Thursday, October 5, 2017

Strengthening the Ghosts

School has been very busy lately. Good busy--it's a great year so far with a really sweet group of kids -- but I feel like I am never quite all the way on top of things. I'm not behind per se, but I wish there were a sneaky extra hour of the day in the middle where I could get some more paperwork done, or call parents, or finally print things out in one of just a couple color printers left in the building.

The other day I had two students up for lunch, and they chatted with me as they finished their food and got ready to do some math (and I was frantically putting together the lesson for Work Lab 9th period, since that is a total reactionary gig based on whatever needs reteaching from what we saw that day). These two students are very sweet and come up virtually every day, but they are genuinely working on stuff and asking for extra help, so how could I ever say no to that? For the sake of simplicity, let's call them George and Betty.

Here's what went down:

George says, "Do you have kids, Mrs. ___?"

"Nope, no I don't. We wanted them very, very badly, but it just never worked out no matter what we did."

"GEORGE! She totally told us this in her Who I Am thing at the beginning of the year! Jeez!" Betty was mortified.

"It's okay," I said.

"Well, did you have names all picked out?" George continued on, possibly missing out on some vital social cues.

Ah. Why yes, yes we did.

"We did, George. We did."

"Can you tell me what they were?" (Before you get mad at George, remember that my students often don't always have a great sense of what's appropriate, and it was actually  touching to have him be so interested.)

I pause. Could I do this without turning into goo?

"I don't see why not, it's not like they're ever going to be used by us." And so the prickly, burning feeling starts behind my eyes.

Because we never really told anyone our names. And with the names out there, the loss is somehow more palpable. It's like an odd sort of haunting -- with a name you can imagine what might have been, and there's this diaphanous ghostchild attached to it, a specter of what might have been, something more tangible than "Mystery Baby" or "Future Baby."

I told them the names.

And I did not cry. For which I do believe I should receive some kind of massive pat on the back, because I really felt like crying. And I did cry, later in the evening, when recounting the story.

Bryce was a little horrified, because the names have always been sacred. We've kept them so close for so long. And now they are just whispers in the wind, forever unattached to any actual humans. But then he understood. In telling the names, it's an honoring of our loss. It's a step of letting go, or really moving forward, since I don't want to let go all the way.

I can picture the possibilities that went with those names, even though they aren't going anywhere anymore.

And I think I can share them with you, now, to keep the ghosts alive, to strengthen the haunting in a good way.

If we'd had a girl, our top choice was Stella Rose. Stella for a bunch of reasons -- it means "star," it reminds me of Stellaluna, and it's also the name of a friend we hold dear. Rose for my grandmother, Rosemary.

Other girl choices were Audrey (in part because of Audrey Horne from Twin Peaks), Josephine (so we could have a Jo or a Josie, and it would remind me of Jo from Little Women and is a little off-the-beaten-path), I liked Charlotte so we could have a Charlie (and my dad's middle name is Charles), but then there was a little princess named Charlotte so that one fell to the bottom of the top choices list. A less-agreed upon name was Edith, one I loved (Hello! Edie is so cute...) but Bryce felt might be too old-fashioned. It was a good middle name choice though. That name has significance through my stepfather's family.

Another name that we'd considered was Emerson, to honor my grandfather (it was his middle name), and I loved it for a girl. But it didn't make the top of the list and then someone else in my family decided on that name, so it matters not.

Our top boy name was Dylan Gray. I've always loved the name Dylan -- it's got a lot of literary ooomph between Dylan Thomas and Bob Dylan -- and no student has made me second think it. Gray is a family name on Bryce's side. But isn't that the most amazing name? No one is going to pick on Dylan Gray on the playground (at least we liked to think so). He'd be artsy and cool and not really care what other people thought. We had a whole backstory to Dylan Gray.

We didn't have as many alternative boy names, but William was a close second (Will, not Bill). Boy names were harder for some reason.

Family names are always hard because someone is always going to feel left out.

So I guess we can add that to our positives list for ending up childfree... we don't have to have any arguments about naming or hurt feelings that other family names just didn't resonate with us as much as the ones above.

Here's to Stella Rose and Dylan Gray, the babies we never had but who will always be a part of us. Here's to George for making me think on those names again and helping me to set them free.


  1. I love your names, Jess, they are lovely choices. I kind of like when people candidly and naively ask things like this - the curiosity and interest is better than the embarrassed silence that other people (even closest family) maintain. It shows some kind of cack-handed empathy, I think. No one usually asks me anything at all but now and again someone with no filter (usually younger) comes along and blurts out questions like this and I sort of admire it, it's more human than never referring to a huge thing that someone went through (shout out to my family there).

  2. Those are really lovely names you had picked out.

  3. We named the ones we lost. The first one Grey named Marie. For our second loss, which felt to me like boys, it was Owen and Franklin. The act of naming those we lost helped ground the grief. It made it real and tangible. There were many who were quick to voice their opposition to us giving names, that somehow we were doing something very wrong, but I've come to know this judgement spoke more about them. Because our losses were (and still are) very real.

    I love your names. I can see the personalities with each of these and all that was hoped for. You sharing them with these students took a huge amount of courage and strength. Same as sharing them with us here.

  4. Gah, Jess. These names are just beautiful. And I do truly believe that somewhere between this life and the next, Dylan Gray and Stella Rose exist, and are exactly as you always pictured them to be.

  5. Patting you on the back heartily.

    What amazing names you and Bryce came up with. Love them all, especially Stella Rose and Dylan Gray. Your term diaphanous ghostchild is so perfect and so heartbreaking at the same time.

  6. I love your names. Such (another) important step.

    Thank you George.

  7. Love love love those names. You are very brave and kind to share your story. Thanks for such a touching post

  8. Boy names *are* harder. All your choices are lovely, though.

    Maybe you can give your favorite names life in a different way at some point.

  9. Commented earlier but I guess a glitch on my phone means it never posted. Stella and Dylan are lovely names. Damnit all, I still wish you could have celebrated a child with one of those names. But I honour the place they have in your heart. Abiding.

  10. Those are such lovely names. Sending thoughts.

  11. I like the fact that you named your babies-who-never-were. They are lovely names.

    I also named my never-to-be baby. She would have been Deeanna. This
    November she would have been 42.

    We are lucky that we can "move on", but we never forget.

    Thanks for sharing such a personal story.

  12. I love the names and I love Stephanie's idea of being able to use those names for something else in the future.

  13. Beautiful names, and thank you for sharing them with us. <3 As Different Shores said, sometimes interest and questions are easier to deal with than silence -- and kids can be really great in that way. ;)