Monday, April 20, 2009

What's in a Name?

When she was born she had no name. She lived in the hospital nursery for 5 days and whatever names the nurses used have been lost to history. She depended upon them for everything. She cried when she was hungry, or wet, or needed a cuddle and waited for a name. Maybe the nurses cooed to her, "There, there, little one. It's ok. Here is your bottle." Maybe they were busy and just carried her around feeding her as they tended to whatever else needed doing. Who could ever know?

When she was 5 days old she met her mommy and daddy. Mommy cried out, "Oh! There is my little Michelle! I have waited so long for you. I'm so glad you are here." Mommy put Michelle in pretty little dresses and bonnets. She gave her a purple bedroom with a canopy bed. Mommy taught Michelle to read before she went to school. Mommy made clothes for Michelle's dollies and let her play dress up and push the cat in the baby carriage. But Michelle had a wild side, a wild side which bent the canopy into a pretzel because she wanted it to be a jungle gym.

With Daddy Michelle could indulge her wild side. She could be Matilda. "So Matilda, let's take a ride." Off Daddy and Matilda rode on the motorcycle, over the fields and down the country lanes. "Go faster, Daddy!" She shouted into the wind. Matilda could sit on the back porch during a thunder storm, with her dog and her daddy, and not be afraid as the lightning danced over the cornfield. Matilda could go way out into the ocean where the waves went over her head because she could sit on her Daddy's shoulders and daddies are strong, brave people...until they go away when Matilda is still small making her feel lost and scared.

Fortunately Matilda had a Grampop. With Grampop she wasn't scared. She could feel that sometimes Grampop was scared but he knew how to imagine the scary things away with long walks and music and art. Grampop took Matilda on hikes in the mountains and told her all the Indian legends sharing his respect for their ways. He called Matilda his Indian Princess. He sent her postcards and tried to spell the name her mommy had given her but it never came out spelled the same way twice. So she was just Princess....but not the frilly kind who wore scratchy ball gowns, because that would never do. She was the kind who wore buckskins and hopped over logs and rocks and through creeks, the kind who fed chipmunks from her hands, and shot BB guns or bows and arrows. Grampop also gave art to his Princess and fed her imagination, smiled at her drawings. He strummed his guitar and sang while Princess danced. He showed her how to listen quietly to the music in the mountains, how to watch carefully for the art in creation. Princess learned to still her heart...until Grampop joined the spirits who sang in the forest.

She was in junior high where other kids sometimes used names that were very unkind so we won't even worry about what those names were. It's just how some people are. Then she went to high school and suddenly she had different names. Half the teachers called her Miss Smith. "Miss Smith, can you share with the class the 6 trigonometric functions?" "Huh? What? I have no idea." "Miss Smith have you paid attention at all?" "Well, yes, but it made no sense." "Then perhaps you should have taken basket weaving." Miss Smith shrank in embarrassment. The other half of her teachers called her simply by her last name, like she was some sort of soldier. In another class she had a drill sargent as her teacher. Most of the students were scared to death. Smith wasn't. "Smith! How many chauvinist pigs does it take to make a pot of coffee!" "I have no idea but it only takes one to tell this pitiful joke." "Dammit Smith, it doesn't take any to make the coffee because it's a woman's job!" "I rest my case," Smith intoned. "Smith! How does the protist Euglena propel itself!" Smith stood on her chair and cracked an imaginary whip before declaring suggestively, "By flagella!" Her teacher turned 17 shades of pink and had no retort for the first time that year. Smith sat down to the awe and accolades of her classmates. Smith learned to never let them see you sweat.

Now all this time, Smith had another grandfather, Pop-pop. She sometimes thought Pop-pop was a hard man to understand. Pop-pop was a practical man who liked order without frills. To him, Smith was Girl. He liked to tease, but not in a mean way. He liked to play with words by slipping them around on his tongue and enjoying the way they rolled off before they chimed or crashed according to his purposes. When Girl was younger she had to think hard sometimes before she got his jokes but when she did she could nod knowingly with him and say "I see said the blind man as he picked up his hammer and saw!" Girl learned humor had a way of healing hurt. Pop-pop worked hard his whole life. He made sacrifices for Girl that Mom and Dad either couldn't or wouldn't make. One day darkness descended on his mind and Girl tried to draw him into the light with his old words and favorite jokes. She tried to make the sacrifices for him that he needed but the darkness only receded a short time before it returned like a tsunami to sweep him away forever.

Girl had her own family now. She was Mrs. and Mommy and learning all about what that meant. Mrs. Mommy tried to do the right things. She watched people carefully looking for wisdom in their lives. When she found it she put it into practice. She kept the things that worked and tried to toss away the things that didn't. Some things felt strange, some felt natural. She kept trying to sort it all out while trying to encourage her Mister and teach her own wee one. These were by far the strangest names she had ever been called. Sometimes she didn't always answer to them because it felt like they belonged some some imaginary character. Eventually, they seemed more real. Then Mrs. Mommy moved far away with her family.

