My brain shuffles a deck of cards as I sit in my English class, watching my Queen of Hearts teacher explain how to label sentences. Subject, predicate, direct object, preposition, conjunction. One of my favorites is the infinitive: to run, to frolic, to sing “Happy Birthday” while washing your goopy hands in a public restroom.
This dark-haired sweetheart of a teacher is explaining to all my joker classmates that an adjective is a part of speech that modifies a noun or pronoun. She writes, “The boy is wearing a blue sweater” on the chalkboard, and I raise my hand to answer that the adjective is the word blue.
“That’s terrific, little girl,” she says.
If my heart were chewing a piece of bubble gum, it would have blown a bubble . . .
. . . because I realize that she can’t remember my name. My name changes every day, that’s why.
Why I have a new name every day of the year is quite simple to explain: my mom and dad fought so much at the time I was born that when they were trying to decide on what to name me that morning in the hospital, a heated argument ensued. The doctors stood around for a few minutes before shaking their heads and carrying me into another room, leaving my parents alone to decide what name I should be referred to for the rest of my life.
“Let’s name her Isis,” my dad suggested. “You know, after that Bob Dylan song.”
“Let’s name her Ana,” my mom sarcastically answered. “You know, after that Beatles song.”
“How about Isis Ana? Or Ana Isis?” Dad asked.
“I don’t think I like either combination,” my mother said. “Maybe we should just name her after my mother, Elaine.”
Dad immediately refused. Legend has it that he almost saw that name coming, too.
“And what about my mother?”
“Your mother has yet to pass away,” she answered.
“Well then forget it, okay? We just won’t name her. It sounds like that’s what the hell you want. She can go by her last name only.”
To further complicate things, my parents weren’t married.
“Your last name or my last name?” my mother asked.
Dad left me after my Mom left my Dad.
Supposedly the two only got along when they went out to eat and Dad’s company paid for the meal. They were together for five years, and according to my older cousin, those five years involved countless battles over money, relatives, and my name. I was told never to believe that I was the reason that their relationship (and engagement) failed. Somehow, however, I managed to convince myself that I was.
At the age of five and a half, I was adopted by my aunt and uncle whose house you could only enter after your vehicle slid down their excruciatingly steep driveway. Their house was one of comfort to me. It had a unique smell that filled my nostrils the way my aunt would fill my favorite Jungle Book cup with warm milk. The pair kept me fed, hydrated, and educated. Unlike my parents, they were in love, and perhaps most importantly, they were also in love with me.
What I loved most about living with my aunt and uncle was the way I could observe them and learn about cooking, music, movies, and sports. I would watch my aunt bake me cinnamon rolls and cupcakes in the kitchen, and then cross into the living room to see my uncle cheer on his favorite football team. I could always see the patch of snuff lodged between his gum and lip at the front of his mouth, but I didn’t mind. In between
commercials, he would sing to me and I loved that sour smell of him singing.
I realized I was different when I got to kindergarten. I was playing in an indoor sandbox with a girl named Laura, who had a broken arm and a stiff purple cast encasing it. After she finished building her mini sandcastle, she told me that she wanted to whisper a secret into my ear.
“I’m a mummy! Tut Tut Tut! What’s your name?” she asked.
I panicked. What was my name? My mind got twisted like an animal balloon, and all I could think about was Mother Goose. Oh, and how I loved rhymes. That’s it. Rhymes.
“My name is Hummy Gummy!”I replied.
Laura laughed and picked up a pile of sand with cupped hands.
“Make a shovel with me,” she said, looking down at her hands and then up at me with her dark brown eyes.
We spent another five minutes shoveling sand into the middle of the box. I wondered if we should add water, perhaps flood the landscape, but my aunt said that it was time to move on to the next station, where a pretty lady would take my fingerprints and then hand me a coloring book complete with farm animals and sea creatures drawn with black, bold lines.
Throughout elementary school, I spent each day introducing myself to my classmates and teachers. Our daily routine involved walking into our homeroom, lining up at the water fountain, and taking turns sipping water. I stood to the left of the water fountain and after each student swallowed the last gulp of water, I shook his or her hand and announced my name for the day.
