For a New Name

(written about a young woman I met in the 1980s)

I prefer Jennifer, if that is okay with you. I’m planning to legally change my name but haven’t gotten around to the official paperwork yet. I just can’t be “Moonbeam” any more. You know what I mean?

What were my parents thinking? I’m not sure they were. Everyone at the commune had strange names. My mom’s real name is Edith, but she changed it to Willow when she left home to move to the commune. My dad, well, he’s not my real dad, he’s just one of the guys that was around part of the time when I was growing up, he calls himself Sage. I’m not sure what his real name is. I never met my real dad as my mom really didn’t know him and he took off before I was born. I think his real name was George, but my mom really wasn’t sure and wouldn’t ever talk about him. He probably doesn’t even know I exist.

Growing up we did a lot of traveling in our VW van, going from crafts fairs to street fairs where my mom made and sold macrame hemp bracelets and necklaces. She always managed to sell a few. She taught me to make them when I was young but to this day I can’t stand to do it. I thought it was boring and pointless, but she was stoned most of the time. We kids would run around and play hide and seek and try to beg money and scrounge food while our parents sat at their booths selling stuff to women who came with big purses and high heels and big hair. Mostly it was a good time, but after awhile one city looked like another city and I just wanted to go back to the commune where at least we could sleep in our tent and not in the back of the van. Mom tended to sleep with other guys when we were out on the road, so the back of the van would get pretty crowded and sometimes too noisy for me to sleep. At least on the commune, she’d go to some other tent when she wanted to sleep with some guy.

I was hungry a lot growing up. Mom didn’t think much about cooking. She took her turn at the commune kitchen, but we kids just had to make do except for the one meal a day that everyone ate together. So many of the adults had other things they did with their time, planning the next protest march, or sitting around smoking hash. That’s why I started hanging out in the kitchen when I was seven, just to be around the food, so I’d be put to work, either washing vegetables or cleaning up afterward. Pretty soon they had me cooking soups and bread. I loved the feeling of the dough in my hands and I got strong arms really fast. I felt like I was home.

School? Didn’t go to school until I left the commune at fifteen. There were some of the adults who taught us kids to read and write but we never had a school building or books to read or anything like that. When I ran away, I rode in a bus for hours to get as far away as I could and when I got off the bus in a small town, I went to the bakery and asked for a job. I told them I was eighteen and they believed me. I found a room to live in and got up every morning at 3 AM to bake bread. I’d be done at noon, and then I went to the library and spent the afternoon with books, reading everything I could get my hands on. I was lonely for awhile, but started to make friends. Someone suggested I come to church and so once I became a familiar face there, I felt like that was home too.

I’m here because I plan to go on to school, and I need to catch up by finishing high school. I know I’m older than some of your students but I really want to get my high school graduation done so I can go on to college. I want to run a business, maybe a bakery someday. I want to have a regular life, with a home and a family and a car. I want to have children with regular names.

So please call me Jennifer, okay?

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