"my name is alexandra, but everyone calls me allie because it's 2 syllables instead of 4."
shock and awe.
she was the original shock and awe. before the first iraq war was even a glint in bush sr.'s beady little eye.
i gazed through the smoking rubble of her pronouncement.
she had that pre-brazilian straight hair, [not to be confused with the waxing experience, of which i will never partake again. in my home, the drapes will ALWAYS match the curtains.] jet-black, Joan Jett-inspired, framing a full-moon face, bespectacled smirk. she had wit i did not possess. sure, i could yell and scream and climax in front of hundreds of people - in character - but to brazenly introduce yourself to a hundred "introduction to film" students, while elegantly pointing a delicately chewed pencil for emphasis, emulating bette davis' graceful slimline clutch...well, damn. that was sexy.
it landed, the requisite pseudo-lesbian, college crush, with a thud. if a smirk could swagger, hers strutted right over, leaned against the lockers and gazed up from under fluttering eyelashes, joeytribbiani-ing me with her rendition of, "hey. how you doing?"...
but was it all swagger, or did she have a point?
back in grade 4, [not to be confused with the american 4th grade - god forbid, i upset my friends due north, crying treason when this ex-pat began removing the letter "u" from certain words.]
[color, honor etc... ]
...i was barely 8. and from the catholic education daddy sprinkled like fertilizer, inside my mind sprouted certain ideas about authority. dodgy dogma. whether it was the academy award worthy uniforms/costumes or the constant stench from old building, i often got my private girls' school and catholic church confused. and even though the teachers didn't float down the hallowed halls of B.S.S. [Bishop Strachan School], like nuns, they scored an A+ in intimidation.
people meant to revere, i feared.
so it's no surprise i didn't stand up to mrs. h.
to my grade 4 teacher's limited mind, "henriette" was much too long a name, and i was to have a nickname. and so i was christened the very literal, most uninspired "hen".
in this case, the egg definitely came before the chicken.
i had too much blind respect to challenge "teach", but, oh!, beware the wrath of mother goose. my mother loathed the unimaginative moniker. she took enormous pride in her daughter's very traditional, very danish name, and clucked with disdain over its hacking - slaughter en par with cousin turkey lurkey's demise every thanksgiving.
i can still hear her squawk, "hen!? what is this hen!? you are not a hen! you are my daughter!!!"
yes, in our house, the sky was falling...
henriette is unusual in north america. i have yet to meet another who ends her name with an "e", and in 44 years, i've only met 2 other henriettAs.
out of the old-fashioned soil, naturally spring stereotypes. henriettes are either large black mammals dancing on kids' early morning programming - "henrietta hippo" - , or large, black mamas - southern matriarchs, frantically fanning themselves under dazzling technicolor brims in the heat of sunday's sermon.
and with henriette's caboose of an "e", my future as fancy, name-emblazoned-mug-owner and/or fancy, name-emblazoned-key-chain owner, was denied.
apple. maddox. blue ivy. i feel your pain.
i did not like "hen" from the second mrs. h. casually sentenced me. and why would i? i am not a farm animal. i do not lay eggs. although, as to the charge of henpecking, i plead the 5th.
cue: demure glance towards hubby.
but, "hen" is short and cute and sassy, an easy pigeonhole after a swift glance my way, so it fit. and it became very difficult, once matted as from an oil slick, to shake off my feathery back. it was in there good. especially when i dared roll around in a mud puddle spilt for two.
if only i could reach inside, past the innards chefs insist are delicious when properly sauteed, and snap my own wishbone, releasing me from the cage of this lazy label.
[quality problems, indeed.]
i have often thought about "allie" - sister in societal name hacking - and wondered. despite that pompous circumstance, she quickly defaulted to her nickname. why didn't she fight for "alexandra"? she just resigned. but, in a way, don't we all?
we are born with a name. a carefully wrapped package of parents' blood, sweat and jeers. a dash of family tradition, a pinch of inventive spelling, and their take on flavor of the month.
all hail the brave souls who gallop away from the sizzling brand on their flank - although why they insist on naming themselves after celestial bodies or nature's finest is any one's guess.
god bless you, starrr, moonbeam and driftwould. god bless you every one.
why are we in such a hurry to define ourselves?
the little red-haired girl learned, "i'm a scorpio, my birthstone is opal and i'm danvian [of danish and latvian decent]. little bridges built to help her cross over and form alliances. it was safer there. settling in and buckling herself into an identity.
but, then, you are trapped. with no eject.
my latest Cedars adventure was a series of upper GI and bowel x-rays spread over several hours. rockin' the puke green, double layered hospital gown and sloshed on a couple gallons of barium made for a morning become electric! the doctor helming the series was distinguished, british and determined to make me feel at ease.
and so it went,
"so...henriett-?", he tried, looking up from the requisition.
"actually, it's henriettE. it's spelled with an "E", but pronounced "henriettUH.", i answered, chugging more of the chalky goop.
[wtf. do not remember chugging being this difficult.]
"really? french?", he continued, as the radioactive scanner screeched from side to side.
"no. danish...", twirling me 90 degrees on this alien apparatus.
"do you have any nicknames?"
[a-ha! right on schedule.]
"sure. hen, henny, hey, henry, hennybird, hank, small henry, miss h., H....", i listed.
"what does your husband call you?", he smiled, raising a bushy, white brow.
"sweetheart.", i shot back.
the room sang loud with laughter. i would've chimed in, but i was too busy wiping the barium dribbling off the end of my chin.
when i think about why i use nicknames, i realize it establishes intimacy. i slip my hand into yours and squeeze, claiming you as my own. sprinkling our relationship with the warmth and water it needs to blossom.
i don't think i've referred to myself as "hen" since wham! was top forty. who knows why. perhaps it's the obvious. she's a character of yesteryear. a time i would love to box, tiptoe upon, and push to the very back of my closet. but, then "henriette" is just a more recent past, and i'm not too crazy about her, either.
and as for allie - the bullhorning babe who flushed my blush - maybe her sarcastic shield deflected annoyance less than vulnerability; a need to connect.
"hen" is not just the unemployedalcoholictransplantpatient. "hen" is a girl's broken heart and a woman still dreaming...
she is all of that, and none of it at all.
aw, heck, i'll admit it. "hen" has a nice ring to it. and when called, i'll cop to some sally field-y exuberance that "you like me! you really, really like me!!"
[just don't call me a cab, don't call me late for dinner, and, please, don't call me shirley.]
it's only what i call myself that will define. and in slapping my name tag on with a hearty pat, i notice that it's still blank.
and my sharpie's bone dry.