What’s in a name?

“What’s your name?”

The elderly lady smiled at Elijah and asked him this seemingly innocuous question. I am certain that she had no idea how complicated this question actually was. I watched him, wondering what he would say. Most of the time lately, he will say, “I’m Moo-Moo” (TiTi Lena’s nickname for him from the start). When I call him “Elijah”, the name I’ve been calling him since before he was born, he answers to that name. But on this day, he turned to the woman and said, “Cecil*”.

And my heart sunk. Because yes, his name is Cecil. Cecil Elijah Davis (“Jr. III”, but that’s a story for another day).

Before he was born, Sara and I had managed to talk Mona into reversing the order of his names. Instead of Cecil Elijah, we had her convinced to call him Elijah, with Cecil as his middle name. “All of your other boys have names from the Bible”, we told her. And then there was what we didn’t say – that the Cecil he was to be named after was nowhere to be found. It was Elijah’s aunties who brought Mona to and from her doctor’s appointments in those long two and a half months between the time she found out she was pregnant and the time Elijah arrived. We were the ones who took her to her weekly non-stress tests. We were the ones who encouraged her to eat correctly when her diabetes was raging out of control. When the doctor told Mona, “We have to keep an eye on things because we don’t want your baby to be stillborn”, I was the one who had to ask her, “Mona, do you know what ‘stillborn’ means?” I almost came to blows with a friend of Mona’s who was goading her into mocking my assertion that hers had been a high-risk pregnancy, because I knew. I knew, because I was there.

A few days before the baby was born, Cecil Senior (who himself is also Cecil Junior; there’s a whole lotta “unclear on the concept” going on here) strode back onto the scene, with that toothpick dangling from his mouth and that creepy, controlling demeanor. When we wanted to visit Elijah in the step-up NICU,  we were not permitted to enter without him (or Mona) accompanying us. Nothing we had been through together mattered at that point. We were out, and he was in, and so was the new name. Baby Elijah was now Baby Cecil. (This was also the point at which I started calling the father “FOTY”, for “Father of the Year”, because he swaggered in acting like he was in charge and feigning great interest in the baby’s health issues while he was in the step-up NICU).

It’s been almost three years, and I’ve gone on calling him Elijah without giving it a second thought, until recently. By the time the above conversation occurred, this had already been nagging at me for a while. Part of the issue is that FOTY is in the picture to a much greater extent these days, and although I still feel like I need to wash myself in bleach every time I interact with the man, I have to begrudgingly admit that Elijah seems to do well with him. And although he’s never said a word about it, I am almost to the point where I feel like I’m being disrespectful by not calling the child by his given name in the presence of his namesake.

I think the hardest thing for me, though, is hearing my beloved Elijah refer to himself by this other name. When I ask him, “Who’s Elijah, then?” he points to himself . . . he knows that this is the name that Aunt Sara, Aunt Lorraine, and everybody in our circle calls him. But when he is talking more, and going into more and more situations where people will call him by his “real” name, I am starting to seriously question how I should handle this.

I can’t call him Cecil. I just can’t do it. He is, and always will be, “Elijah” to me. But I don’t know what to do about everybody else. When I signed him up for nursery at church, I listed his name as “Elijah”, and so his name tag does not say “Cecil”. I find myself waiting for the day when FOTY will show his true colors and fly into a rage about this, demanding that the name be corrected, and while I don’t think that avoiding a scene is a good enough reason to give in, I find myself more and more wondering what the “right” thing to do really is in this situation.

I know he’s not my child. But I don’t know what to do. What is the right thing to do in this situation? How can I be fair to his biological father while still acknowledging that I, too, am a part of his life, and that he has never been anybody other than Elijah to me?

What would you do if you were in my situation?

(*pronounced “Sea-sill”, not “Ses-sill” as in B. De Mille)

Sunday blogging against . . . myself?

It has to have been seven or eight months since this happened, but it has haunted me ever since. So much so, in fact, that I have resisted writing about it here out of my embarrassment and shame. But, delinquent blogger that I am, I have to write something, and so here goes . . .

I was in the food court at the mall, and because I was still recovering from my ankle surgery last year, I was maneuvering with the help of Speed Racer. Sara had Elijah and was getting herself settled with him, and I was trying to get Chinese food and make my way back to the table. Yes, on one leg and while trying to maneuver a tray of food.

An African-American woman at the next counter over saw me struggling and had compassion on me. She told her son (who was about 9 or 10) to come over and offer to help me, which he did.

