When I was a teenager I worked at a little shop in Bennington, Vermont called The Mexican Connection. One day when I was tending the place by myself a dark haired, forty-something woman breezed in. She hovered over the chess sets, fingered all of the silver jewelry, vigorously sorted through the ponchos and baja hoodies, and chattered like we’d known each other for years. I can’t remember if she bought anything or not. But her fluttering was exhausting and I was relieved when she finally decided to leave. She wasn’t done with me yet. When she wrenched the front door open, making the bell peal in protest, she turned suddenly to me and asked, “What’s your name?”“Amanda,” I told her.
“Well, you should have people start calling you Mandy. You need to reinvent yourself. You need to be something new. Goodbye, Mandy!” she said. Then she waved dramatically, bounded out the store, down the street, and out of my life.I’d never been a Mandy. Amanda had always fit me. I also had the narcissistic luck to like who I was. I didn’t feel a need for reinvention then. So I made a face after the woman and repolished all the silver.
“Amanda Jane Puddin ‘n Tane, ask me again and I’ll tell you the same,” my uncle Jeff used to tease me. He was the only one who could get away with saying that to me without making me upset. He also called me Snaggle Tooth for ages. I’d knocked my front teeth out when I was really young and it seemed like it took years for my new ones to grow in. Actually I think it really did take years. “Hey Snaggle Tooth,” he’d say. “What do you want for Christmas?” Then he’d launch into All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth. In reality, I wanted his attention, all of us kids did. He was fun and he played with us. He could get away with a lot; like nearly breaking our hearts when he left from a visit.
|Uncle Jeff in a Hat|
I could never get my eyes to cooperate. I practiced too. I tried to teach myself to cry on demand. I’d look hard in the mirror, think about sad things, and not blink, but it only dried out my eyes. I begged and tried to cry when he left, but Uncle Jeff used the unfair tactic of silliness to make me laugh. He’d wave to us out the window of his truck as he drove away. And we always missed him instantly. I loved him despite the fact he had a dog named Hannah Banana and he and other members of my family called me Amanda Banana after the dog. He had me all wrapped around his little finger.Amanda Jane Puddin ‘n Tane. Ask me again and I’ll tell you the same.
I might need counseling at some point in my life for who knows what. However, up to this moment my crises have never had anything to do with my name. Not so far. And yes, I’ve heard the “Hey! It’s A Man Duh,” line more times than you can perhaps imagine. So there is that.Amanda Panda. Amanda Fanda Bo-Banda Fee-Fi-Fo-Fanda. Amanda Banana. Amanda’s Fonda (a restaurant in Colorado Springs). Manders. Manda.
These are cutsie names. They’re alright, but I don’t feel I’m a cutsie sort of person. On the forms where they ask for “Your Preferred Name” I always have this slight inclination to put down Captain. Because I have D.O.G.s (delusions of grandeur). Big time. Which is probably why my mom calls me Mando – for Mando Commando.I should get that stitched on my underwear.
Okay, so yeah, I do need counseling.
“What’s your full name?” my friend Charles asked me once when we were getting those Get to Know You kind of details out of the way.“Amanda Jane White,” I said.
“Can your name be any more boring?” he asked.To which I probably just shrugged and grinned. Boring? Maybe. To the point? Certainly. Fitting? Absolutely. My parents chose my name because it means Worthy to be Loved. That there probably explains some of my narcissism. Love Thyself, right?
Here in Peru, I’m grateful that my name is easy to say in Castellano. Uh-man-duh translates easily to Aaah-mawn-da. Sometimes I get the questioning, “Samantha?” which is closer than the “Amber” which quite a few people in the States mistakenly called me after being first introduced. Because the name started with an A. Close, but no cigar.
I used to bristle over being mis-called. But no more. Maybe that’s the settling into yourself which comes with age. I know who I am.Which is good, because here many people call me the Spanish equivalent to Mandy.
There’s a patronizing affection easy to add in to the Spanish language. Almost any word can be cute-ified.Your name is Juan – you can be Juanito. Little John, so to speak, or Johnnie.
You’re an arbol (a tree)—you can be an arbolito. Little tree. So cute.Me? My name is Amanda – I get verbally patted on the head and called Amandita. Little Amanda, so to speak, or Mandie.
