Friday, July 25, 2008

She Who Shall Not Be Named

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.


Amanda said...

I am an Amanda and was called by Mendy (pronounced Mindy) until I declared in first grade (the mature child I was) that I was to be called Amanda from now on.

People always want to call me by a nickname, and Mindy or Mandy is always the first one they pick, until I nix it. I am Amanda, I say, that's it. No more, no less.

Great post!

Mint Julep said...

My brother and sister(twins)are Amanda and Andrew. Mostly that's what they go by, but on occasion it's Manda and Drew.
Your name definitely fits you as done your daughters(perfectly).
This was a great post. I don't have any kids yet but the thought of listening to my future child having pretend conversations gives me butterflies.

Bethany Lenhart said...

So beautiful...

~M said...

Great post, I totally get it. Xander is at that imagination age as well and it is so touching. Btw, I think Xander and Zoey are destined to get married someday. Your Zoey's blue eyes make me think of my boy's. I think she's the only child I've seen that's as pretty as him ;-) We'd have amazing looking grandbabies, ha!

benson said...

I love that zoey has imaginary conversations...I like to think she's speaking with angels that surround her and having a wonderful time.

jen said...

I love it!

Megan said...


Anonymous said...

Sometimes I wake up from a magical dream--one in which I am a constantly-evolving being, able to transform into the most ravishing princess or impregnable knight--and I mourn my status as an adult with adult responsibilities and externally-imposed restrictions. I desperately yearn to press the "Rewind" button on the Remote Control of Life and whisk myself away into the past when I was a child like Zoey: so inquisitive, supersaturated with wonder and in love with Life. So willing to believe in and chase after the fleeting shadows of possibilites, and so determined to be myself in a world that incessantly strives to define me and put me in my place. Adult life can become so syncopated and predictable, so stuporously habitual and exhausting; I often cannot wait to rest my head on my plush pillow at night--to wink at the moon as I did as a child before drifting off into an imaginary and completely UNpredictable realm.

When I see your Zoey, either in person or pictures, I am infused with HOPE. Her wide and seemingly unstoppable smile and the way her eyes remain open, as though fighting against the reflexive descent of her lids so that she misses NOTHING, somehow give me the impression that it's feasible to GO BACK and be the liberated girl I only remember through photographs. . .the one with the flower barrettes, chasing butterflies beneath the ever-watchful, blinding orbs of the sun. Zoey helps me BELIEVE again.

Last night I drempt of the Divine Miss Z, floating over the world in a bubble of light. As she inched closer to where I was, my surroundings abruptly filled with the purity of unfettered laughter and, surprised, I looked up to see this 27th month-old girl, cloaked in dripping, golden light, moving toward me. As she chortled and giggled with glee, hundreds of people flocked to the scene, to take part in "Zoey's Bliss". . .and as they gathered around me, the glistening, hovering sage parted her golden veil and sent forth bolts of healing, nurturing light from the tips of her pudgy fingers. And then, one by one, each member of the crowd started laughing with a two year-old's unadulterated delight.

Zoey is powerful.
Zoey is a healer.
Zoey is HOPE.

May she never stop shining!

maison21 said...

you are such a beautiful writer.

"maison21", aka "christian", who's birth certificate reads "eric" and who's family calls him "ricky". just like denise richards, it's complicated...

Anonymous said...

what a beautifully written post! Zoey and you are amazing!

Jill said...

Can you please write a novel? I feel you, girl.

My name is Tara Jill, but my sister's name is Sarah, so I've been Jill since birth.

And as a tween (or whatever it was called in the eighties), my prefered "fake name" (used mainly during my friend's annual birthday trip to Clearwater Lake) was Regina. Ahhhhhh...memories. Thank you.

Visual Vamp said...

I wanted to change my name to Yolanda Queen of The Gypsies. Yolandy?

The Lil Bee said...

This is some of your best writing yet...and that's a big statement because I love everything you post. I had only 5 minutes to sneak a peek at your blog today and see that I have MUCH to catch up on. I will read the rest of your posts tonight. But I just love the idea of making up new names and identities and accents. Such a stubborn little girl thing to do, and reminds me of so many childhood memories!

And your daughter should model. No, I mean seriously. It's ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

I remember the moment when I became lost in the world. It was under different circumstances, but I'm pretty sure it was the same feeling. I too look at my son and mourn that moment for him.

Thanks for this post. I thought I was the only one who did that.

grammyof13 said...

Oh how many memories you caused to pass through my brain while I was reading.

Keep up the awesome work of entertaining me.