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My name's Laura, and I believe that July is a thief. June is somewhat of a trickster, making you feel like there's a long way to go, that there's still a lot you can do before the year ends, and yet, July comes and you're baffled as to where the days went. I have decided on this on my 18th birthday, which is on the second week of July. My favorite cousin died somewhen before my birthday. The summer before that, she was alive and well. June came and I began losing her. Then July took her away for good.
My cousin's name is Elle. She used to say, "There is an implied grandeur in your presence," whenever she saw me. That was how she said hello. She wanted to attend art school but always found a reason to dither. Less than a year before she got sick, she told me a school abroad has replied in the affirmative to her application. She said it with a hint of sadness that I didn't understand then. Elle bakes a cake every second Sunday of the month. She's been gone a while now, but I still get so excited for her cakes.
I got this from her. This...tendency to use more words than necessary. She said "less true" when what she wanted to say was "incorrect." She would argue that there are fewer syllables, and then the conversation would take a strange turn to grammar lessons and "deeper meanings," that would then lead to us forgetting what we were talking about originally. She had a calm way about her that even if you were just finished talking to her about an incendiary topic, you would be walking away with the "gentler" side of the subject occupying your head. I miss her.
Elle liked anything baked. She never ate any of her creations though, and nobody really ever asked her why. They thought they had time. On her birthday, she'd request for chocolate cake with white icing. On Saturdays, she'd call her mom and remind her that it's egg pie day. On Tuesdays, she'd head out to her favorite shop and order a large lemon chiffon cake that she would share with her brothers. These are few of the regulars. People miss Elle mostly because of her kindness, some miss her because of her consistency. She was always there. Now she's not.
Elle is careful about the things she writes, whether it be handwritten or digital. A simple grocery list would warrant hours of scrutiny. She believes in the finality of written words, anything that you put on paper with your hands, you have to regard with honor, consequence, and precision. What if you did not need that one item in the grocery list? What if you wrote "green" apples but meant "red"? A simple mistake can bring you a world of regret. If she were here, Elle would argue that a grocery list is hardly the best example for this sentiment.
Elle would have loved the new Radiohead album. I listen to it and instinctively pull at my left earphone to give to her. It's funny sometimes, realizing she isn't beside me. It's funny because I imagine her watching me from somewhere and...I just really miss her, you know? I'm going to stop talking about Elle now and tell you about another person. Now, this person's still alive, thank God. I rarely see him but we would text every now and again with "What's happening with you?" or sometimes a blank text, a question mark, and we would get it.
He questions the point of "maintaining" "the health" of hair when it's made of dead cells anyway. He has a propensity to dodge phone calls because "they don't feel personal enough." If you ask him what "enough" means, he will say these exact words: "You know when it feels right, you know when it doesn't." He is frighteningly consistent in his belief that "the Internet is pulling people apart more and more each day." This belief is evidenced by his regular Instagram posts of his middle finger. That's how he says "Good morning." He loves me because I understand him.
"There was a couple who liked to read. Everyday they walked to a spot near their house where there is a lot of trees. They would choose a tree, sit there side by side (sometimes lie down head to head), and read the whole day. Their favorite time is when the sun sets and it's orange and shadows all around. They like the quiet, the nearness of each other, and the rustling, the rustling most of all. On the walk home, they smiled and held hands. They lived this way until they died. The end." This is his favorite story.
His name is Jerry. His hair is the color of caramel and his eyes, at certain angles, are honey colored. He is beautiful in a disheveled schoolboy kind of way. Slightly smelly but has nice hair and carries his clothes like a supermodel. I went through a phase of thinking that I might be in love with him. He would pick me up from work and bring me to a hole in the wall with really good grub, and if I start to ask him "how did you find..." He will shush me and say "I keep the hows secret."
When he was a bit younger, Jerry listened to Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness on Sundays, after church. He had the double-cassette ready on his two-player component and would plunk on his dusty grey carpet for the entirety of the album, only moving to play the other side of each tape. This was his "truer form of prayer." If there was Instagram then, or Snapchat mayhaps, his Sunday posts would be videos of him prostrate on a sad-looking carpet with Billy Corgan on the background, his caption would be variations of "Religion..." "Sunday church" and "Word."