Kevin Minus was the only person who found it rather impossible to keep up with my consistent name changes.
When we played Red Rover in gym class, Kevin would never know what to shout from across the gymnasium.
“Red Rover, Red Rover, send . . . ummm, that girl . . . right over?”
His turning the game into a game of question always made me feel more confident in my ability to conquer his team. This was a nice change of pace, considering that Shawn Pagorto could bring me to tears by scrunching up his face, balling his fists, and yelling, “Red Rover, Red Rover, send Kaylie Finn right over!”
Poor girl. Shawn had a crush on her. And to make matters worse, Kaylie was shy. Instead of running full speed ahead in attempt to break the line of hand-holders across the room, she walked slowly, with her arms crossed. When she got close to the opposing team, she would clumsily step forward and then break into a quick jog.
Kaylie was one of my best friends, along with Laura, who ignored my name changes and refused to call me anything other than “Hummy Gummy.” Laura was the only friend who managed to give me some sort of go-to name, and while I loved her for that, I still felt compelled to keep renaming myself on a daily basis.
While my aunt and uncle had every intention to name me and frame my birth certificate following the adoption, I became stubborn and uncooperative. I had lived without three names for half a decade, so why would I need them now?
“What would you like your name to be, darling?” my aunt asked as she poured a glass of Lucky Charms into my cereal bowl one morning.
I was only in first grade, and my answer reflected that.
“Mother Goose,” I said, gathering all the marshmallows onto my spoon and clumsily shoving them into my mouth.
“How about Daughter Duck?” my uncle joked.
I chuckled. My uncle always made me laugh. He called me his favorite daughter and I called him dipshit.
My aunt had the radio tuned to the oldies station, and Little Richard’s “Good Golly Miss Molly” was introduced by the DJ. His voice crackled over the loudspeakers as I watched my aunt finish packing my lunchbox.
I finished my cereal, watched my aunt stuff my lunchbox into my bookbag, and then asked for her help to toss my Little Mermaid bookbag over my back. I couldn’t wait to jump on my school bus, open up my lunchbox, and eat the cupcake that my aunt had packed for me. There was no waiting for lunchtime when it came to cupcakes.
That day, I named myself Good Golly Miss Molly. (And good golly, was that cupcake delicious!)
The only thing that wasn’t delicious, however, was the way I always thought of my parents when I ate cupcakes. Cupcakes reminded me of my fourth birthday party; my parents invited a few of the children from my preschool over to my house and made us eat cupcakes rather than cake. They gathered around the table to sing “Happy Birthday” to me, but I didn’t even get to blow out any candles and make a wish.
“How come you don’t have a birthday cake like my mommy got for me?” Laura innocently asked me as she wiped icing from her upper lip using her tongue.
“We’re saving up money for her birthday party next year,” my mom answered Laura. “She’ll have a big cake then because it’ll be her going away party, too.”
If I had candles to blow out that day, I would’ve wished for my parents to love me.
I’m in sixth grade now, still sitting in a classroom full of students who do not know—and show no interest in learning—the parts of speech. Why I know them so well is because more often than not, the names I create for myself contain nouns, adjectives, and the like. Most of my names also rhyme or contain alliteration.
“The little girl in the yellow vest is intelligent,” my teacher writes on the board. I am wearing a yellow vest. I think she is referring to me, but possibly only to make up for forgetting my name earlier. “Can someone name one adjective from this sentence?”
Laura raises her hand.
“Terrific job, Laura!” the teacher announces before writing “adj” above her correct answer.
I put my hand in the air. The teacher seems reluctant to call on me, perhaps fearing that she’ll embarrass herself again by forgetting my name, which, in turn, serves as a reminder that time must be taking its toll on her memory.
My teacher smiles and writes “adj” above my correct answer. I turn to Laura and shrug my shoulders, well aware that my teacher is really struggling to remember my name. She is cleverly biding her time by keeping her back to the class and avoiding eye contact with
“I’m Dizzy Miss Lizzy today,” I say, slowly bringing my hand down to my lap.
Fiction, poetry, and all that good stuff . . .