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My middle name

By Melanie Yergeau; originally posted on the blog Aspie Rhetor.

The map is new, and I know it all. I hop from one painted state to the next, reciting each capital, each state bird, each state nickname, each state flower, each state population as of 1989, the year imprinted on the spines of my World Book Encyclopedia set. It is 1994 or 1995, and I’m obsessed with maps. I have a Mercator Projection of the U.S. tacked to my bedroom ceiling and a Robinson of the world taped to the wall. Each morning I awake to the series of lines and dots and borders, pull a fuschia sweatshirt over my head before skulking into the predawn world, the world where I deliver six routes worth of the Concord Monitor with my father. I want to know where Franklin St. ends, where Penacook St. begins, where the tangible tar resides on the not-to-scale ceiling map, the round-edged wall map, the neon playground map.

On the first day of fifth grade, the teacher read off my middle name during roll call, and now they all know it. As I wrench myself across South Dakota and Nebraska, I hear taunts of Melanie-Rita-Book and Melanie-Rita-rd and Rita-rd-Died-A-Yer-a-geau.

And I awake the next morning, place Mrs. Toomey’s paper on the mailhooks, run from the chained pitbull at the Pembroke duplex, imagine a story in my head about an island made entirely of sugar, wonder if the series of rivers I’ve mentally sketched will eventually absorb the grass and cause massive island sinkage. And at recess, Jessie pushes me onto Georgia and calls me stupid, and Cindy, my only friend, has stolen a doll from my knapsack, but I pretend I haven’t seen her stuff it up her blouse. Jessie #2 makes fish faces and chants Rita-rd, Rita-rd, so I venture back with the only retort my Rita-Book brain can muster and call her a neutrino, which she unfortunately hears as nutra-nose. I run from the map and the impending fists, terrified, and self-induce an asthma attack.

The Robinson fascinates me. The edges curve, the lined coordinates uneven and gapped. I imagine my paper routes, imagine Jennings Drive and Wyman St., now a collection of lines. Down the hall, my parents play cards with the neighbor, my father recounting the story of how I flawlessly navigated a trip from Florida to New Hampshire at age seven. Earlier that week, he tried to make me grab a flyer from Market Basket and I tantrummed, wanting to know every precise detail from door entry to turns to grab-from-the-shelf protocol. So unfamiliar and unpredictable seemed the grocery store landscape, so intense for me, age 10, and even now in my twenties, to conquer on my own. And he had uttered that familiar, frustrated reply, “How can you be so smart and so stupid?”

I love my fifth grade teacher. I am working on a play about the Great Lakes region, and she lets me stay indoors during recess to work on it. I meet with a guidance counselor weekly, a Virginia-shaped man convinced that I’m at fault for my own bullying, and every time he suggests outside recess, I produce the magical asthma wheeze. Back I go to the teacher’s aide-cum-babysitter, to the longish table stationed outside the library, and I write about Sheila the Robber and her trip from Columbus to Cleveland. I sit at my laptop, some fifteen years later, staring at a Columbus city map, trying to remember the neon and the dots, the second Jessie who died of a brain tumor, the first Jessie who traipsed me into junior high, the dolls lost in the longitude.

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