Carbon atoms crystallized deep into the Earth's mantle at temperatures of 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit over the span of 3,000,000,000 years.

Only then could a volcanic eruption push magma from unseen depths of the planet onto Earth's surface and bring with it the strongest of all known natural minerals, pure solid carbon.

Sometimes people, like diamonds, needed friction to see what they were really made of.


Temecula was a sleepy suburban oasis tucked between two SoCal titans, Los Angeles and San Diego. Life here was meant to be comfortable. Easy. Sloping hills and valleys made up the bulk of the landscape. The city boasted an abundance of high-achieving schools, spray-tanned soccer moms in Range Rovers, and scenic views of wine country all around. Berry-picking farms and fishing resorts near Vail Lake added just the right touch of wholesomeness that made Temecula an idyllic place for kids to go to school, make friends, and learn to navigate the twists and turns of adolescence.

Dan Weiser and Teresa Castillo-Ortiz—or "Danesa" as they were dubbed at school—were two such kids trying to navigate these twists and turns. The couple had broken up a total of six times since their first kiss. No one believed Danesa would make it past senior year, but they shocked the entire student body by getting engaged at their graduation ceremony.

Within that same week, the new Mr. and Mrs. Weiser were registered at the Riverside County Clerk's office. Dan gave up his Baylor U football scholarship to stay in Temecula, and Teresa, who had planned to attend the nursing assistant program at MiraCosta, started working full-time in retail instead. Everyone, including their closest friends and families, thought Dan and Teresa had lost their freaking minds. Danesa wasn't crazy, though, they simply knew something that no one else did.

Their son was born on December 27, 1996 at 2:37 AM in Temecula Valley Hospital. Maxwell Byron Weiser had his mom's warm complexion and light brown curls, his dad's nose, and blue green eyes of his own. He was a beautiful baby boy.

Teresa insisted on naming him after her late mother, Maxine, and her favorite poet from Mrs. Jorgensen's lit class. Dan wouldn't stop bitching about the name and how it made their kid sound like a pretentious asshole. After five hours of screaming and shouting at each other, which resolved nothing, Teresa proceeded to drop her hubby's toothbrush in the toilet bowl and watched him use it for a week before confessing her crime.

By the time Max reached second grade, his parents were no longer together.

The day his dad left was the day seven-year-old Max stopped checking for monsters under the bed. Monsters were make-believe. His dad, however, was really gone.

Max's mom started working six days a week between two jobs. He stopped going to daycare as the bills began piling up. Max skateboarded to and from school on the days his mom couldn't drive him. He would make cereal for breakfast and microwave Hot Pockets or tamales for dinner. The mind-numbing silence of being home alone got to be almost as bad as his parents' machine-gun-like bickering. Sometimes Max couldn't contain all of the big emotions running through him, so he had to let them out.

The worst of his kicking, screaming, purple-faced meltdowns were unleashed on his mom whenever she was home. He spewed poison like "Dad left because of you" and "Te odio tanto como papá te odia" just to see if she would get mad enough to walk out on him, too. She always stayed, but something terrible inside him kept trying to drive her away.

At school, Max became a miniature Jekyll and Hyde.

On good days, he helped the dyslexic kid, Chase Reynolds, who sat beside him spell out tricky words like "dragon" and only caused minor disturbances, such as yelling out basketball stats at random or humming math facts to the tune of the SpongeBob theme song.

On bad days, Mr. Jay, the security guard, would need to physically remove him for kicking over desks in a fit of hysterics or climbing on top of the wall cabinets and refusing to get down.

Then, there were the "wild card" days.

November 2nd happened to be such a day. The class was in the middle of singing "Happy Birthday" to Smith Hawkins and Sharon Lee when Max suddenly stood up. He was out the door before Ms. Martin could stop him and vanished for one heart-stopping hour. His mom rushed to school. The police were notified. Mr. Jay eventually tracked him down in the library next to the archived yearbooks. Together they looked up old pictures of little Danny Weiser when he was still a student at Rancho Valley Elementary before heading to the principal's office.

Turned out November 2nd was his dad's birthday as well.

Max's classmates giggled whenever his milder antics distracted them from the boredom of phonics and fractions, but none of them understood why he was so intense the rest of the time. Life for them was comfortable. Easy. They got excited about feeding their Tamagotchis during recess and going to Disneyland on weekends. Their moms never forgot to pack lunches or pick them up after school, and their dads attended STEM nights and school concerts.

Max tried not to notice all the annoying details that made their lives so perfect, but it was hard to look away. What he wanted most were the very things his classmates took for granted on a regular basis: Friends to play with during recess, a mom who was around more, and a dad who showed up. Max never shared these thoughts with anyone because people already stared at him like something was wrong with him. Even at his age, he had his pride. Maybe too much pride.

The school year ended almost the same way it began for Max. Broken home. Troubles at school. His mom had no idea how to help him, and poor Ms. Martin could hardly wait to ship him off to third grade. Yet, contrary to what the adults around him believed, Max wasn't a hopeless cause—quite the opposite, actually.

Karma was known to be bitchy, but she was a fair bitch. No one ever suffered in vain on her watch, and she often hid rewards in plain sight. At the core of Max's outbursts at home, defiant behavior at school, and resentful attitude toward peers, there existed a layer of sensitivity, tenacity, and attention to detail that far exceeded other children his age.

Max just needed a nudge from someone to help him see it, too.