These Many Moons Magnificent
five to thirty-five
“If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be.”
When I was nine years old, I was convinced that I had the wrong name. I had suspected it for a long time.
“What’s your name, honey?”
“Don’t you have a name?”
“Well, what is it?”
“Oh, that’s a nice name.”
But it wasn’t a nice name. Not to me.
I preferred being called Gerry. It had only two syllables and somehow sounded better. Not so harsh as Geraldine. After I learned to read, I looked up the meaning of Geraldine. “Mighty spear-thrower.” Oh, how awful! I was tiny and could barely hold a tennis racket. How could I possibly hurl spears?
My grade three teacher announced that we’d be learning how to do cursive writing. How exciting! It must have something to do with cursing. Only grown-ups were allowed to swear and grown-ups wrote with joined-up letters. When I mastered this new skill, I too could say words like shit and damn. In 1956 only dyed-in-the-wool sinners used the F-word.
Preliminaries first. How to unscrew the cap from the ink pot. Some of the kids spilled the blue-black gunk all over their go-to-school clothes—a transgression just short of spilling it on your go-to-church clothes. But I had already opened my jar and set it into the perfect-sized hole drilled into the top right corner of the desk. The marred wooden surface bore inky testament to the hundreds of children who came before. Speaking of desks, mine had to be imported from the grade one classroom. I might have been humiliated; instead I was all delight—my feet touched the floor.
I inserted the sharp steel nib into the just-right slots of the slender red holder. Dip, wipe, write. Disaster. Nib legs splayed. Paper ripped. Miscellaneous blobs and illegible words decorated the page. Achieving the just-right pressure was impossible. I wondered, briefly, how the left-handers were faring. What numbskull decided that needle points and flimsy paper made good partners?
Day after day, I practised. I seldom gave up on anything. Certainly nothing this important. At last I got it.
“Gerry” I wrote. No blobs, no tears, perfectly readable. I peered at the name. Something was wrong. It didn’t look right. It didn’t feel right. It didn’t even smell right. I wrote, Gerrie. Jerry. Gerri. Geree. No matter how I spelled it, an inner voice whispered, “That’s not you”.
The Near Death
Too young and too little, I didn’t know what to do with this knowing. For the next five years I simply accepted my name. Once or twice I did wonder if the wrong-name feeling began in earnest the day I almost died.
On a perfect summer afternoon, I clambered up to my assigned place in the family sedan—the ledge beneath the rear-view window. My much older sister and two older brothers filled the back seat. My parents occupied “the thrones”. Father drove—always.
We were going to the beach, not Peace Haven with its quiet water and jumping-bridge, but a lake so big it had no further shore.
My body didn’t work like other people’s. I was often cold. Lying in the heat of the window shelf was one of my most favourite things. Bathed in sunbeams, I closed my eyes and dreamed. Peaceful dreams. I smelled the sea first. Always I awoke just as the car crested the very last hill. Before me lay the water—a corduroy of moving ridges, white and blue.
A zillion colours crowded the shore. Beach blankets and umbrellas rich in design, bathing suits of every description, people pale or black or some colour in between. Mother, eagle-eyed, spied the ideal plot of sand. We children raced to claim it. Plaid blankets were duly laid down, picnic baskets and cooler set off to one side. Swim first. Eat later. My towel claimed and deposited nearby, I headed to the water.
I stand and watch. Over and over small waves slap the shore. They arrive on an angle and retrace their paths in their retreat. I wade in. Not too far. Bliss. I close my eyes. Warm water invites me further. I laugh. A gull, I spread my arms and fly above the sea. Walk on. One step more. Into the trough I fall. I flail and gasp. Can no one see me? Beneath the surface I sink. Into darkness. Into forever-ness.
But I refuse to die. Perhaps I pray. I don’t remember. A miracle. My foot touches sand. Up I climb. Out of the hollow. Find the sky above the sea. Gulp the air. Sob.
Shoreward I turn. Scan the beach for my parents relaxing on plaid blankets. Find them at last. Proceed with great caution. Arrive. Enfold myself in the huge pink towel. Sit.
And say nothing.