Work wasn't going well, and work was all I had. The theories were falling apart faster than I could formulate them, the equations weren't coming out right. I sat at my desk in my office and held my head in my hands.
It had seemed so easy once, my mind naturally leapt to the startling conclusions. Now, I didn't know. What was happening now? I had thought that by this time in my career I would be a serious contender for the Nobel Prize. This might seem like hubris, but I was one of the most gifted theoretical physicists to appear in more than a generation. But it wasn't the case. My theories hadn't held up, I'd followed dead ends for years. Leonard was nowhere near my caliper, but at least Leonard was seeing results in his work. Howard had developed significant advancements for the space program, Raj had discovered a planet. I knew that my work was more important, it attempted to strike at the heart of the very nature of things. The nature of it all, the pinnings that were underlying everything we could see, everything we couldn't, everything that was.
It was going nowhere. Sooner or later I would have to admit that. I had tried certain equations dozens of different ways, hundreds, and still there was nothing. I refused to believe that it was impossible, that we were still centuries away from understanding elemental things. I refused to believe that despite my intelligence there might be nothing I could do.
I wouldn't look up. I felt the palms of my hands against my closed eyes. I was looking at the darkness of the inside of my eyelids. I was becoming lost. No one in this administration at this university would ever know that. They understood so little of what I did, what I was trying to do. But I understood. I saw it going nowhere.
"Sheldon?" It was Leonard, and I hadn't heard him come in. I didn't look up at him or remove my hands from my closed eyes. I'd attempted to work through lunch again, but I hadn't even noticed it was time for lunch, and I hadn't really done any work.
"Sheldon, hey?" I felt his hand rest on my shoulder and I tried very hard not to tense up and pull away. I knew that wasn't exactly normal behavior, and when I understood "normal" behavior I tried to emulate it when I could. So I stayed perfectly still under his touch.
"What's wrong?" he said, and I removed my hands from my face and opened my eyes, the dim light of the office hurting my eyes briefly. Leonard was a good friend, driving me everywhere, getting the take-out food that I liked and the way that I liked it, but he also did something more. I knew I had something close to autism, and I knew that with that social situations could be baffling at best and frightening at worst, but Leonard made those situations easier, providing timely explanations and reassurances.
Could I tell him? Confide in him that my work was spiraling into an abyss of false starts and dead ends? Could I tell him that I saw the Nobel Prize receding in a dim hall, and the faster I ran to get it the faster it moved away?
"Things aren't going very well," I said, assuming he knew what I was talking about. I wasn't looking at him, I was staring into the corner of my office. With other people I forced myself to make direct eye contact, although it made me uncomfortable, but it was expected. Leonard didn't expect those things so I had the comfort of being able to let my guard down around him and be more myself. I was talking to him, listening to his responses, but I didn't have to look at him.
"What things?" he said, his voice soft, almost soothing. I realized he didn't know, I realized that in his mind any number of things might not be going well, from intimate matters of digestion to my relationship with Amy, it could be anything.
I decided I would confide in him. What did I have to lose at this point?
"Work," I said, "work isn't going very well,"
Silence on his part. What could he say? The smartest person he had ever met, a genius of rare ability, was floundering. It probably shook his sense of the world, his faith in science and man.
He tapped my desk twice, little staccato taps that drew my attention from the corner of the room to my desk and his hands tapping, and then to his face. That had been his intention.
"Is it really that bad, or are you overreacting?" he said, peering at me from under his thick glasses frames.
"It's that bad," I said, and he changed tactics.
"Maybe some food would help. How can you think efficiently on an empty stomach?"
Food and sleep had taken a back seat to my need to follow certain trains of thought to their conclusions. But perhaps some food wouldn't hurt right now. I needed to leave this office anyway, these whiteboards with the letters and numbers that lead nowhere, or just back on themselves, an unstable loop that threatened to break apart.
"Yeah, maybe," I said, and stood up, and followed Leonard out to the cafeteria to get something to eat.