How comforting it is to know a person so well, that even though there may be changes in each of your lives, big or small--but those that are especially big--like adulthood, that slow, painful ascent to knowing more and feeling less, then that confusing stage of feeling more and knowing less, you know the one...that person you know so well still looks at you like he did all those years ago, and you are comforted. And even if you write in ellipsis and broken sentences and a whole lot of "and's," he understands and says "Rough day?"
Jerry indulges my late-night cravings of oily food. He would randomly knock on my door smelling of fried rice and on nights that I didn't ask for him to come, I would fake disdain at whatever Chinese food he is holding up, but he would see through my pretense and lovingly shove his pasalubong to my face, give me an awkward hug (because by then I'd be holding the package of food to my chest and loving it like a mother) and he would head to my refrigerator to look for his frozen green tea KitKats. I miss him.
Jerry's the type of friend who would reply with a blank message. This is his way of saying "No words," which is obvious of course, but for people who know, Jerry's blank messages carry a smidgen of sarcasm and a dollop of judgment. Getting a blank message from him is the equivalent of being embarrassed in front of a crowd. Jerry is like a crowd, yes. If that crowd boos you, you can: ignore it and keep going or take it to heart and cry. With Jerry, the effect is always the first. It's his way of encouragement. It works.
One of my favorite memories of Jerry is that one Sunday of Rocky marathon. We began stocking up on chips and soda days before and then on the day itself, we demolished those and then ate our weight in pizza as well. I don't remember much about the movies, except in Part 3 where the camera focused on Stallone's leg muscles while he was running on the beach and me looking at my own flabby legs then stuffing my mouth with chips, I then heard a snort: Jerry, he was watching me all along. I threw a pizza at him.
Sundays used to be like torture, when someone would force him to do something he didn't like doing. Over time, Jerry learned to expertly avoid Sunday family activities. He's good with his stories and, in fact, has managed for years to fool his parents that he has charity duties on Sundays. What he really does most of the time is sit at a park and draw and draw and draw. At night when he gets home from "charity work," he kisses his parents and tells them about his Sunday. What he didn't know is they knew the truth about him.
He went through a phase wherein he would watch TV without sound. His parents surmised that he was trying to perfect his lip-reading skills, developed when he was really young and had hearing problems, which got better as he grew up. He still had excellent lip-reading skills as an adult, but he kept on saying it was rusting and that he needed to "learn" it again. This is where his parents' assumption came from. The truth is, Jerry was performing an important experiment of "if the TV is quiet, would everyone else in this house shut up, too?"
In our early 30s, Jerry would open up to me about his guilt. He had so many, to be honest, but his greatest regret, the one he is most guilty about, is taking his family for granted. He acted like he was too good for them, he insisted that they loved him too much and suffocated him. He left home at an early age. He ignored phone calls and letters and requests for him to visit. He avoided his parents when they tried to visit. He said he wished he knew better and treated them better. Now it's too late.
He doesn't know where his anger comes from...just that it's there. Jerry would disappear for months at a time. I've gotten used to a surprise phone call on my landline and an invitation to late dinner twice a year at least. He's the reason I still keep my landline, he's the only one I know now who still calls me on that phone. I've given up on convincing him to contact me by mobile. I like the familiarity and the anticipation. I like knowing he will show up and seek me. I wish he'd answer my whys. Someday maybe.
Maybe that's enough sadness, yes? Two people I've told you about so far, they're sad stories, I know. Thing is, they're two people who make me really happy. One's gone, one's periodically missing. I like being alone, and I have other friends, sure. Not too many I can tell you a ton about though, because I'm too afraid to go deep now. If you know someone so well, and then have that someone leave you, it gets quite lonely. Lonely is good, I've learned. Doesn't have to be that black thing most people moan about. I think lonely is nice.
This one other person, his name's Bill. He likes fog, trees, and photography. If you visit his house (and if he lets you in [he's quite wary of new people but warms up quickly at the mention of cookies]), you will see framed photographs of fog and trees. His travels are scheduled on his destination's cold months. Quite a dedication, yeah? He says fog makes him think clearly, which is corny, really (don't laugh at him when he says this, he gets offended), but you can see it's true when you get to accompany him during one of these trips.
Bill's favorite story goes something like: "On a mountaintop, a girl with long hair weeps and weeps, crying out for a cloud that she saw when she was young. Now, this cloud appeared on the day that her parents were buried. This cloud was extra fluffy, had a smile (she swears), and glided left and right the whole morning for her to watch. She has since believed that the cloud was trying to befriend and comfort her. The girl's relatives tried to tell her the cloud isn't coming back. Clouds don't do that, no. But she believed and it did."
