Sunday, Olga

Recently, I learned that an acquaintance of mine had died, a person with the middle name Sunday. He came to my school when I was fourteen. There was something ridiculous to me about him, about his angular blond hair, combed straight up and fixed with hairspray, about his cheap-looking clothes and polyester shirts. (I was ashamed of the cheap clothes my own parents bought me, and refused to wear them; instead I stole clothing out of other children’s gym lockers. Many of the students were so wealthy, they didn’t know what they owned, and wouldn’t empty their lockers for weeks.)

I disliked Sunday, and did not hide my sentiments. His skin must have chapped easily, and he was always applying some kind of petroleum cream to his upper lip and philtrum. This inspired me to make a crude joke once about his being gay. He carried a bible in his backpack, which I thought ridiculous, and he told people he was writing a novel, and would include in it unflattering characterizations of anyone who mistreated him.

So much of life is a progressive loss of vigor, and the ebbing of the pure joy of play or the limitless sorrow a child can feel over trifles is also apparent in our cruelties, which become more mendacious and urbane with age. In the following years, I simply didn’t think of Sunday, though I would exchange amicable words with him if we stood together in the lunch line or were waiting together in the parking lot for a ride. In any case, the advent of sexual love for women supplanted, to a great extent, my need for or interest in social relations, and attenuated both my friendships and enmities.

Sunday went to college in Memphis for a year; third-hand, I heard he met a girl, spent all his time in his dorm room drinking, and flunked out. I saw him later in the cafeteria of the college in my hometown; my own first year at university had been difficult as well, I’d fallen into a deep depression and come back, unwell and ashamed, to live with a friend. I cannot remember whether it was Sunday or a common acquaintance who told me, around that time, that he was bisexual.

When I was twenty-one, I was waiting tables and saw him coming through the front door of the restaurant in an outlandish blue uniform with epaulettes and a sword hanging on his side. We greeted each other, not coldly, but as though at a loss, and he said he had joined the marines. I had a sense that, while he was proud of the uniform, he preferred not to be seen in it by anyone from his past, as though this new self should be a definitive replacement of the old; but I have no evidence for this assertion, and it may be I am thinking of myself, because I have often felt this way.

Sunday had gone on to work in the local theater of a mid-sized college city. His widow and he share both a middle and last name, and my feeling is they may have taken each other’s names. He had accounts on Twitter and Goodreads, which will probably linger in the ether until some Russian hacker cracks them and starts offering discreet sex partners or cheap Cialis. His Twitter handle was “radical male,” and his tweets talked mostly of marriage equality and institutional racism in the United States. On Goodreads, he had rated the works of Shakespeare, as well as a few fantasy novels. Seeing this, I recalled the two times in my life when I’d read Shakespeare seriously: in high school, as an actor, and in 2005, during my first trip to Europe. For more than a decade, I had dreamt of seeing Paris, but when I arrived there, I hated it, and I spent most of the trip in the common room underlining verses. I also memorized twelve or thirteen of the sonnets a few years later, following some perverse ideal of erudition I’d picked up from reading Cyril Connolly or Harold Nicolson.

The night before I learned of Sunday’s death, an acquaintance, Olga, came to our apartment to spend the night. She told us about her sexual relations with various colleagues at a conservatory where she was employed. She is young, and the majority of her partners are much older; one is on the verge of a retirement he plans to spend with his wife, restoring an old house on the seaside. The next day, Olga talked about her difficulties with her father. I think he still hasn’t forgiven me, she said. When I asked for what, she said she had called an ambulance when she found he’d tried to kill himself with sleeping pills. Four years have passed since then, she said, if he resents me so much, he’s had plenty of time to do it again.

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