Names

My mom tells this story about the day I was born. I don’t know if it’s true, but I assume my mom lies only if it’s necessary – “I didn’t get your email” or “I never saw that text” kind of stuff – not about my birth.

The story goes something like this:

She wasn’t sure if I was a boy or girl, (while in her womb, not after I was born). She knew that if I was going to be a girl, my name would be Molly. If I was a boy, however, she was leaning towards the name John Michael…clearly hoping I would be a country music singer or a rodeo clown.

When I was born, the doctor pulled me out and proclaimed, “It’s a Molly.” The story has been told to me at least 473 times.

“It’s a Molly.”

“Michelle” was the name I wanted.  It sounded right.  It was simple and normal.  There were Michelle’s around.  I didn’t know any, but they were there. Out there. Living a normal life.

“Molly,” on the other hand, was old-fashioned and different.  And it was never “Molly.”  It was “Holly” or “Mary” or “What?”.  Never just “Molly.”

I decided on my name change early.  Not three or four, but early—maybe eight or nine.  My parents were still married.  We were still living in our house.

I was standing in front of the dark brown, built-in bookcase in our “formal” living room that no one ever sat in, and “Michelle” came to me.  I had been deciding on an encyclopedia (we had a full set) and the name suddenly struck me as right.  I don’t remember which volume I settled on (or if I even settled on a volume or why I was settling on an encyclopedia to begin with) because I had just decided I was going to change my name.  From now on I would be…wait for it…Michelle.

I do remember going to the mirror in the bathroom on our side of the house and getting up on the counter, a wiry eight or nine-year-old, and saying it over and over: “Hi, my name is Michelle.”

I studied myself in the mirror.

My eyes were big.  Very big.  And brown.  My hair unruly.  And brown.  I might have been fifty pounds by then, but I covered myself in oversized t-shirts stolen from my mom’s closet—a fashion of the times that happened to also fit my personality.  Did I mention that I was abnormally wiry?  My arms and legs were these appendages attached to my body but somehow of their own mind.  I was not a fan of how I looked.

But, after my name change, suddenly it was OK.  I could look exactly as I did, but at least with a “normal” name it would be bearable.

To be gangly and have a name like “Molly” was a cruel joke.

No one knew my new name, but every time someone called me by my “given” name, I would silently correct them. Defiantly, I would utter, “My name is Michelle.”

Today, marks my 34th year – the last year, in fact, that I’m closer to 30 than 40. If time worked backwards. It doesn’t.

Growing older doesn’t bother me. My friends, many of whom are older than me, say that it will. Perhaps. Currently, it doesn’t.

Today, I feel pretty comfortable as a Molly. I may be doomed to have a 4-year-olds name for the rest of my life, but I’m pretty comfortable with it. And while I know some pretty stellar Michelles (and even a couple of awesome Micheles), I’ll leave their name to them.

I’m a Molly, and I’m OK with that.

 

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Exclamation Points and Pedicures

I’m a child. There. I admit it.

“I don’t wanna” might be my most favorite excuse in the world. Moreover, (and what child do you know uses “moreover”?), I can find a million excuses to not do anything I don’t wanna. Facebook, YouTube, guitar playing, reading, TV, and sitting in silence are some of my favorite means of prolonging the doing of the task I don’t wanna do.

So, three weeks ago, I hurt my ankle. I don’t know how. I went to bed on Monday night, and on Tuesday my ankle was the size of a golf ball.

Now, to be fair, this is a bad ankle I had sprained in the worst possible way a few years ago, so I roll it and twist it often.

For three weeks, I have not run. (I’m a fake runner.) For three weeks, I have spent the vast majority of my time in flip-flops. (This is not news, but I haven’t had the option to change into anything else.) For three weeks, I have tried not to limp. And for three weeks, I have had multiple friends tell me to get an x-ray.

But I don’t wanna.

——————

“It’s liver and onions. Eat it.”

 It smelled funny – funny strange.

What is it?”

I mean, I heard him say “liver and onions,” but what was with the texture. And the smell. The whole thing was odd.

