November Prompts: I Was Once Called by Another Name

the word prompts inside bracketsEveryone can get involved with Hippocampus Magazine with {prompts}! Each month, we’ll post a new creative nonfiction prompt, inspired by a real-life event. Fact is stranger than fiction–if we experience something unbelievable, others must have a similar story.

Last Month: November 2011

“Someone once called me by another name…”

Name that Talent

I don’t know why my father went to Walmart in the first place (probably in search of his two favorite staples – skim milk and orange juice with lots of pulp), but I do remember the wide smile he wore when he came into the kitchen and set his bag on the counter.

“I ran into one of your old teachers. Do you remember a Mr. Corter?”

A thrill pulsed through me. Did I remember him? He was absolutely my favorite teacher ever. In a filing cabinet never too far from my nostalgic fingers, every story he graded stands at the ready, waiting to remind me how it feels to be encouraged as an artist. I might not have an MFA today if it weren’t for him. And he remembered me.

“He said you were the most gifted writer he ever taught.” Wow. He didn’t just remember me. My super awesome writer-ness was burned into his memory for all eternity. So much so, in fact, that he felt compelled to stop my father when he saw him in a crowded superstore just so he could tell him how great I was. This could not get any better unless there was some sort of trophy involved.

“Then he asked what you were doing now, and I told him you were going for your Ph.D. in genetics.”

Uh-huh… Wait. What? Genetics? My face betrayed the question.

“He called you Stephanie.”

I felt the familiar cackle of humility bubble up inside me, the one I feel whenever hubris is on the horizon. He patted me on the shoulder and kissed me on the cheek.

“But I knew when he said writer, he was talking about you.” Mr. Corter knew, too, even if he didn’t remember my name.

— K. Justice Fisher, Lock Haven, Pa.

* * *

The Name That Grew on Her

A ghost child will answer to any name. At least I did.

The mother who bore and christened me Fran took the name straight from her own birth certificate, then promptly got rid of me to the “system” that is foster care. It was determined in my toddler years that no child, regardless of how unwanted, should be saddled with such an unfortunate name.

Foster parents had problems adjusting and, out of thin air, renamed me Kathy. Obedient and quiet as a ghost, I was trotted out for church events as proof of missionary zeal found in the home. My new name sounded much more Christian, it was believed. It identified me through public school and followed me into a Bible college.

During the summer of my eighteenth year, the foster parents “surprised” me with adoption, officially changing my birth certificate to a family name I abhorred, removing from my identity the one thing I shared with my brother. Neither of my names, first nor family, had anything to do with me. I stayed silent.

Years later, just starting to step out from the shadows, I left college, relocated myself to the west coast, and started to figure out, for real this time, who I was and how I would be defined. Who…exactly?

I began to appreciate that my own name could be said lovingly, that I could appreciate myself, that I even (gasp!) liked myself. I chose to be called by my real name, Fran. It was simply, me.

Marriage overrode the foster last name, and as Fran Young, no longer a ghost, I’ve grown into a name that’s me in every way. And if my acquaintances from high school don’t know who they’re inviting to the high school reunion, well, that’s okay by me. I’ll adjust.

— Fran Young, Springfield, Mo.

* * *

 Wrong Name. Wrong Number.

My father hasn’t lived with us in years. But lately, the way this collection agency has been calling my house about his credit card debt, you’d swear he still did. And, boy, this guy who’s been calling lately is sneaky. He just assumes that I’m my father, calling me by his first name as soon as I pick up. Like I’m his long lost pal or something. He’s probably testing out some new tactic down at the call center.

Right off the bat, I tell him that I’m the son and that my father hasn’t lived here in years. He always acts like I’m lying, like he’s some telephone detective sniffing out my line of bull. After about five minutes of explaining to him that I didn’t have my father’s current number and that it’s impossible for me to relay this message, he assures me that my number would be removed from his list. He still calls the very next day. I actually just stopped answering the phone all together. Let the machine deal with it.

Everyday he leaves a message for my father to call him back immediately because it’s very important, etcetera. Occasionally, I become so annoyed that I call him back, telling him in frustration that I didn’t know where he was. But actually, I did know and I did have a current number, but something inside of me just couldn’t blow the whistle. I guess I could be sneaky too. I could play the game just as well. Still, the guy keeps calling, still leaving the same message, still believing he has the correct number. I guess it means my father’s debt still hasn’t been paid. I hate this guy from the agency, but at least he knows how much my father owes him.

— Christopher Campion, Scranton, Pa.

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