This is a simple column by a complex
In 10th grade Honors English, Mrs. Hao kicked off a brand new school year of brand new students with an introductory game. Say your first name, but preface it with self-praise in the form of a word that begins with the same initial. "I'm Effervescent Evie. Okay, who's next?"
I couldn’t sink deep enough in my seat. What sounds right with Carol, not too conceited, but not too noticeable? Mustn’t attract undue attention to myself. After all, two years in relative obscurity since my Army sergeant father decided to retire in Hawaii can’t be all bad.
And, for God’s sakes, do not under any circumstances say, “Cute Carol.”
I think I ended up with, “Calm.” Or maybe “Considerate.” Something benign enough.
I wanted, “Crazy.” But that’s bad, right?
Twenty-two years later, and I know what I should’ve said, regardless of negativity: Cipher.
Before then, I was too busy fending off the unwanted advances of the racists and weight-conscious, and reveling in my oblivious childhood of bullying the littler kids into doing my bidding to notice this tendency in nine out of 10 people.
Ignore me, please. But c’mon, don’t sit on me, how can you not see I’m right here, nose behind a book?
Hare-brained theories abound. I’ve got one about names reflecting personalities and matches made in heaven [Tiffany will never be a physicist, a Robert will inevitably interest a Carol, Duncans dig Julies], as well as meaning of life soundtracks finding the individual you.
The law of reciprocity and karma really speaks to that cipher crippling me, though.
Somewhere along the snubs, scoffs and sit upons, I became convinced that my birth came with a curse. Hey, “Cursed Carol!” Ahem, anyway!
Maybe I used to be a terrorist in a previous life, or a serial rapist, or worse, someone rich, beautiful and popular. So this life is payback.
Maybe my moving around at the speed of light as an Army brat really finally did me in by the time my father suffered the first of three heart attacks in the middle of the night, circa spring of 1977, Fort Dix, New Jersey, and called it a day. After effortlessly making and breaking friends, my adolescence caught up with repetition, experience and adult perspective, against the ever-present backdrop of “Chink! Jap! Flat-faced gook! Fat-assed blimp!” And I stopped bothering with the introductions, withdrew, did an awesome imitation of a belligerent wallflower.
Maybe I’m just a lazy fartknocker who found cable more interesting than another round of “Hi, how are you?” They move away eventually.
Make your selections now.
In any event, I’m the one nobody remembers. Every single time, it’s always “Oh, I’m sorry, was your name Lisa?” “Oh, I forgot your name, but I know your husband’s, and your son’s, how are they dear?”
Not that I make myself known. Even when I do, lately for requisite reasons, like say, babysitting, they certainly don’t beat a path to my door with flowers, candy and early alerts.
In fact, this past week reminded me again why I’m “Cursed Cipher Carol.”
The teenaged babysitter (recommended by my husband’s singer friend), the one we’d used twice before without incident, the one who’s so shy she hunkers down with her gameboy ignoring us when we try to make polite conversation (correction: when Eddie, Mr. Popularity Everybody Remembers His Name, does), the one who routinely snaps tersely at her polar opposite chatty friendly maternal considerate wonderful mother who also goes by the cursed cipher name of Carol, the one who refuses to speak other than in monosyllabics when forced ... she led me to believe, two weeks in advance, that she was available to babysit our son, James, so that we can catch the long-awaited opening of “Matrix: Reloaded.” Snapped at her mother Carol, “I know that!,” when asked about the babysitting date after I left two messages a week later, didn’t call back until I finally waited through a weekend into a Monday, said she was just about to, and without an apology for such inconsiderate irresponsible timing, said “I have a Camp Retreat that weekend.” ...Leaving me with less than a week to come up with another babysitter I trusted, knew, and wouldn’t screw me over. Good luck.
Cipher Carol, remember?
I’m not surrounded by extended families and fanatically devoted pals willing to drop their busy schedules to take care of our 16-month-old son so I can take a shower, sleep through a night, rest my aching back, take a crap when an IBS attack hits my gut, the usual. I’d have to be popular, friendly and willing to listen to the inane endless babble of “How’s the weather” conversation pieces for any of that.
Then, because I thought this flaky babysitter would call me back promptly, as I would since I’m such a conscientious good girl, I kept answering the phone which I don’t normally do, to avoid the telemarketers. These guys are very slick, way more slick than the last batch I dealt with oh, about five years ago. They’ll have you selling your mother’s organs in five short minutes, and your soul, for a $1.90 a month phone card owed you as a privileged new Chase credit card member, no obligation, enrolled now.
I wound up with a $40 a month bill unless I called to cancel, and someone from State Roofing coming over for a free window replacement estimate in three days.
So, after all that, I slid to the floor in the dark, sinuses clogged with torrents of frustration, disappointment, failure and self-recrimination. Of course.
Of course it’s my fault. If it were anybody but me, the babysitters would be lined up, recommended by Martha Stewart herself, all willing to put in 48-hour shifts at the drop of a hat, no questions asked. And the telemarketer types wouldn’t have stood a chance, I’d have sold them.
My curse afflicts those I truly love and those who – for some unfathomable reason – see me, really see me. There aren’t that many, let me tell you. Most have never seen me per se, as in face-to-face, but know me from my written words. Which, I guess, is way better than the real thing, I dunno.
I lucked into some wonderful, but a rare few, family and friends—mine all mine, not third-person contacts. My husband Eddie and our son James are always recognized, remembered and warmly received—even if the person hasn’t seen them in a long time. They carry with them the blessing of belonging to a normal working society of regular folks, perhaps a bit higher in that they’re very charismatic.
When they’re mad or happy, everybody else takes note, and respects accordingly. They command attention. Nobody would dare let them down, use them, or sit on them accidentally on a bus ride to Aiea.
I actually feel bad for them, though, taking pity on me, being saddled with such a curse. Imagine if they had someone WOW for a wife and a mother and a friend, like, like, Rachael Ray of “$40 A Day” and “30-Minute Meals” from the TV Food Network. Now she’s bubbly, energetic, creative, and acknowledged as a real, live, legitimate, fitting, natural part of the human race. She would never ever end up on the short end of any stick. She would never ever attract the dregs of society.
Hold on, I’m not calling my beloveds dregs. They’re rare, remember? As such, they could be too kind, too forgiving, too willing to pore through every nook, cranny and butt-crack of loser ciphers like me. They could easily do better, but dangit, kindness gets the better of ‘em every time. Suffering for their compassion.
Long story short, I found my babysitter. One of those too kind friends, a former co-worker who’d kept out of touch for years. I swallowed my pride and fairly begged, the thought of letting my husband—who already pre-purchased movie tickets—down not an option, then left the matter up to God. The free window replacement estimator turned out to be a fellow church-goer—the church we’ve been going to for about four weeks so far through Eddie’s musician friends, and the deal very reasonable. We really do need new windows for our son’s room, as not one day later, Eddie managed to pop the screen out and over the roof while trying to slide the pane closed. As for the Chase phone card, well, we can always call first thing in the morning to cancel.
I suppose I should make an effort, too.
“Hi. My name is Chatty, Cute, Crazy Carol. What’s yours? How are you? That’s nice... Will you babysit for me tomorrow?”
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