Beth had always looked like she just stepped out of one of the Gap Kids ads in one of the Good Housekeeping magazines that were placed around the Social Worker’s offices to calm nerves and to ease anger when wait times are long and patience is short.  The magazine pages had the wrinkles of an elderly field worker – fine, jagged, crisscrossed lines; and a slickness from being handled by too many hands.  Conversely, the kids in the ads looked as though they had never been touched – they showed no life-wear; no scratches, no uneven skin, no discoloration from bruises, from bumps, from hair being pulled to tightly or from punishments landing too hard. Nothing was ill-fitted or stained.  Rather, their clothes looked as if they were new – not just new to them; but so new that not one other person had worn them before.

Beth seemed new.  She got excited when the class would spot a daffodil on the playground; would giggle at Henry Samson’s corny knock-knock jokes; and seemed excited by things like getting picked first to be on someone’s kickball team, getting a gold star on her spelling quiz.  Whereas, even then, I felt old: tired from the day-to-day, always prepared to be disappointed by a person or a result, and weighed down by distrust.  Though we were in the same grade, I always felt much older than Beth.  I felt as worn, handled, not-seen but aimlessly flipped though, as the pages in those magazines.

One Thursday (I remember that it was a Thursday because we got square pizza and corn on Thursdays for lunch), Beth’s mom came to school to bring Beth’s project that she had forgotten at home.  Beth’s mother quietly opened the door to Mrs. Crutchfield’s  5th grade, walked on her toes so that her crème heels didn’t make any noise, set Beth’s salt map in Beth’s cubbyhole, looked at Beth with eyes that seemed to be a softer brown in Beth’s presence, and blew Beth a kiss as she backed out of our room and closed the door.


At that moment, I understood why Beth and I were so different; why she sparkled when I was dull; Beth was loved.  In that tender moment – the brief blow of a kiss – I saw that Beth’s mom and dad had tried to become pregnant with Beth.  Beth’s dad probably leaned on the bathroom door, anxious for his wife to deliver the news they had been praying for, hugged her tightly – and immediately released her because he thought he’d hurt the baby that he just learned was there.  They probably stayed up that night, laying in the dark, sharing names they’d always liked.  And though they’d started brainstorming names that night, and the discussed them for the nine ensuing months, they wouldn’t make a final decision until they saw their baby girl.  When the saw her, they knew that she was Elizabeth – just like her father’s mother.

I was named by the head neo-natal nurse at the state hospital.  On my birthday, my mother would often recount: “Girl, I could barely look at you, much less name you.  Yo’ triflin’ ass daddy — God rest his Evil soul — didn’t even show up; I was hurtin’ so bad from that c-section they seem to make all us Striver Heights girls get; and I felt like if maybe I didn’t name you, you wouldn’t be real – none of it would be real.  The nurse, I’ll never forget that woman, kept buggin’ me to try to breast feed you.  She’d also walk-in holding you and sing, as if there was something to be happy about, ‘what should we name this golden child?’  I guess cause I just lay there on my side, sucking my thumb and wishing that the pain I was feeling in my guts would kill me, she eventually named you herself (think that was probably illegal but whatever — no one gives two shits about what happens in Mountain View anyway).   I don’t even like yo’ name; but hell, you answer to it… too late now,” and she’d crack up at her own joke.

That’s the story I want to tell people when they say how proud I should be about being the first in my family to graduate from high school and about being my class Valedictorian (Beth is the salutatorian).  I pushed myself, I guess, to prove to my momma– to everybody — that I’m worthy.

I was worthy of at least a name. But, people only name things that are special to them: stuffed animals, pets, and yes . . . children.  But if it ain’t special — if it is something that was forced upon you, something that arrived because some 20 year-old neighbor had made her feel special in his uncle’s broke-down Chrysler one summer when she was about to turn 16 — she doesn’t name it. When a 3 minute escapade turns into a lifetime obligation; when having a baby is the only choice no matter how much vinegar she drank or how hard she ran in hopes that it would go away – she doesn’t name it because she never, ever wanted it.

And It – me – only lives for someone’s eyes to soften and to blow me a kiss, so I can feel sparkly and new.

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About Randi B.

Randi is a diversity and inclusion strategist, speaker, trainer and writer, focusing on making connections and cultivating empathy in this diverse world one trip, speech, article, book and conversation at a time.

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