Your name is my creation 

January 24, 2024

No one ever died in September.

The boys are splashing in the shallow end. August is finally learning how to walk, but he has no idea how to stay afloat. Ozzy’s dark curly hair drips with chlorine as he holds August in his tattooed arms; they spin around in a circle. I yell out “whirlpool!” Ozzy and I used to love playing that game together in my grandparents’ pool, and now he gets to show our nephew. August throws his head back and cackles a loud toddler scream of joy. Everyone around smiles. The boys are home, the backyard is full, and my love is palpable.

My nephew has blonde curls on top of his head like tumbleweeds in the west. August comes alive in the summertime. His cheeks get pink from sun exposure, and he wears a floppy hat to cover his scalp. The best days are when he comes over to play in the pool, and he gets popsicle all over his hands, sticky and sickly sweet. The dogs run from him in the backyard, and my mom calls after him to “be careful” and “be gentle.” Strawberries and blueberries sit squished in his little palms. They are ripe for the squeezing, nearing the end of a long, hot season.

In Texas, August is scorching. It drags on like a winding road. People often refer to August as the dog days of summer because it’s an impossibly unbearable few weeks. Dogs pant, people sweat, plants die, and the pool is already a hundred degrees. My nephew, however, is sweet; his laugh is boisterous and round.  He learned how to give a good hug before he could use the word.

In my family, August is a month of mourning and reflection, birthdays and weddings, long lives and short deaths. It is a time of rebirth and renewal. Families return from vacation. Students return to school with newfound optimism. In August 1999, my nephew’s mother was born, two decades before she became my sister-in-law. His grandparents got married in the same month a year later, 22 years before he was born. My mom still keeps her wedding ring somewhere hidden in the depths of her closet — a tiny princess cut diamond that carries the weight of three kids and a house in the suburbs. Six years later, his grandfather – my father – died suddenly. It was August, where life sprouted from the roots of love and death. The fruits were in season and ripe for the picking.

Before my nephew was born, I sat with his mother at the kitchen island and we talked about names. I showed her my list of baby names that I kept tucked away in my phone, scribbled on a page in my journal. August was jotted down below Winter. August for a boy and Winter for a girl. Summer would be too predictable — it had to be August. He could be something wonderful.

August stomps around my house like it's his palace, so brazen he forgets to be gentle, running forward while looking over his shoulder. He reminds me so much of a foal. Running wild in the grass, he is otherworldly. His spirit transcends bruised skin from falls in the yard, and he becomes something akin to nature. Untamed and free until the sun goes down and the birds fly home. He stumbles, so clumsy that I fear one day he'll break his arm just like his dad and have everyone sign his gaudy neon cast.

His life began two Februarys ago, but every year when his namesake comes around, does he not get reborn? Our past with August has shaped his future and he has no idea.  He shouldn’t have to. He didn't choose his name — I did.

When a person is named after something or someone, they must take on the associations that come with it. They don't really have a choice. I am named after my grandmother, a curly-haired spitfire who used to sling drinks in Chicago. August is named after the month, untouched by its reputation — despite emerging from such complexity. My brother bears the name of our favorite blue sea creature.

Ozzy did choose his name. It came from the show we used to watch as kids, Oswald. The little blue octopus with his top hat and little weenie dog, aptly named Weenie, trotted around their city and made friends with everyone. Ozzy told me that he wanted a life like that: filled with friends, laughter, and walks around the neighborhood. Now, we both live separate lives in our own apartments with our own dogs. He became his idol on the silver screen. I mimic him from 200 miles away, just like old times. I pet my dog, go on walks, and find family within the comfort of my friends.

Ozzy spent his childhood jumping on our trampoline and scribbling on his walls with permanent markers. He spent it living in a different body and answering to a different name.

The vandalized walls of our home couldn't contain us, so we escaped into the backyard. My brothers and I made mud-pies and captured bugs in mason jars. We climbed the splintered steps of our treehouse and slung handfuls of sand at each other from our ladybug-shaped sandbox.

My brother was jaded in every way a person could be. Stuck wearing clothes that didn’t fit, expressing a laugh that didn’t sound quite right, and listening to a name that laid uncomfortably over his skin, suffocating him. He was reborn when he dug his hand into his chest and pulled out the being trapped inside. The carcass fell onto the ground, charred and burned beyond recognition. Eventually, all that was left was charred soil. He rose above the ash and became golden. He was born a girl but emerged as a man.

I think about the people Ozzy and I used to be together, decaying with his old body, preserved only by ash, yellowing photos, and homemade Christmas ornaments. The way we know each other is unlike anything in this life. Shared rooms, toys, memories, and love that waxed and waned without good reason. I regret the fights and quarrels that ended in begrudging apologies. We will never get that time back, never live in the same house again and whisper with flashlights under the comforter or scribble on walls together in secret. Instead of sharing a room, we share texts and see each other on holiday breaks. He sends his art and I send my stories, and we admire from afar.

We spend most of our time together talking on the phone now instead of brawling in the yard. His voice crackles over the speaker while I busy myself cleaning my room, putting clothes away, and picking flower petals off the floor. He spends his days drawing, creating Friday the 13th flash sheets for his shop, and scratching his nine-year-old pitbull, Lily, on the head — lilies of the valley, so potent in the spring. Ozzy answers to the name of something so innocent, tied to our shared memories by a string frayed on both ends.

“I wanted a name that reminded me of just being happy and peaceful,” he said. “I wanted to have something that was entirely my own.”

August was a name I chose for my own child; it was born from my grief and carried the hope of a legacy. I could pass something on even if it was painful. But I know the name was never mine to give: it belonged to August even before he walked the earth. It belongs to his parents. They rejoice in the hardships that brought August home, and he dances freely on the foundation that built our family.

Now, I want to have a daughter one day and name her September. Maybe I'll call her Ember. I'll pass something on: a controlled burn. She will rise out of dirt from an untouched plane. The soil will be enriched by the flame of her fingertips, it shall kiss the bushes and bless the crops. Ember will be the phoenix that rises from ashes of purity. There is nothing she has to overcome yet because tragedy doesn’t coexist with her namesake.

No one ever died in September.
And now my hope is she’ll spread her flame into the rest of the year. I’ll give her a title untethered to pain — not to erase the past, but to enlighten the future.

My best days are yet to come. Maybe I will marry in September. I will laugh, sing, and dance there, too. There is so much joy that I haven’t felt yet — people I haven’t met yet.

I haven’t met you, September, but the name belongs to you already.

Layout: Melanie Huynh
Photographer: Stephanie Ho
Videographer: Jayden Ramirez
Stylists: Nikki Shah & Tomas Trevino
HMUA: Dakota Evans
Models: Michelle Li & Noura Abdi

Other Stories in Cicada

© 2024 SPARK. All Rights Reserved.