“Your dinner.”

Oh, my dad. So simple. So direct. That was his clear way of saying, “You’re eating liver and onions for dinner. That’s it. Don’t try to get out of it.”

“Well, I’m not eating that.”

There was a flare of nostrils. This was getting serious.

“Well, that’s all you’re getting.”

He ate his food.

The stand-off lasted through breakfast two days later. I won. Cereal replaced the leftovers of liver and onions.

“I don’t wanna” – 1; liver and onions – 0.

————————————–

This is not my foot.

So, for three weeks, amid claims of “It’s a hairline fracture” and “It should be healed already” and “You’re still limping?” and “Go get an x-ray,” I have stood firm in my I don’t wanna-ness.

Then, my Achilles heel…bribery and sweetness.

“Do you want to go to that clinic today after we meet? I know you don’t WANT to, but let’s go anyway!!”

During dinner last night, I had informed my sweet friend that my ankle was still bothering me, and I should just suck it up and go to the med clinic for an x-ray. “It’s the adult thing to do.”

I respond to her morning text: “Nah…no me gusta.” I’m a bilingual child.

“I know que no te gusta, but you need to be better. Let’s go!”

“You won’t make this fun with exclamation points,” I quip. Can one “quip” in a text message?

“What do you mean??!!!”

Clever. That got a smile.

“Come on!!!! It will take less than an hour! Pleaseeeeeee!”

Dammit. Why does she care that much if I go for a damn x-ray? I don’t wanna. Hmm…how.to.respond.

“Can we get pedicures after?”

I am aware that I have a hurt ankle, and I will have to be clear with my pedicure lady that she will have to be gentle, but c’mon…it’s a pedicure!

“Yes!!!”

Dammit. “Then, yes.”

So, today I’m heading to the med clinic for an x-ray. Hairline fracture or not, I’m clear that I shouldn’t have waited this long. And while it took bribery to get me there, I’m still going. That’s rather adult of me.

Now, I’m gonna eat my gummy vitamins and have some Peanut Butter Crunch for breakfast. No. Really.

I’ll let you know if it’s broken.

UPDATE: It’s not broken. It’s a sprain. I am, however, in a boot. I know…it’s hot.

Girl Fight

“I can hit you.”

I was confused. Grabbing the strap of my backpack, I pulled it over my shoulder and continued towards the bus. It never waited. You had fifteen minutes after the last bell, then it left.

My backpack was jerked. I stopped as he filled my path again, followed by his posse. A posse that consisted of two people: the only Black girl in my class – a skinny girl with a mop of hair who dressed like a boy – and his younger brother.

“I can hit you,” he said again.

“You’re going to hit me?”

I was confused. You don’t tell somebody you can hit her, you just hit her.

“Yeah. She told me how.” He nodded towards the female member of his small posse.

“What do you mean ‘She told you how’?”

“It’s OK for me to hit you ‘cause she showed me how to fight a girl.”

A crowd was gathering.

“You had to be told how to fight a girl?”

I wasn’t trying to be funny – I was genuinely confused – but the line got laughs. Score.

That morning I had made inferences about the size of his penis based on the fact that he was incredibly skinny. I had never seen a penis nor did I know how small or how big one should be, but I had heard somewhere that boys hated being told It was small. A movie? My brother? I don’t know, but it worked.

He had been making fun of me and my best friend, and he went red and silent when I brought up his penis size. Girls slapped my hand as I got off the bus for school, and throughout the day I was asked to tell the story again and again.

Now, Mr. Small Penis was standing in front of me in all his 12-year-old glory, chest puffed out, wanting to hit me. I must have struck a nerve. Boys and their penii. I kept my backpack on my shoulder and stared at him. His face was reddening, and he was standing in a boxer stance.

“You’re not going to hit me,” I said, silently hoping that I was right.

Now, here’s where it gets fuzzy. I know he didn’t hit me. I know we got on the bus to go home because he lived only a few streets away from me. I also know that the summer between grades 7 and 8 he officially became my boyfriend.

