This is a great example of creative non-fiction. Enjoy! – KDM
* re-blogged with permission
Eighth grade is difficult enough for any kid. We over pack and embark on our journey into maturity traveling the finite line that separates fitting in and individuality, a brave task for one so young, and one which many of us continue through adulthood. The terrain is most always strange and unfamiliar, introductions are awkward, and first impressions last forever. This was my shot, and I wanted to get it right.
It was the first day of junior high school, and my customary academically tracked classmates of which I was accustomed were separated into general, remedial, and honors classes, thus, each new period presented a new set of pimpled and smooth adolescent faces, new sets of chairs in neat rows, and not so new sets of doodle and heart filled textbooks, with no space for me to sign as my new ‘property’. Yet, the same familiar list of student names, printed on thin, ink smudged dot matrix printer paper, in all caps, was ready each session for the mispronunciation and missing moniker filled roll call.
He started, seated from his brown steel cabinet desk, reading over the brim of thin Ben Franklin glasses, “Now, I am going to read off exactly what I have on this sheet. No need to stop me, I’m reading what I see.” I knew I was going to have an issue. He was a vet. He wasn’t the newer, younger, Caucasian, effeminate, female teacher from morning courses that was acquiescent to the “nice young man” who politely corrected them as to the etymology and true spelling and pronunciation of his name. No, mm mm. He was an educator, and had been through countless first-day introductions, read too many over the years, too many during the day, to stop and attempt to enunciate the creative namesake of the ninety-eight percent African American community in which he taught, filled with hyphenations, capitalizations, -kwas, -taes, and –ettes.
In rich, post lunch dead beat baritone he droned on, “Michelle Taylor.” Here. “Robert Thomas.” Here. “Leonard Thompson.” I raised my hand. “Its LeoNard…sir.” He coughed, looked out the window. “Leonard…Thompson.” I paused, “It’s LeoNard, sir. The N is a capital, and…” In what looked like an arduous feat, he raised both eyebrows, and shook the thin, tired printed sheet, “Like I said, I’m reading what’s on this paper. This paper says you are Leonard…” I interrupted, shaking legs, sweaty palms, and beam centered glistening eyes, “And that paper is wrong. That’s not my name.” Silence filled the room.
This was a different day. Just turned thirteen. Just sprouted those prepubescent black smooth hairs that sneak into the corners of a young man’s mouth, above the lip line. Husky left, chubby was leaving, and cute on its way into handsome. Leo was cute. Leo was young. Leo was gone. LeoNard was here, and the world needed to meet him, there was no better time than now.
“How about LT, then?” I paused. This threw me off my game. LT? Hadn’t considered it. Wasn’t sure how this would suit me. LT sounded tall, which I was definitely not. It sounded strong, fierce, and kind of cool really. I had to respond quickly, before he lost his cool, or I lost my upper hand. I walked that hill on Warrensville Center Road, dead set on introducing the world to the ‘new’ me, the real me, and I had come to far to turn back. I opened my mouth, but before I could respond, “Good, that’s settled. Audrey Williams.” Here.
For one hundred eighty days I was ‘LT’ each fifth period, for about fifty minutes. Some of those few classmates I managed to see over the years still refer to me as such, but for the rest of my world, I remained Leo, among other handles, and for a great many of my friends and family, I am Leo to this day. I grew, but not by many inches. That mustache eventually grew in nicely, huskiness grew into muscle, and back to chubbiness again, and yet through it all, Leo I remained.
I was taught a valuable lesson that day. Regardless of the titles that others would like to bestow upon you for their benefit, and despite our best efforts to reinvent ourselves through designation based in self-delusions of grandeur, or seasons of life, which cause for such modification, we remain who we are, wherever we go. We continue to be ourselves, in spite of who we aspire or try our damndest not to be. We should treat who we are as facts of the matter, nothing more, nothing less. The author Omar Tyree once wrote, “You are who you perceive yourself to be, or who you have been seduced into believing you are from the opinion of others.”
I’ll never be Leonard. That is not my name. I am Leo, Lee, LT, Thompson, Narky, and Mr. Thompson. I am Uncle, Babe, sir, brother, and Son. Call me what you will, but when I come, and when I leave, the fact I can’t deny is that I am LeoNard, pronounced ‘lee-yo-nard’. The N is capitalized.