Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What’s in a Name?

“You should have seen how fat you were.” Pop said, recalling the day of my birth to explain why at times he called me, a thin a little girl who grew up to become a slender woman, fat. I listened, sitting next to him on my couch during a commercial break for America’s top rated reality show. Soon the parade of bad singers would return and I would lose interest in this story I heard many times before. I, the daughter of Daniel, was named Ebony Danielle Washington. As my middle name suggests I am a daddy’s girl. Daniel was already a father of two boys when he laid eyes on his baby girl. All he could say was baby girl and Baby Girl would become the name he called me most often.

To the rest of the family I was Princess. It was more of an identity then a name. That is exactly who I was a small coffee colored child with a big smile in a bigger ruffled dress with bows adorning my hair. I completed my Bronx royal family. “A princess that’s what we need”, mother must have said. Princess, the name that defined my early childhood and the weekdays I spent at my Grandma’s house in Queens indulging in as much sweet decadence as possible. It was easier for me to stay there while my brothers were in school; my mother went back to school for her bachelor’s degree and Pop worked long hours. I was with Grandma and I accepted a call each day from my mother, but hearing Pop’s voice was always special.

“Every time my Pop calls me, my heart flutters,” I told my grandma at four years old.
On Friday nights, I would wait for his Buick to approach Grandma’s house. Pop had an affinity for American cars and candy. I would get a hand full in the back seat snuggled between my brothers and ride off for another weekend home and would fall asleep before reaching our destination. Pop would carefully pull me out of the car and carry me to our door. I later admitted I was only pretending to be sleep. He told me he knew. “Baby girl, you talked the whole ride home and fell asleep right before I parked.” I had not yet developed my acting abilities, but I knew Pop would make sure I got to my destination.

“Princess” I told my kindergarten teacher Ms. Angram when she asked me my name on the first day. She was confused as she looked through her rolls. She asked my mother’s name and I pointed across the room to her. She says, “Oh your name is Ebony.” That was the first time I remembered being called by my actual name.

“Fool you knew your name.” My mother said as I recounted the story as an adult.
Perhaps I did. Ebony seemed so natural even as Ms. Angram inserted it into the princess story she read that afternoon. I would get used to hearing my real name outdoors even though I would not appreciate it until I began to perform. Ebony, a black revolutionary first name coupled with Washington a colonial last name. It is a much of a contradiction as I am. I was once confronted by a poet who wanted to know why I chose to use my sir name with its oppressive implications. I told him I got it from Pop.

“Baby girl, I am coming to see American Idol.” I was an adult now, finally on my own. I had my heart broken once was in a relationship, but Pop was the one man which I could depend. Just like he carried me through the streets, Pop continued to carry me though out life and he would always be there, I thought. I was living in my first apartment Pop had moved me into a year earlier. Then Pop called me on a random Wednesday night to watch American Idol. It was odd. Pop hated American Idol along with all the other reality television shows I forced him to watch when I was home. It was our tradition, me wanting to watch some absurd show, Pop complaining but turning the channel to it anyway. It began with Punky Brewster in kindergarten. We had one television back then. Pop missed 60 Minutes for a year before Punky Brewster was finally cancelled.

When Pop came that night and everything seemed normal except for a consistent cough and the fact he wanted to watch American Idol. “Next week you have you have to come to the house and watch. I didn’t know it, but he began Chemotherapy that winter. David Cook won Idol and that was the last season I watched.

Pop would call me Baby Girl until he his voice became a whisper. I would no longer be Baby Girl. Now I listen to for those words in the wind and I wait for the patter in my heart that a four year old girl once felt.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

She Walks

“Get up! It’s time to walk!” Her voice was clear through the receiver.

“Mom, It’s 8AM” I said rolling over. For the first time in four years I had no job to return to, no rush hour traffic to push through, no clients to meet, no where to go. I lost part of my identity!

“You said you were going to get up everyday like you were going to work.”

She was right. I did say that. Didn‘t I? This was what I wanted, time to write that novel, produce the play, get my masters degree. Today I didn’t feel like it. I didn’t want to acknowledge the dawn. I covered my face with the sheet, shielding the rising the sun from my eyes.

“Get up!” She said. “Its time to walk!”
It was four years since she first felt weak, had soreness in her joints and paleness covering her face. First they told her it was stress, then it was Lupus. And when Pop got sick, she put her own pain aside to care for him. When he was gone, she mourned like the rest of us.

When everyone thought she would sink into depression, she said “I think I am going to walk today“. When everyone told her to stop, sit down you are sick, she said I am not, and she walked on.

She began her day with a prayer. She knew she was asking for a miracle from God. Then a juice made of greens to nourish her body and mind. She crossed the street into a park she had not visited in years. At first her stride was slow, her joints weak, but as the flowers blossomed, so did she. When she returned six months later for her regular appointment, the Lupus was gone.

She walked through loneliness, through sorrow, through illness, through doubt to wellness.

She taught me how to walk once, and now she would teach me again.

“Get up!” She said. “It’s time to walk!”

And I did.