Life is funny sometimes.

My takeaways from this memory (that came flooding back while watching 21 Jump Street…who knew?):

  • A lot of people wanted to fight me when I was a kid. (You can read about my encounter with Delphina here.)
  • Humor gets me a pretty decent pass on stuff that could get me in trouble.
  • I still am confused by the male anatomy.

Cursing with Grandma

I might have been seven the first time I remember hearing my grandma utter the phrase, “It’s fucked.” I had been playing at her neighbor’s house – they had a son my age. After our brains hurt from developing story lines with a plastic He-Man and tiny cars (PS. I’m convinced this is why I’m gay), I came back to my grandma’s house for what I presumed would be another night of musicals (and there’s another clue). Instead, I opened the door to the saddest sounds I’d ever heard. I prepared myself for what could only be bad news, and tried to determine who might be dead.

Quietly, I followed the sadness into my grandma’s bedroom. There she was, splayed out across her bed, which was pushed into a corner surrounded by windows, overlooking her large backyard. She didn’t notice me. I sat down on the bed. She didn’t even pick up her head. I touched her shoulder. If she hadn’t been crying I would have assumed she was dead. It was as though I didn’t exist. Then, she said it. “It’s fucked.”

My eyes widened. My grandma had just said the “F” word. Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I had never heard the word before, but this was my grandma — a lover of the English language who could form beautiful sentences without stuttering or even repeating a word.

She repeated it, “Fucked.”

I smiled and stifled a laugh. I was glad she wasn’t looking at me. I knew now was not the time to laugh. But, come on! My grandma had just said the “f” word! Twice!

“What is?” I asked.

“What’s what?” she countered.

“What’s….” I certainly couldn’t say it, but she didn’t seem to know what I was talking about. “What’s…fucked?” I squinted, bracing myself for a backhand. I had never been hit in my life, but I assumed I had now given just cause.

Without missing a beat she plainly said, “Life.”

Huh? What did that mean? I figured I’d try it again…if only to get away with saying the “f” word one more time, “Life is fucked?”

“Yes. Life’s fucked.”

“Well, hell,” I said without even thinking. “That sucks.”

My eyes widened. I just said “hell” and “sucks” for no good reason. I braced myself for what would come next. Then, she started to laugh. With her head on the bed, she laughed. And, whether it was out of nerves or happiness that she wasn’t mad, I laughed with her. She rolled over, and we laughed and laughed until our sides hurt and our faces needed a break.

In my grandma’s house, where I had been taught early to love Shakespeare and musicals and “Murder, She Wrote,” I grew to love the “f” word and gained an understanding of the complexities of adulthood. Sometimes you would cry for no reason, and that was OK. Sometimes you might cry for reasons known only to you, and that was OK. Sometimes you would cry because it was all “fucked,” and that was OK.

And then…you would laugh…because sometimes that was the only thing to do.

Stinky Feet and Sarcasm

There was a trend when I was in seventh grade to wear these black ballet-looking slippers with large flowers on them. The name-brand was Sam & Libby; I got mine from Payless. It was as good as it was going to get.

They made my feet stink – rancid stinkiness that emanated from the bottom of my soles to my nose. I was offended by the smell and would “hide” my feet – and the offending shoes – under my desk. But I wore them anyway because they were what everyone else was wearing. I don’t so much stick to that rule anymore, but in 7th grade…I totally did.

There was a girl – a scary girl – in my history class with one of my favorite teachers ever, Mrs. Berridge. The girl’s name was Delphina. This is the kind of girl that you wonder about during those times when you let your mind wander. “Whatever happened to Delphina?” In fact, I only feel confident writing this story now because I believe she does not read. I could be wrong. In which case, the names of those in this story have been changed.

Anyhow, she was not my fan. Not that a lot of people were. But she hated me. I’m not sure why. I never spoke to her. Or about her. Or around her. She scared me. She was angry. Always. She made sure I knew she hated me.

