Conundrum

‘Cool, lol. C U l’

Stare at them long enough, and they stop meaning anything. This happens with everything, I know, especially sounds out loud. Keep saying the word ‘London’ and you soon hear only the un-un-un and wonder what it is that your mouth is doing with its tongue and what possible connection this has with a city of ten million people and all its highs and lows. With letters it’s different but the same. 

I had pondered and fretted over these sixteen characters for so long that they weren’t even letters any more. They had lost all connection with the sounds they were supposed to represent, and I had begun to lose all understanding of why those particular shapes are meant to make us make the sounds that we do, convey the meanings, fix the appointments, make the deals, buy the banks, start the wars.

Arrange the funerals.

Notify the next of kins.

‘Cool, lol. C U l’

Look at them, look at those loops. Is it a coincidence that there are loops in the word ‘loop’, or that your mouth imitates their shape when you make the sound? Germans stick two marks above them and it makes them go ‘eurgh’ with distaste. Are the marks the twisting of the upper lip (not so stiff, they’re German) as they make it? Or is there some other explanation.

There must be some explanation.

I wonder about it all, but they are still there, those three loops, those four little sticks, those three hoops, one the wrong way round, and they don’t make any more sense.

I understand – well, I knew it well before it all happened – that not all these letters, these characters are interpreted in the same way. That middle word, that ‘lol’ – well, it isn’t really a word, as you know. Some people say ‘lol’, it’s true, but they’re a bit ridiculous. It’s a – well, I suppose you could call it an acronym. Strange thing is that people aren’t too sure what it stands for. Some say it means ‘loads of laughs’ some say ‘laughing out loud’. Some anonymous girl once posted a screenshot of her phone, where her mum had said ‘Your Auntie Mary died, lol Mum x’ Her mum though ‘lol’ meant ‘lots of love’. Lol.

Which is best, lots of love, or laughing out loud? I think I know. I like laughing, but it can be cruel, bitter, vindictive. Love, though – well, it’s kind of good by definition, isn’t it? You can’t have bad love, can you? I guess you could love someone to death.

In Joseph Heller’s Something Happened, (spoiler alert) the thing which happens, in a book where nothing seems happens, is that the guy’s son is hit by a car. He gathers his body in his arms and hugs him in despair. A page later, we learn that the kid would have survived if only he hadn’t done that. But love isn’t just hugging is it?

Love means nothing, just like those loops mean nothing. Love, in tennis, is a score of zero. The theory that this comes from ‘l’ouef’ because a zero looks like an egg, is discredited. Love means nothing because if you do something for love, you don’t expect to get paid.

You raise your children for love. You don’t expect anything back. You just do it because it’s what you do. And it’s what you do because of love. But love sometimes isn’t enough to keep them.

‘Cool, lol. C U l’

That’s the other thing. ‘Cool’ is a word, I get that. It’s just about agreement, that’s all it means. It’s also supposed to suggest that the user of the word is cool, but everyone uses it nowadays, even middle-aged men on the brink of despair. But C U isn’t a word. Just two hoops, like staples or croquet holes, both in different directions. C U. They look like obscure mathematical symbols describing Venn Diagrams. Yes, I’ve looked them up. C means ‘subset’ U means ‘union’. You get a subset when you take a smaller group out of a larger group. The set of people who don’t have living parents, for example, is a subset of all people.  The set of parents who have lost a child is a much smaller subset of the set of all parents.

Most parents manage to keep their children alive until they die. They worry about them, and they fret, and they tell them all the things they have to do to keep safe. Don’t talk to strangers, don’t meet people that you chat to online, don’t be out alone after dark, don’t get into trouble. Stay safe. Some children don’t or won’t listen and maybe they live or maybe they die. But it’s harsh when they do listen, and they have done everything you could expect of them, and they are healthy and well, and then they are suddenly dead.

‘Cool, lol. C U l’

I have a horrible suspicion that the next letter was going to be an 8. The C U, you see, stands for ‘See you’, because the sounds of the letters sound like that – a homophone. It dates from a time when people used to have to keep their texts short. A time when they had to look at the numbers on their phone to see which letters they needed. A time when it would have been absolutely impossible to try to write a text message when you were trying to drive a car.

So I suppose he was going to send ‘C U l8er’ but maybe not. Maybe his word recognition would have kicked in. He didn’t see anything later though. He didn’t really have any later left. Except in the sense, haha, of being late.

They must have found the phone in the wreckage, because I don’t think the message actually got sent. They were going to charge him with causing death by reckless driving, but he died from internal bleeding a few hours later, unlike my fourteen year old daughter, who was on the zebra crossing at about the time he was pressing the ‘l’ key. Maybe the sound of her body flying over his bonnet made him look up, but he was already in the path of the oncoming traffic, and he smashed into a lamp post.

If I had been there, maybe I too would have gathered up her body and hugged her to death, but the doctors said she was probably killed outright when her skull impacted his car.

I would like to have been there, just to hug her one more time. I wasn’t.

I’m sorry he didn’t get to see whoever it was he was texting.

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