This selection will also be found in our Literary Arts Journal, Beneath the Surface, along with the featured image by Britain Steward.
Roving packs of children are common to family gatherings, and my family was no exception. There was hardly a birthday gone by when one of our houses wasn’t patrolled by a pack of female cousins decked in assorted dressup equipment. The bunch of us were a cabal of princesses, committed to our giggling mischief. Of course, it is hard to fit into a group of darling little girls when you’re named after your grandfather. Not even a feminine distinction from his name, just a spelling one. There was no way for a listener to tell the difference from “Charlie” and “Charly”. My whole childhood was spent with no way to tell who my grandmother was addressing, legions of confused teachers, and being grouped with the boys at award ceremonies, all the result of a name. The worst though, was the name my cousins would call me: Charles! As though I was a boy! I may not have shared their biblical or flower names, but I still possessed two X chromosomes.
Of course my name might have been easy to tolerate if I was more… athletic. Unfortunately, I possessed no talent or love for sports. I lacked any sort of competitive instinct. In those days I had only one dream, to be beautiful. I know how it sounds but I had my reasons. For me, beauty was equivalent to peace. In my mind, the ideal woman was a tall, longhaired goddess who sat by a pool in a garden somewhere and brushed her hair. These women always had names like Venusashastasia or Megalenamaria. These women never had an ugly boy’s name.
It seems strange that even though my parents did their best to raise me as a confidant, independent girl, I wasn’t on track to become one. Perhaps the reason was that I equated beauty to transcendence. The women in my dreams never seemed like anything could upset them, they were partial to some secret of the universe that forever freed them from the suffering of our world. So that all they had to do was be beautiful and calm. In my mind if I had a name such as Jessica or Stephanie, I would be able to become like those women, and their garden of hair brushing would be open to me.
But as elementary school came, things started to feel different. For the first time I was around girls who had names that weren’t so femminine, probably the result of no longer attending a Christian school. I started to find my priorities changing. In the multiyear kindergartens of Memphis, I would choose a boy in each of my classes to be the object of my affection. I would never actually talk to him, but it gave me something to get excited about each time we sat at the same table. That stopped as soon as real schooling came. Perhaps I was too occupied for activities such as day dreaming, or spending an entire play period writing desperate love letters surrounded by a mass of other girls who were writing the same types of letters, to the same boy as me. But, maybe it was something else. Maybe I found my purpose in school. Learning has always seemed to give strength. For example, when I’m reading. If conditions are right and the book is good enough everything else goes away. I feel like I’m above all of the noise and the chaos around me. The feeling is addictive and doubly so for a first grader who had never read a book she enjoyed before. “Charly” stopped being a symbol of an awkward, undesirable girl. Instead it was simply the name of a promising young scholar. I must say, it’s preferable this way. Indeed, now I understand irony well enough to realize that I was only able to achieve the peace I wanted by rejecting the mindset that had desired peace in the first place.