When I was born my name was Amanda. But my brother was already Andy and my parents didn’t want people to call us Andy and Mandy so the birth certificate was changed and I was no longer Amanda.
I wonder what my life would have been like had my parents kept the name. I think my eyes would have been bigger, softer. I would have looked good in blue.
Later on I told people my name was Heidi. I wore my hair in braids and pretended the very slight hill leading up to our house on Scenic Avenue was an alp in Germany. My cat Dumb Darrell Chicken Liver Whip Whap Sick Sack was a goat. After that I was Penny from The Rescuers, then Jo from The Facts of Life which was about the time I tried speaking with a Brooklyn accent even though I had never even been. Later it was Samantha, again from Brooklyn, this time from Who’s the Boss. She had sharp eyeteeth and bitchin’ big bangs. Meanwhile I had a space in between my front teeth and frizz.
I no longer go by different names. I am Susannah and I don’t look good in blue. But at times I am a mommy, other times a mother. I am an employee, a friend, a daughter, a wife, a sister, the anonymous person in line behind you at the supermarket. I am the bitch who cut you off on the freeway. I am one name but a thousand different people when earlier, when I was young, I was many different names but one single me. Even when I spoke in an accent that was not my own. I was me no matter the name.
Zoey has gotten to the age of pretend. I listen to her play by herself, feeding her teddy bear cups of tea and talking to the bird wall decals above her bed at night. You want some?
She says, and then inexplicably, it’s very dangerous! Be careful! Keep trying!
I have no idea what’s going on inside her head, if she's a bird or a lady dripping with diamonds, feathered mules on her feet. But she knows who she is, regardless of name, no matter the shoes. She is who she is and she doesn’t know anything else.
I distinctly remember when I first learned I had a last name. My brother and I were sitting in the little red Datsun outside of our house on Scenic and my mom was in the driver’s seat, quizzing us on our phone number. 4534277453427745342774534277, she made us repeat it over and over and then she told us our last name. Remember it, she said, that is who you are
. And it suddenly occurred to me that I had an identity. I was Susannah Jenkins, 4534277. Should I ever get lost that’s what I was supposed to say. But in realizing that others saw me as something, a name, a phone number, a house, hair, part of a family, a smile, shoes, as the daughter of someone who drove a little red Datsun—I suddenly already felt lost. I was no longer just the me that existed in the space of my own breath.
My brother is no longer Andy. He goes by his full given name, which is Andrews, one man in plural, a family name passed down from generation to generation. So I could have remained Amanda after all, my eyes soft and large like a velvet painting. Andrews and Amanda, no rhyme there. I could have worn blue, although Amanda certainly does not speak with a Brooklyn accent. Amanda doesn't blog about baginas.
But I couldn’t have kept that veil of me. The lack of knowledge that others see me as a girl, as silly, as a nuisance, as beautiful and ugly, as awkward, as a phone number and a name, a place, as someone who stands with her toes turned inward. Because there comes a point in growing up when we gain the knowledge of our place in the world and lose the single solid sense of who we are without the noise of opinion.
I watch Zoey as she studies an earring I have dropped on the bathroom floor, the way her chubby little fingers turn it this way and that, the way she softly pushes it deep inside her ear canal until I scream at her to stop. It’s dangerous!
I say. Be careful!
And she turns to me and smiles, the serenity of someone who knows who she is no matter what anyone thinks. And because I am her mother, Susannah, a girl who looks good in purple, a woman who has a husband that calls her an 'an emotional fish,' I look at my daughter's smile, at the gold glittering in ear wax, and I mourn the loss of her sense of herself. I mourn her knowing her name.