How To Name Your Daughter
by Heather Dorn
My father called me Heatherino, my little bambino. He let me sit below the couch he slept on. He let me sit in the bathroom crying while he pretended to get a screwdriver he already had. He never saw me sit on the stairs while he beat mom into a ball on that brown chair.
My grandfather called me Feather. He had a bad ticker and a worse sense of humor that I got too. His joke was, “Eat every bean and pea on your plate.” He couldn’t let go of newspapers and I look at my stack of student portfolios hogging the closet. He had heart attacks, but I only got the pacemaker.
My father called me Bitch the last time I heard his voice. I was 10. I wanted to go to camp and it cost money and we had none. Mom said to ask him, so I did. You’re just like your mother, he also said.
I wanted my name to be Ginger. Like in Gilligan’s Island. I wanted to be treated like someone important and for my hair to flip out red and to be sexy so people would pay attention to me and I could never be invisible.
When I got older, I told everyone on playground that I was the real Punky Brewster. And that I had to remain anonymous. And that the people I lived with were not my parents but a secret FBI family. Everything but my fame was Top Secret. The next day, everybody was laughing at me. I wanted to be Ginger again, but shipwrecked and alone.
My mother called me, Pretty and we trolled businesses for sponsors. Will you give my daughter money to be in a pageant? Can you offer a dress? After the pageant the modeling agent pinched my leg, You’re too short; try acting with those thighs. I remember jumping in a hotel pool for five takes. Then years of high school theatre competition. In a one-act play I was the Queen of Troy after the war. The lights lowered, I spoke and people hushed. I could make people cry. I liked doing it.
My mentor called me talented, reading my crappy poetry. Said he imagined that my gift had come as some consolation for my childhood. I thought back to sleeping in our van. I thought back to thinking, This must be what a stakeout is like. Thinking, I wish we had a refrigerator. I laughed to end the conversation, like a girl at a bar laughs at a man her dad’s age. I laughed because I could only speak on a page. I sat on his couch for years. He taught me to watch my self. Taught me what my writing did so I could control it. The way a line can hang
or keep going and the tone that could create. He called my tone menacing and my voice a little girl, he guessed about 10. His voice was still 12. Once I knew she was there, I could let her grow up. He taught me teaching is love first, never us vs. them. Said to write a draft for yourself where the step-dad gets whatever he gets. Revise it reasonably. Then back through again. He taught me how to be a tattletale and not a victim. He taught me to turn the knife on a page.
Mom once said that she named me after a famous soap opera character of the time. She said, She was a murderer and so beautiful. I understood her expectations.
Now when she calls me, I can smell the cheap vodka through my cell phone. She repeats stories. Recounts purchases. Gossips about people I don’t know. Repeats stories; words loose. I tell her I need to go 16 times.
When the phone rings the next night, she expects me to bounce quick and answer. I flip off the TV. The phone keeps ringing and I grab my pen. It rings again.
I open my journal.
It rings and rings. I click off the sound to my phone and swipe at her face so it goes away to darkness. In my mind, it goes away to nothingness to a black hole of loss. I write my story. I sign my name in every line.
Heather Dorn is the Assistant Director of The Binghamton Poetry Project and a PhD student at Binghamton University. She has been published in Red Fez, Citizens for Decent Literature, and has work forthcoming in The Paterson Literary Review.
Stories @ Digging Through the Fat: Volume 2, Issue 3
March 4, 2015
Photography by: Gessy Alvarez