo kept coming back and he didn’t shut Mark out either, even when Mark was being particularly unforgiving of the human race in general. Maybe it was the way Eduardo laughed at Mark’s acerbic sense of humor that brought out that hint of a smile.
It was, all of it, even then, about connecting with people when you couldn’t figure out how to make people like you in the first place.
And from then on out, Eduardo had friends. Real friends, not just acquaintances. The difference had never mattered until his first visit to the Kirkland suite. Mark had needed to knock over a pile of books stacked in front of the mini-fridge to grab them both beers, ignoring the squawk of protest coming from the couch, which is where a blonde haired boy who turned out to be Chris Hughes was sitting. Eduardo had smiled apologetically—maybe the first, but certainly not the last time he would apologize for Mark on his behalf—and introduced himself.
It’s been a long time, then. Only a few years, maybe, but there’s no way Eduardo could have known where that friendship would take him, take all of them. Sometimes, on days like this one, he regrets it. On days like this, huddled under a thick coat and scarf, heading towards his single, Eduardo passes Kirkland and has to actively remind himself that he can’t turn and head on in, because there is no place for him there anymore.
Eduardo’s dorm is meticulously clean. His desk is tidy, his books are piled there or dumped next to his bed, but out of the way so that he doesn’t trip over them. It’s nothing like Kirkland’s old wood and prestige, covered up with empty beer bottles: on the mantle over the fireplace, on the small coffee table, the desks, the floor—the people who lived in that room weren’t interested in time-worn tradition. The hum of computers was the backdrop to everything, new tech mixed in with four boys newly introduced to the world of hundred-years-old expectations; expectations none of them gave a damn about. Eduardo could breathe in their indifference and, for a while, forget: slough off the heavy weight of his father’s last phone call and just be a college kid.
His econ problem sets were always nudged up against scrawled lines of code, CS textbooks, and a notebook filled with Dustin’s doodles (and maybe some actual class notes here and there). Eduardo would kick off his shoes and roll up his sleeves, probably sit on a game controller or an empty can of Red Bull, but he’d sink into the tiny couch anyway and wait for Mark to surface from his desk. As stubborn and single-minded as he was, even for Mark coding tears had to end when class or food or sleep beckoned.
Class is easier now. On some level Eduardo feels like finishing college at this point is just a formality, because graduation is more a rite of passage than anything these days. Maybe not at Harvard, but Mark had certainly proven that with the right opportunity, not even an education is worth all the effort, all of the stress.
But Eduardo only has himself to look after now. He doesn’t even have to socialize outside of Phoenix parties, where he tries dutifully to make connections, but none of that seems like it means anything now. Especially not in the face of his greatest disappointment. His greatest loss.
Sometimes he thinks back on those notes, the ones sprawled everywhere at Kirkland during midterms. Eduardo wouldn’t bother to go back to Eliot, content to freak out with the others. Mental breakdowns, as it turns out, are more fun when there are other people losing their minds right along with you. Even Mark had to study —
(Balancing a laptop on the arm of the couch and a textbook in his lap, Mark has armed himself with Red Bull and staked the center of the suite out as his own study area, a boundary that Eduardo had promptly ignored. The second half of the couch was his, but his notes had taken up all the space there, and so Eduardo folded himself between the couch and the table, using discarded hoodies and his own jacket as cushions.
At two a.m. he notices that the tapping of keys has stopped, and when he looks up, Mark’s not reading, either – his hand rests loosely on the keyboard of his laptop, but his head is bowed, resting at the junction of the back of the couch and its arm. Eduardo shakes him.
“You fell asleep.”
Mark squints at Eduardo, blinks twice and then straightens. “Shit. You?”
“Did I fall asleep? No. I got a decent night’s sleep yesterday.”
“Why are you on the floor?”
So Eduardo decides that for once, he should try and keep Mark awake, and shoves his notes away; lets himself sink a little towards the warmth Mark has left there, the couch cushion a goddamn blessing compared to the floor. He falls asleep himself at some point, wakes up to the early morning light and the sound of the other suitemates having given up on studying as well. The dorm room sounds like sleep. Mark is awake, tapping away. He hasn’t bothered to give up the couch, but he has shifted: the computer on his lap, his back against the arm of the couch, his feet warm where they’re tucked against Eduardo’s thigh.
Mark never bothered to wake him up. Bastard.)
That particular semester, there were whiteboards leaned up against walls everywhere, in and out of Mark’s room, covered in various scribbles. Code, algorithms, sketches of what thefacebook would look like when all those letters and numbers were turned into something on a screen that even Eduardo could understand. He would look up at those whiteboards and see the kind of nonsense that someone might see on an x-ray or an architect’s drafting board. Unreadable to a layman, but to a doctor or the artist himself, it makes perfect sense.
And that’s what Mark saw, Eduardo knew. His monitor may have been covered with lines of text on a black screen, but in Mark’s head there were connections, inputs and outputs, falsehoods and truths that all made something… extraordinary.
Eduardo is good at math. He is excellent at math; he can take numbers the same way Mark takes code and make something work. He wonders, often, if he made a wrong equation somewhere down the line. The output, the result of everything he put in, wasn’t what he expected. In math there are no lies, but life is not math. Life is human error. Life is copying down a 5 instead of a 6; life is forgetting to close a bracket somewhere. Life is the difference between studying on Mark’s bed while he codes, Dustin sprawled out on the couch and Chris reading quietly on the window ledge; and being alone in his single, reading the same paragraph over and over without retaining a word of it.
For the first time since Eduardo had shown up at Harvard on his first day, shivering with nervous energy and determination, grinning at possibilities that even he couldn’t imagine yet — for the first time, all he really feels is the cold. He shuffles past Kirkland, school bag bumping against his leg, rubbing his gloved hands together. He wonders what it’s like in New York right now, stops himself short of thinking about sunny California.
When he was small, learning his times tables at school in São Paolo, he remembers being told always to work in pencil. That way if he makes a mistake, he could go back and erase the numbers, fix them, start over again.
In life, there are no pencils with erasers.
Eduardo lets himself into his dorm and pulls the scarf from around his neck, drapes it over the back of his chair. Tomorrow, he has decided, he’ll take a different path across the river. But Eduardo lies to himself a lot these days, and Kirkland was never really his.