She commented on my shoes one day. Loud enough so that I could hear, she called me out, proclaiming my “generic fucking shoes” stunk up the locker room when we had to change for gym. I pretended I didn’t hear her, then wrote “I hate Delphina” 100 times on a piece of paper. But really small, so that she couldn’t see what I was writing.

Let me be clear, my awkward phase started at about 7-years-old, ramped up when I was 11-years-old, and barely closed out by the time I was 25. I was a gangly, frizzy-haired mess. But I loved the theatre and could be funny when prompted. These things would save me on more than one occasion.

See? Awkward.

One day, she accosted me outside history. Standing in front of me, in the middle of the hallway, with her three friends, she said, “Meet me out back of the school. I’m going to kick your ass.”

You only went to the back school parking lot to fight, so I never went back there. Not even to watch. A wayward blow could make it’s way to my face. Thanks, but no thanks.

“What?” I asked. I had early onset deafness, apparently.

“I’m going to kick your ass.”

“Why?” I was genuinely confused.

“’Cause you’re a fucking bitch, that’s why.”

I had never been called anything that horrific ever. A “fucking bitch”? Really? For wearing generic shoes? “Shit. Had she seen my ‘I hate Delphina’ notepad?”

“Umm…why?”

“Listen, bitch, are you going to meet me out back or not?” Clearly, she had a one-track mind.

A crowd was gathering. My only option out of this was to get enough people on my side that it would be foolish of her to try and kill me lest there be an uproar, and she would have to take on my gang of hundreds.

“Ummm…that would be a negative,” I replied.

That got a chuckle from the crowd. I’ll take it.

“You’re not going to go out back after school?” she asked incredulously.

“Are you going out back after school?” I asked.

“Yes, bitch, I’m going out there to kick your ass.” See? She was scary!

“OK. Then I’m not going out back. I’ll be in the front waiting for my ride.” I could only hope that my best friend’s mom, who was scheduled to do the pick-up that day, would arrive on time.

There was silence. She was confused. I thought I was pretty clear.

“Are you a fucking chicken?” she asked, slapping hands with the girl standing next to her. Good one! Only I’m not Marty McFly, so that doesn’t work on me.

“Are. You. A. Chicken.” She slowly repeated in case my deafness came back.

“Clearly.” I replied. “Look, I’m not going to go out back so that you can kick my ass. Whether that makes me a chicken or incredibly smart, I’ll leave for you to decide.”

So, my mouth is popping off brave retorts that also happen to be slightly sarcastic, but inside my stomach there are butterflies (or rhinoceri) trying to force themselves free.

She’s dumbfounded. She looks at me, then to her friends. She does not understand what is happening. This went on for minutes – could have been two or twenty. Silence as she stared at me, then to her friends, then back to me, then back to her friends. Somebody giggled. It wasn’t me. But it was a nervous giggle.

Then, she just turned and walked away. That was it.

While I was never asked to meet her out back ever again, there were always those moments when we would pass each other in the hallway, and I would think, “Any minute now, she’s gonna realize I’m full of shit and hit me.” I often wonder, in present day, how noticeable that really is.

Flying

I was standing on a roof.  My roof.  My parent’s roof.  I was looking down on our front yard; they were staring up at me — the kids from the neighborhood.

There was the chubby girl with the beautiful face who would wind up getting pregnant much too early, and her younger brother who died from drugs much too young.  Next to her stood the much-too-cute-for-me boy who would be not-so-cute later, but played a wicked game of baseball.  Beside him stood the goofy, home-schooled kid who was more fun than all of them put together.  Behind this group stood the only black kid on the block — he thought he was tough; I beat him up once for hitting his puppy.  My sister stood next to him — this beautifully simple girl who would become so complex.

I had informed this group of neighborhood kids that I could fly.  I figured that in the course of the conversation if I just tossed this bit of information in casually, it might be commented on as something really neat, but ultimately dismissed as something that anyone would want to see.  Kid logic.  Go figure.  Needless to say, (but I’ll say it anyway), I was asked to prove it.

