To form a knot, you take a string and let it twist into various configurations. Each twist and turn gives birth to a new design, that is a knot. And as a mathematician, I do research on these knots and their interesting structure. I have acquired a taste of the general view of things through my work. But the soul of any particular thing, is of course, in the details. How a tree fuses its limbs and binds them together. These are the souls of things, and this way my experience with a mystical Aurora.
My experience of childhood loss had made me a bit of a loner, but things weren’t always like this. I had a friend, a best friend, Jonathan. We did everything together– from attending the Power Rangers convention in our town dressed as the Red Ranger to placing eggs underneath Mr Bernstein's mat on the day of Halloween; we were inseparable.
All this changed when my dad announced that he had been posted to a new city far from where we stayed. I can still remember how he broke the news. Mom had called me in for dinner, and he was sitting on his chair listening to Chris Levi give the evening news.
"John!" His voice had an urgency to it and I got up to meet him. "Yes, Dad."
My dad was a man of few words. The very few things he said always had some significance to them. It was a rarity to have him speak, a situation that gave me the kind of quiet joy a son gets when he is around his dad, on the cusp of experiencing a "father-son" time.
"I have some news from work."
"I got a notification today at the office from my boss. I've been promoted to senior manager, and that means that I will be in charge of a new firm, in a different city."
He was smiling. I could tell that he was in a good mood, and it sounded like good news. I didn't think much of the "in a different city."
"I know it's a bit early," he continued "but we'll be leaving by the end of the month. I spoke with your principal this morning about our situation, and he promised me that he would work out the academic details."
Everything slowed down around me after he spoke. The idea of leaving had never occurred to me before. I began to see all my experiences fade before me. I had a hard time making friends, and Jonathan had been the only person I got along with in that mysterious way that people connect over the tiniest of interests.
Time sped up after my dad's abrupt announcement, it didn't take long before the end of the month came by. Boxes had already begun to show up in the house and the objects diminished until it was the bare necessities that remained.
Me and Jonathan never actually talked about my moving, although we both knew that it was coming. Looking back I should have said something, but nothing came to me, and that was how we left things… undefined. By the time the moving day came, I had cried my eyes out. There was no goodbye, just the fact of me leaving. I never saw him again.
This event would take a toll on my life. One of which was my deep and personal belief that I was alone in the world. My attempts at making friends at high school were so bad that by the time of graduation, I had preemptively deleted the few contacts that I had, to ensure that no one in my entire school vicinity contacted me. And on the off-chance that they did decide to reach out, I had prepared a series of responses that would express my interest in their decision to "reach out" followed by a gradual decline in communication, thus that by the end of the whole thing, either they and/or I would be utterly uninterested in "keeping in touch."
In my personal life, however, mathematics became my love and shield. I was good at it and it had, in a certain sense, selected me. It was only natural that I became a math major in college.
My journey in mathematics took a stronger form as a graduate student at the Institute of Technology in the city I lived. Most of my days followed a routine: sleep, wake, eat, class, teach, and sleep; Ad infinitum
That was why it was strange when I saw a text from Isaac McCormick, inviting me to participate in what he called a "mixer." Isaac was a postdoc at the Institute, and we had met in a couple of talks on campus but never enough to be acquaintances, nor- and especially- friends. I didn't even know how he got my number.
I accepted the invitation. It was more a matter of fatigue than interest, Isaac was notorious for assaulting unknown victims in the math department with his positivity and upbeatness, and I was one of such victims.
The mixer happened a few days later outside campus in a park – Freedom Park. It was to start by 9 in the morning. The Park was well-gardened and heavily endowed with bright flowers that gave it a mystical feel.
At arrival, I noticed that it was in a picnic setting and I was not dressed for the occasion. My attire was a pair of black boots with a grey T-shirt and a black jacket (even though it was summer). Seeing the bright, attractive faces sitting down on a mat in a semi-circle made me realize that I had not shaved in two weeks. Not the best state of mind to be in at a mixer.
I sat down at the right end of the semi-circle, cross-legged. Isaac promptly began my introduction.
"Hey everyone, this is John, he's a graduate student at the Institute where I work, and he's a lot of fun to talk to, at least about math." A few chuckles came in at the joke.
"Say hi, and mingle with him, he's a bit shy."
Great, now I'm the shy guy, who needs help talking to people.
The semi-circle seemed to me to indicate that we were not yet complete. I began to make a countdown mentally for when I would give an excuse to leave.
It was at this moment that someone bumped into me. I was not paying attention, so the hit startled me more than usual. I turned to look back and noticed a lady with a distraught look on her face. She was sweating, probably because she was late. It was 9:15 am now.
"Oh my goodness, I'm so sorry." Some papers had come flying out of her tote bag, and I started picking them up, they had a picture of a girl who looked like a teenager.
"It's fine," I said, with what I hoped was a smile on my face. She apologized again and sat down beside me.
Okay, maybe I'll dip after a couple of minutes.