Mrs. Mommy landed in Trinidad and the people there called her all sorts of other things. Some of the names were meant to mark her as a stranger to be held at arm's length and she knew it. Others were a test. There were lots of tests. The women wanted to know if she could be girly. Michelle could. The rowdy ones wanted to know if she could be wild. Matilda could. They all wanted to know if an American could respect their culture, their music, their art. Princess could. The brokenhearted wanted to know if she would be gentle with them. Many wanted to know if she would absorb their words and speak them with ease and respect. Girl could. The child who was beaten and starved wanted to know if anyone could possibly care about him. Mrs. Mommy could. When the tests were passed the gift was given, a new name, Meesh. It was a gift because in Trinidad you only know your nickname if the givers love you. Otherwise it is whispered in derisive tones behind your back and you only hear your formal name to your face. Meesh knew there was as much love in that name as in any of the others she'd ever been given. Because she'd earned it with the lessons from her other names she felt warm when someone used it.

Now Meesh had to return to home where she was just Michelle again. Matilda's fearlessness was lost. She was no one's Princess. The ones who called her Girl or Miss or Smith did so without any kind of meaning. They may as well have called her by some impersonal series of numbers or used one of those trigonometric functions that confounded her. She was defined very neatly as Mrs. Mommy again but now it was generic and seemed only to refer to her function. No one's imagination would have allowed for Meesh. "What kind of weird name is Meesh? Why can't those people say your name properly?" some folks wondered. So Michelle it was, even though she felt more as if she were just a nameless infant whimpering for some nourishment.

One day she slipped into a strange digital universe and found for the first time that she could give herself a new name. She could reveal or conceal whatever she wanted. She could decide who she was. She still carried all her other names but in this space she could wrap them into one new name with many sides which reflected whichever old name felt right for the time. She could rediscover old interests she had long ago put to the side or explore new ones she had never imagined before. And so it came to pass that Lime entered the world.

31 comments:

Cocotte said...

Beautifully and wonderfully written, Lime! You have lived life to the fullest. God bless you for sharing your life with us.

Fi from Four Paws and Whiskers said...

oh... WORDS FAIL ME lIME - WHAT WONDERFUL WRITING!
oops
sorry -
shouting
That was beautiful and poignant and sad and uplifiting...
thank you

and i too languished for some days before I met my parents.... the joys of adoption.

(M)ary said...

wow.that really hooked me to keep reading. great job,michelle,matilda,meesh, and lime!

(M)ary said...

i wonder if deep in your brain you remember what the nurses called you. do you ever turn around when you hear a name that is not yours called out and wonder why?

G-Man said...

Did I miss Autobiographical Monday?


...And what about the chapter where you were held captive in a Harem?

Or when you raised Emu's in Kansas?

Those are great stories....:P

Desmond Jones said...

Thanks, Meesh.

This was wonderful, and I may or may not have dabbed a tear or two in the course of reading it. . .

And hey, I don't mind Word Verification all that much, but. . .

'fartyr'?

???

WTH is that - someone who breaks wind for a religious cause?

Suldog said...

"And so it came to pass that Lime entered the world."

And so it came to pass that Suldog was made very happy.

I really enjoyed that, a lot. Nice job.

S said...

I remember well when you showed up in Trivia Madness!

There was that other name too, Miss Tie Dyed Wonder!

:X

Mike M said...

Amazing Lime. You are truely a fantasic writer

truckdriver_sefl said...

What an amazing post! Bravo!

Ella said...

you are magical. and i am so glad that our digital paths crossed.

Craver Vii said...

Fascinating story! I had to wait 'till lunchtime before I could read it. Now I wonder what name you will be called by the Father who will never leave you. Will it be a given name from here and now, or do you suppose you might be assigned a new name, as it is uttered from the Lamb's book of life?

Hilary said...

So beautifully written. Your posts always inspire. For you, I have only the kindest of names. :)

jinksy said...

Brilliant - whoever you choose to be m'dear! xxx

Kat said...

Wow. Thank you for that personal insight into you. That was beautiful! Love it. :)

BTExpress said...

Very touching. My eyes leak a tad, thanks Lime.

Dr.John said...

That's a great birth story.
A story that tells us where the hero came from. What shaped it.
In part what one can expect.
I loved it.

Fred said...

Brilliant. This is one of your best pieces, Lime. After this comment, I'm going to go back and read it again.

~Tim said...

And Lime is such a tasty name!

misticblu said...

i am here. i hear you. i cried.
life is hard and you give me perspective exactly when i need it.
i knew you had multiple personalities.

:)

Cheesy said...

Truly~~My favorite post EVER

Beach Bum said...

Awesome! This some of the best writing I have read in a very long time.

jillie said...

Thank you for sharing that wonderful story. All the many beautiful phases of Lime.

Jeni said...

What a fantastic story! Loved the way you traversed from one aspect of your life to the next.

Mona said...

name is a utilitarian necessity...

except the one you give yourself!

Well done Lime!

RennyBA said...

What a beautiful story and so well written - thanks for sharing!

Of course Michelle should be named Michelle - obvious from the very beginning :-)

Jazz said...

Beautiful post. And a belated welcoming of Lime into the world.

Jocelyn said...

Holy wow, darling. One of your best here, and most definitely the finest tribute to what blogging can be in a life that I've ever seen.

KFarmer said...

And I'm so glad you are here :) Very beautiful~

~Dragonfly~* said...

What an excellent story... it makes me think of all the names I've been called over the years and how my students might perceive my calling them by their last names (with or without a Miss or Mr in front of it)... but for the record... it's just because when you get from 120 - 145 new students each year... it just takes me a while to get all the names!!! I remember one half before the other and sometimes its the last half first!!! :)

DF

Pouty Lips said...

Clapping furiously!