Bill's not my friend, no. He calls me Lollie--a name whose origin we both have zero idea about. He just does it whenever I'm in his proximity. He likes sitting down with me at lunch, telling me about his latest travel, and showing me photos on his phone. I feel like he wants to be friends, and believe me, I want to be friends, too...but something about him tells me he's holding back. He talks to me a lot but only in the office. He's like my office teddy bear, if you know what I mean...I don't.
"Call me Laura," I would remind him. And then he says "Lollie." This used to irritate me but is now something I've learned to look forward to. How strange is that? Bill's laugh is like an uncle's. How do uncles laugh? You know. Loud and fills the whole place. He lightly pats any surface while laughing, producing a soft "tap tap" sound that I have come to associate with my meals. Whenever I'm anywhere else and eating, I would anticipate that sound and would get a bit sad that Bill is not around and so I would do it myself.
If I tell Bill that I've grown fond of him, I'm quite sure he will respond with silence. He's not keen to receiving any kind of positive comment directed at him. He would respond with an awkward smile or change the subject. It's interesting how I know so much about him even if he constantly avoids my simple questions. I've mentioned I've been avoiding going deep, but with Bill I am willing to try. Not for anything else other than that I can see he wanted the same thing. This uncertainty would define our "relationship." I wish he'd open up.
But we can't dictate what we want on other people, yes? On days (Mondays especially) when I'm sat in front of the computer with my head rocking back and forth, Bill would sneak up and shout "OLA," resulting in either: me jumping up or my fist meeting his face. There was one whole month when Bill was on a leave chasing fog somewhere in Europe, and Mondays were just so unbearable without him. I was wishing he'd call, even if we weren't that kind of friends, and then...when I just let it go, he called! I was so happy.
Now, these little unexpected things, they're dangerous. They're the ones that turn into gigantic messes, you know the ones. Well, okay, they only become a mess if you let them, which is what we are wont to do, right? Let? Because what is the opposite of "let"? There definitely is an opposite but we refuse to acknowledge it. So, little unexpected things. When Bill called, he said he wanted to say Hi and that he misses "his Lollie." When I said, "You're obscene," he laughed. Like a little boy. I think it was that particular laugh that did me in.
Back at the office after a month, Bill approaches my desk and tentatively reaches for my hand. I see him but do not acknowledge his presence. It's a little game we have perfected over months of attempting to annoy each other. When he does this, what I usually do is stand up and walk away, because I know that if he successfully gets a hold of my hand, he would put something hideous in it as a form of an in-your-face prank. This time though I didn't walk away. Was surprised to see a chocolate in my hand.
Now, before anything else, I'm not up for getting any idea about romance or the like. I'm too old for that. In my head, stories are forming, fictional characters are starting to catch the love bug, but not me. In my real world, here, now, this chocolate means just that, a chocolate. Bill walks away with that smirk, which I've seen on his face numerous times now, but made me feel some...things at that particular moment in time. I shake it off and shout my thanks. He waves his left hand and does his usual salute. Things are normal.
Bill has a favorite coat. It's grey and frayed on the left arm. It has brown elbow patches and makes him look like a literature professor. On some mornings, he would come in with beads of sweat on his forehead, which he would wipe off with a blue hanky. His shoes are just the right amount pointy, and he wears pants with a certain panache, like...he owns it, can't really explain how...but the closest description would be: A supermodel trapped in a weird-haired guy who has a beautiful walk and does not know it. Bill's kinda cute.
How does it come to this point? Ordinary things become these big things that define your day. There is no exact specific point in time that you can pick and say "there, that's when everything changed." No. And isn't that the nice thing about change? It just...pops up from nowhere and you have no choice but to learn to live with it. Bill likes saying, "It is what it is," which (you guessed it) used to be annoying but is now something that I associate with him with fondness. How do we get from point A to point B?
July is a thief, I still believe it. So far, it has stolen a lot from me and my loved ones and some other people I know. I've told you about Elle and Jerry and Bill. These people get me, I get them, and when I'm old, I think they'd be the ones I would remember the most. I believe it. I don't reckon they feel the same way about me, because that's none of my business. I look back on some Julys and these three people figure in a lot of them, giving, always giving. I'm thankful for that.
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