Isaac began to lay out the plans for our picnic assemblage. There were card games, board games, and a couple of other stuff. We were allowed to play, but on the condition that we played with someone that we didn't know.
I quickly drifted towards the chess set. If I was going to stay there, I was at least going to have fun while doing it.
I noticed the lady I had bumped into earlier was talking with another guy over a game of cards – they were both laughing. I continued setting up the pieces on the board, black's queen had been chewed on what I hoped was a toddler.
Isaac's voice came in again to disrupt the natural order of things. "Okay, it seems that you guys are gravitating toward your interests." He glanced at me, and I looked away. "I need you guys to mix, so here's what I'll do, I'll pair you guys up with someone you don't know, and you have about 5 mins to get to know each other."
We were twelve in total so the idea of pairing was not going to be a problem.
"Ashley and Tyler, Ryan and Chris, Scmhidt and Rachael, John and Jennifer." He sounded like my gym coach. "Taylor and Alex, and of course myself and Jorja." (* his girlfriend)
After Isaac's announcement, we all began to stir and eventually found our way to our partner. I walked to where Jennifer was seated and introduced myself.
"Hello, I'm John. I'm a friend of Isaac, it's nice meeting you." I stretched out my hand.
"Hey, I'm Jennifer." She said, taking my stretched hand and transforming it into a hug, I didn't know when I obliged and hugged her back.
Looking at her, I noticed that she had light brown eyes, her lips were bright red, and she had the sort of skin that made me understand the importance of moisturizer; she was gorgeous. Nervousness began to kick in. The sun had begun to shine brighter, and I was getting hot. I decided to take off my jacket.
"So, off the top of your head, what do you think about me." Her smile and question threw me off, she was seated in a z position and looked at ease in it.
"Uhmm, you seem friendly, and easy to talk to," I said somewhat matter-of-factly.
"So do you."
"R-really, how so?"
"Yeah, you have a gentle demeanour, although I’m getting serious loner vibes from you."
The last comment made me laugh.
"Well, I do tend to keep to myself, and it's not because I don't like people, I'm just always busy.” She glanced at me and looked away, she knew I was being dishonest.
"You kind of remind me of my sister, her name is Jennifer." I looked puzzled, I could have sworn Isaac mentioned that she was Jennifer. Did they share names in her family?
"In what way?"
"She was quiet too. Always on her own in her own space. She had a very rich interior life though."
"What do you mean?" I noticed she spoke in the past tense.
"She's dead now, she died last year."
"I'm so sorry." I finally muttered after what felt like forever.
"It's okay, I've had enough time to mourn. After the burial, I decided to introduce myself to people with her name. Kinda like a memento, I want to carry. My actual name is Aurora."
The name Aurora, made me feel warm inside. At the same time, Isaac announced that we had spent three minutes of the five.
"What happened to your sister?" I asked with full attention.
"She was in an accident. A car hit her on her way to school, by the time we had gotten to the hospital it was too late, my little sister was gone."
We were both quiet now. The chatter behind us became background noise. I noticed that while she was speaking, she maintained the same positive gaze that she had since we had met.
"So what's your story, Mr loner." She pronounced the last r playfully, she was teasing me, and I smiled back.
My story, What is my story?
I hadn't thought much about anything since I became a graduate student. My parents and siblings were far from me, and I hadn't spoken to them in months.
"I don't have a story."
"I think you do, we all do. You couldn't have come here without a reason."
"Well, I guess I have a hard time connecting," I confessed. "The whole process sorta overwhelms me. I always wonder how I'm coming across to the person I am with and if at some point, they would just yunno, decide they don't wanna be friends anymore and I would have to emotionally deal with that situation."
"You've been doing just fine, so far. Connecting." She smiled after the last word. Her smile prompted an involuntary need to smile back.
Isaac announced that the five minutes were over. We kept on talking.
"I noticed flyers earlier from your bag, what are they about?"
"Oh, those are for my sister. Today's her memorial, she would have been eighteen."
"Wow, I gotta say you are dealing with this very well."
She chuckled. "You should have seen me last year, I was a wreck. I spent so many weeks indoors, my parents were so worried."
"What happened, when did you, like, change?"
"Hmmm, I guess it was a realization, what do they call those things? Epiphanies! Yeah right, that's what it was. I guess I just figured out that life was meant to be lived. And that's what I decided to do. Live."
Life is meant to be lived. The words hit me like cold water to the face.
There was silence now between us. A tiny breeze had blown through, and the sun had been covered by one of the clouds. It gave the garden a golden backdrop.
Aurora stood up and joined the rest of the group, they had been waiting for the two of us. I followed her.
The day went on gradually after that. But something was different, I was different.
The mixer was officially over and we had taken group pictures, it was time to leave. Aurora was the first to stand, we glanced at each other. She smiled and I smiled back; I had made a friend.
A bond had been formed. An interesting one with intertwining curves. It was different from the straight line I had constructed with people, from one end to another. This was a curve that had beautiful surprises. It was a knot.