While my sister proceeded to defend my honor, “She can fly; I’ve seen it,” I began to devise a plan.  I noticed how close the large tree in our front yard was to our house.  Doing quick geometry (which I didn’t know was geometry then) I estimated that if I ran hard enough I could launch myself from the top of our one-story house, grab the tree and ultimately make it look as though I flew to the tree.  At this point, I surmised that the neighborhood kids would be sufficiently impressed, and I could tell them I would never fly in front of them again because they didn’t believe I could fly in the first place.  Brilliant!  My plan was in place.

I climbed our fence and hoisted myself up onto the roof.

Now, standing on top of the house, looking down on my friends, I felt a sort of calm.  I wasn’t nearly as scared as I thought I’d be.  What if I could actually fly?  That would be something, wouldn’t it?  And I would never have known it because I would have just assumed I couldn’t.

I walked backwards up the roof, lining myself up with the tree in front of me.  I screamed, “Ready?”

There were yells from below, inaudible, but I got the picture, “Do it already.”

I started running.  I got to the edge of the roof and launched myself toward the tree.

———————-

You know that moment right before you realize you did something really stupid when time seems to stand still.  That’s what happened.

There was a moment when I thought, “I’ve done it.  I’m going to make it.”

That moment was short lived as I felt my fingertips brush the tree branches and felt my body slowly fall to earth.  I landed on my face — the breath knocked from me.  I think I might have also lost consciousness.

I rolled over to find my sister looking down at me.  I don’t know how long I had been laying there.  Everyone else had gone – scattered when I landed with a thud and appeared dead.  I looked up at her.

“Almost,” was all she said before she went to join the others.

Dinner with Dad

Rabbit

“It’s rabbit.  Eat it.”

My sister had gotten sick.  She puked in the corner of my parent’s bedroom.  My mom took her somewhere.  They were still gone the next day.  Or maybe only my mom was gone.  I don’t know.  It’s fuzzy.

What’s not fuzzy is that my dad was spooning out a red, gooey mass of something onto my plate.

It sat in a clump, steaming.  I looked from the pile on my plate to my dad and back again.  Surely he wasn’t going to make me eat this.

“What is it?”

“It’s rabbit.”  He glanced at my brother who just kept looking at his own plate, shoveling forkfuls into his mouth.  In between bites, as goo lined his lips he would smirk at me.

“Since when do we eat rabbit?” I asked.

“Since I serve it,” he cleverly retorted.  My dad always had a reply for everything.

———–

“Why can’t I go outside?”

“Because I said so.”

“But I wanna!”

“Well, want in one hand and spit in the other and see which one fills up first.”

See?  Clever.

———–

“I won’t eat it.  You can’t make me.”

He could, and he had before — or, at least, had attempted to with a plate of liver and onions.  Our standoff had lasted nearly two full days with my mom finally stepping in.  I got a bowl of cereal, and I don’t think my dad ever forgave me.  Was he proving his “Dad-ness” now with Mom gone?

“Fine,” he said.  “Don’t eat it.  But you don’t get anything else.”

That night, I ate the bread he had served with the rabbit, as I watched my brother shovel more and more into his mouth.  Even now, I try to remember if I was hungry that night.  I don’t think I was.  I was sad for the rabbit.

The next night my mom was home.  No tattling on Dad.  Just eat whatever is put in front of you so it’s not brought up.  But when I got to the table, red-faced from playing outside, there it was again: a platter of rabbit.

I stared from my mom to my dad, who at this point looked surprisingly calm.  He was going to have to explain to Mom that I had gone without dinner last night and would go without dinner again tonight, a replay of the Liver and Onion Days.  I figured I might as well get it over with: “I’m not eating that.”

“Why not?” my mom asked.

“I don’t eat rabbit.”

There was a long silence—that much I remember for certain—as my mom stared at my dad, then at my brother who was chuckling uncontrollably.  I didn’t get the joke.

“That’s not rabbit,” my mother directed at my dad through clenched teeth, “It’s. Lasagna.”