I was not paying attention to my surroundings, as usual, and so did not notice this sweet young man coming up to me until he was right next to me. When I realized he was trying to speak to me, I jumped . . . as I was trying to get his words to translate from my ears to my brain (something I tend to have trouble with under any circumstances), I looked at him with a panicked, forced smile and shook my head while sputtering something like, “no, thank you, I’ve got it, but I appreciate the offer”. I think I then said something about how I was shaking my head “yes” while saying “no” with my mouth–something like, “I know that I’m shaking my head the opposite of what I am saying”–but I don’t know. maybe I’m not remembering that part correctly.

I know I am remembering the forced, automatic and fake smile, though. My facial muscles still ache with self-condemnation every time I think about it.

I have so many excuses for why I jumped out of my skin when he approached me. Primary among those is the fact that having both ADHD and PTSD means that I both zone out easily and startle easily. One of my coworkers, after having seem me react that way one time too many, has taken to using very deliberate footsteps when she approaches me. I hate when I am jumpy like that, because it is never in any way the fault of the person who has (unintentionally) startled me, but people quite often take it personally.

But I have no excuse. This sweet, polite young man had absolutely no  reason to interpret the look of terror in my eyes, combined with the fake, plastered smile and meaningless words, as anything other than what I fear it really was.For this young man, and for his mother, my personal history was not even a factor. I am certain that they could only assume I was reacting in that over-exaggerated way because of a fear or a distrust of black men. How could it be interpreted any other way?

I still wish to this day that I had gone back to them and said something. I sometimes fantasize that I’ll somehow run into them again and will be able to make my apology, even though I barely remember what they looked like anymore. And I don’t want to give a complicated justification for my actions–“It’s unconscious–it’s a learned response”, blah blah blah, shut up, Lorraine . . . I just want to tell him how very, very sorry I am.

All I know is that in that moment, I wounded the heart of that little boy, and somehow sent the message that, no matter how many kind things he might do in his life, that there are always going to be white women reacting in unfounded fear at the very sight of him. And as I sat down for dinner with my own precious brown-skinned godson Elijah sitting next to me, my heart broke at the thought that he too will grow up in a world where people will instinctively and automatically jump in fear when they see him coming . . . even if he is the sweetest little boy in the world, and even if he comes with the most altruistic of motives . . . because at the end of the day, the inheritance we’ve all carried down through the years is one of mistrust, of irrational fear, and of unconscious, yet immediate judgments based on appearance.

I do not want Elijah to have to face the reality that I subjected this boy to . . . this young man who only wanted to be helpful, but who got only disdain and disrespect in return.

I can’t go back to that day and change my actions . . . all I can do is to continue to fight this monster of racism that rears its ugly head so often. I owe it to that young man to do so. I owe it to Elijah. And I owe it to myself, because this below-the-surface racism is a poison that needs to be eliminated from my body, mind and soul.

I’m so sorry, young man, wherever you may be. I’m sorry that you have to face a world filled with people like me. But I have to thank you as well, because your kind gesture taught me so much more than you will ever know.

am I weird?

(um, yeah. you didn’t have to answer that in the affirmative quite so quickly!)

I am almost 39 years old . . . and I am single. I am supposed to want a man, marriage, until death do we part, and so on . . .

so why is it that I truly couldn’t care less (or is it “could” care less?!) about all of that?

Yes, relationships are scary . . . and yes, although I know so many of you don’t believe me about this, and would rather blame it on Joe Raimo (!!!!!!!), I really do believe that it’s true that you don’t miss what you barely remember.

And it’s true that I am inherently selfish, probably too selfish to be in a relationship . . .

(and YES, I know that what I’m about to say is completely contradictory to that last statement . . . but I tell myself that this is “different”)

but the truth of the matter is, I’m fine the way I am . . . I don’t think I need a man in my life.

a child, however? that’s a whole different story.

yes, there is an ache in my heart, a hole in my life, but I never feel like I “need’ a man . . .

however, I absolutely DO know what Rachel meant when she demanded, “give me children, lest I die!”

and yet, people are forever reminding me that I can barely take care of myself . . . and even I tell myself, “well, I just have to get myself together, and maybe THEN I can adopt . . . ”

but I’m afraid that, not having “gotten myself together” in the first 38 years of my life, it is probably unlikely that I ever will . . .

and so I pour my love out on other people’s children, and wonder if my day will ever come . . . and I continue to try to justify to other people why the idea of “having a man” is the furthest thing from my mind.

I’m sure they think I’m just “weird”. and perhaps I am . . .