Several months ago I met a lady named Maura in the park. I’d gone to wile away a few hours between classes, to drink my green smoothie, and to turn my face up to the seldom seen winter Limeñan sun. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a woman approach. A shadow fell across my face, blocked my sun, paused there, and then moved slightly over. Something like amused astonishment struck me when this woman sat down right next to me. On the same bench. Even though the park had many other empty benches to choose from.“I’d wanted to sit in the park for a minute and saw this bench,” she told me after about an hour’s worth of conversation. “Then I saw you sit on it, but the other ones were too far away so I decided to sit with you.” Many Peruvians think nearly any distance is too far to walk. A lot of Lima city folk get on the buses and pay fifty centimos to go half a block. I’m not kidding.
I’d wondered why she settled down next to me, but hadn’t figured out how to ask politely how it was that of all the seats in the park she chose this one. I find people so wonderfully strange and sometimes can’t make up a good enough reason in my head for their actions. With Maura I’d figured she just wanted someone to talk with and that I had looked approachable or foreign enough to chance it.But, my musings and evaluation of human behavior aside, she and I had a good conversation.
“I don’t need a single drop of alcohol to make me happy. I love to dance,” she told me after asking me my name and questioning me about my partying habits and lifestyle.On this day I was still in the midst of my great conversation crisis of September and needed some one-on-one with more than just the Cobradors asking for my bus fare. I was clutching my own happiness to my heart while I tried to find the steps to my own dance. I was in the upward rise of a learning curve. The city life was turning out to be a hard adjustment for me. The time with another human being filled a spot in my loneliness and I appreciated the chance (and odd) encounter.
As if my name meant Worthy to be Told Maura related stories to me of her children when they were young. How once her son gave some of his favorite cars to a poor street child who’d been playing with only the wheels of an old car. Her son came inside, went upstairs, cleaned up one or two of his toy cars and then ran back out to give them to the kid. Maura worried after several hours when her son didn’t return home. When he finally came back she asked what had taken so long.
“It was far away,” he told her. “But then I got there and decided to stay and play with him for a while.”
The next day he came into the kitchen and said, “You know what made me happiest?”“What?” she asked.
“Playing with that boy.”Maura turned to me and put her hand on my arm, “You know what, Amandita, when I remember that time and what he said, I always get so happy with emotion. He was such a kind boy.”
I’d gotten tears in my own eyes at her retelling and at the sweetness of children. At love. Maybe I’ve learned how to cry on demand after all this time after all.“Well, Amandita,” Maura told me again, “I guess I’d better go.” She’d wiled away my time for me and yet, she didn’t leave. She stayed a little bit longer. She told me other stories--of her childhood in the jungle, of how she and her husband met, of her husband’s health, of her daughter and her job, of past pains and joys. And through it all, Maura told me, she leaned on God. “Life can be hard,” she told me. Her son hadn’t always made her happy with emotion. His choices as an adult gave Maura pause and a little bit of grief. “Sometimes you pray for things and nothing happens. But, Amanda, Amandita,” she amended, “have you heard the story of Santa Monica?”
I shook my head.“Santa Monica prayed for her son for thirty-five years. Then finally he was saved and purified and made into a saint himself. You have to have faith like Saint Monica. You don’t know how long it’ll take for your prayer to be answered. The bad things that happen, God doesn’t do those things. The good things in life are from God. After I heard about her, I prayed for God to give me strength to be the same way.”
I listened to Maura, I listened to the birds, I thought of good and bad things. Car alarms went off in the background. Dogs ran. Children laughed, screamed, played. Lovers loved. Workers worked. Maura and I sat on that bench together with the sun in our faces and thought about life.“We all have this life,” she told me, gesturing to the grass and the trees and the sunlit sky. “Look around at how beautiful everything is.”
Yeah, I thought. It is beautiful. “Yes,” I told her. “It’s an amazing life.”She hugged me tight when we bid each other chau. “Cuidate (take care),” she told me when we kissed cheeks.
As I walked away from that park I felt my name tight around me like a blanket. I felt worthy to be loved. I didn’t feel like a reinvented Mandy or even like a sweet Amandita. I felt just like an Amanda. For me, that was enough.That was, until Katrina’s boyfriend Oswaldo started calling me Amandis (Pronounced Amandeece).
I tried the name on like a jacket. Turned a bit to see how it made me look in the mirror. I liked it. It made me feel like a plural. An Entity. The Royal We.
A simple name ending goes straight to my head. You don't like it? Okay, no problem, you can just call me Captain.