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HELLO My Name Is

April 30, 2010

The thing about Luanne was she knew her name was Luanne.

The rest of your friends had names like Chelsea and Olivia and Amanda (never Mandy). There was even Birdie, whose real name was Margot, and you weren’t sure how she got the nickname Birdie, but it fit.

Then there was Luanne.

Her siblings had trendy names. Taryn and Caleb. Her parents were John and Laurie, but that didn’t mean anything because they were from an older generation.

So why Luanne?

She said she didn’t mind her name, and you could tell she meant it. She said it sounded kind and that it made her want to be kind.

And she was kind. It was more than just her monthly shifts at the soup kitchen or her role in starting the school’s Habitat for Humanity club. You all participated in activities like that. You knew it was a good thing to do, and since you did it together, you could even make it fun.

But there was something about her eyes, or maybe her smile, or maybe you’re being too literal, and it was really her ears, the fact that she was such a good listener. To everyone, too, not just her usual group of friends.

She was just a nice person.

Which is why it made no sense at all for her to be the one to die when it was the entire soccer team who was on the same bus that flipped over the same guardrail and rolled down the same hill. Not that you wanted anyone else to die, of course. You just didn’t want Luanne to die.

And you almost lost it at the funeral, when Luanne’s mom walked up there, and you considered walking out of the church before you broke down, but you managed to hold on and stay seated, and you are so glad you did.

Because she finally told the story of how Luanne became Luanne.

I was 23 years old, and I had just found out I was pregnant, and John and I were elated that it had been such an easy endeavor, and that our lives were coming together right on schedule. John still had a couple more months of med school to finish up, and if all went well, he’d get his residency in Chicago, near my family, so that they’d be there to help me once the baby came.

Just before graduation, however, he got the news that we’d be heading to Ohio instead. I was crushed. We knew no one in Ohio. And I knew John would be so busy with his residency that I’d practically be a single mother, in a strange town, with no one to guide my way.

But the morning after we found out, I was reading the paper, and I saw a story about an area girl who had been accepted to the Peace Corps in Zambia and who had only been out there four weeks when she came down with an illness, something mosquito-borne, and she died within 48 hours of first noticing that anything might be wrong at all.

The article went on to quote the many people whose lives she had touched in her short time on earth, and the word that I noticed popping up time and time again was “kind.” This girl was kind. And everyone who knew her had been changed by her kindness.

And something about this girl’s life touched me, too. I hadn’t even met her. But I thought of her, alone in Zambia, fighting her fever and delirium, and at 23 years old. My age. And suddenly, I knew that I could do this. I could live in Ohio, with my husband and my baby, and I could do so with strength that I hadn’t before realized I had.

The Peace Corps volunteer’s name was Luanne. And when my baby girl showed up in the Ohio State University hospital’s delivery room, I knew that this little girl would change my life, too. So I gave her the name of the girl who had been so kind to everyone she met.

I never told my Luanne the story of her name. I didn’t want to make her feel pressure to live up to someone else’s memory. I didn’t want to tell her a sad story ending in a death that came too soon. So when she asked me over the years why I had named her Luanne, I told her that I thought the name sounded kind, and that was the truth.

You knew it was inappropriate for your mind to wander at a time like this, but it was all so Buffy the Vampire Slayer. There is one slayer at a time, and when one dies, another is made, so there are never two at any time, except for the time Buffy died, and then was brought back to life, but in the meantime, Kendra was made, and then when she died came Faith. And now there would always be two slayers.

But this wasn’t Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Luanne wouldn’t be coming back to life, and there wouldn’t be two Luannes.

But there could still be one.

And you decided to do something. To make a change. And the rest of your friends thought you were nuts and that the whole thing was a little creepy, but you called Luanne’s mom to ask for her blessing, and she understood and said it would mean a lot to her.

So when you sat down and filled out your dorm application for your new life at college, and you were asked if you had a preferred nickname, you took a deep breath and carefully wrote out, “Luanne.”

Because it sounds kind.

Because it makes you want to be kind.

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2 comments

  1. Nicely written, Melissa 🙂


    • Thanks for reading, Shome.



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