I go to the League For Undocumented Students. I have an appointment to see one of their counselors. They say they help people get into college regardless of document status, no questions asked. “Everyone has the right to an education,” the woman had said on the phone. She asked me my name.
I said, “That’s a complicated question.”
She said, “That’s all right. We definitely understand.”
I said, “You probably don’t, but thanks.”
At the appointment I hand her my file. She flips through the pages with her long red nails. Thwap. Thwap, thwap.
She looks confused. “There’s a lot of blanks on your form, sweetie.”
“I know, “ I say.
“You didn’t list any previous schools.”
“Well, I never went to school,” I say.
“Difficult, but not impossible,” she says. “We’ve done it before. Gotten students into college despite a lack of formal education. Where were you born?”
“San Jose,” I say.
“Costa Rica,” she says. She starts writing it on the form.
“Not Costa Rica,” I say.
“Sorry. What country?”
“That’s not a country.”
“That’s a state.”
“A state in America.”
“You’re not undocumented.”
“No. Yes. I’m American, but I’m undocumented.”
“So go get copies of your documents.”
She leans back in the chair. Leans back her head. Breathes out hard through her nose. “You never did tell me what your name was.”
I swallow, hard.
“I don’t have one,” I say.
“I don’t have one.”
“You don’t have a name.”
“I was born without one.”
“Everyone’s born without one.”
“No but I was born without one, permanently.”
Now she’s just staring.
“Look,” I say.
She shakes her head. “I can’t help you,” she says. “We don’t offer the type of services that you need.”
“I hear that a lot,” I say.
That night when I come home, Mom and Dad are doing bong rips. They’re using the good one, the one with the plastic skulls all over it.
“I can’t go to college,” I say. “I tried to tell you guys this would happen.”
“What about….Marsha?” Mom says.
“Nah,” Dad says. “She doesn’t look like a Marsha. Beverly?”
Mom snorts, lets out her smoke, starts coughing. “BEVERLY? What fuckin’ year is it?”
She’s wearing a t-shirt with a picture of a wolf howling at the moon on it. It used to be black, but with so many washings and wearings it has turned gray and almost transparent.
“Nobody wears shirts like that anymore,” I tell her.
“Sure they do,” she says.
“They do but not seriously. Only ironically.”
Mom and Dad give each other a look. They start cracking up.
“Okay sister, whatever.”
“What fuckin’ year is it, Mom?”
I grab the bong out of her hand and set it on the counter. I put my hands on my hips. She shakes her head at me. “Should’ve named you Little Miss Mary Margaret Perfect,” Mom says.
“That means you don’t know the answer.”
“I do too know what year it is, and at least I don’t think my shit don’t stink.”
“We could name her Marjoram,” Dad says.
“We could name her Margarine,” Mom says.
They dissolve into laughter. Soundless, doubled over, wiping their eyes. I slam my bedroom door.
I met a man in a night school class. I enrolled with one of my fake IDs. This one says I’m from Iowa and my name is Bobbie Jo Gilooly.
“You don’t look like a Bobbie Jo Gilooly,” was the first thing he ever said to me.
A group of us have been going for drinks every week after class. After the second time, he offered to drive me home, but instead we kissed in his car for an hour. Then we started doing that instead of going to class–in motels, instead of the car. I tried to explain everything. That when I was born my parents had been really into Child Telepathy, and they were committed to letting me choose my own name. Before I was born they would listen through Mom’s belly for my announcement. When no announcement came, they figured maybe I had to be born before deciding. And then I was born, right there in the tub, and they figured there was no reason to register my birth until I had explained who I was. They waited a long time. And after a while it’s easier to just keep waiting.
“Shush,” the man from night school said. “We don’t even need to talk.”
At breakfast the next morning, they’re eating frozen hash browns they heated up in the microwave, with grated cheese on top. “What about Darla,” Dad says.
“What about Carla,” Mom says. “Starla, Marla. Why stop there? Lalarlala.”
“Fuck you guys,” I say.
“YOU KNOW,” Dad says, “in other societies, this wouldn’t be a problem. You’d have a secret name a shaman whispered in your ear. It would be so powerful and so secret you would never reveal it. But family would just call you by whatever happened around the time you were born. Child of the rainstorm. Child of the goat feast.”
“Child of the chicken plucking,” Mom yells out.
“What other society is this exactly?” I ask.
“Oh, c’mon, you’re just mad because you can’t go to college,” says Mom.
In the motel with the man from night school, I talk about my life. Home birth, home school, no doctors, no TV.
“Real back-to-the-landers,” he says.
“Not on purpose,” I say.
“You’re an adult now. You could name yourself.”
“I tried that,” I say.
“It didn’t stick.”
He puts his hand in my hair.
“It’s just one of those things. Some people are born with no legs. This is probably not as bad as that.”
“I think they did this so you could never get away from them,” says the man from the night school class.
“I think if they knew I’d never get away they never would have done it.”
Mom’s favorite song is “My old Man” by Joni Mitchell. We don’t need no piece of paper from the city hall, keepin’ us tied and true. That one. She sings it around the house while she knits. But when he’s gone, me and the lonesome blues collide, the bed’s too big, the frying pan’s too wide. Mom is lying when she sings this, though. Because Mom and Dad have not left each other’s sight in 25 years. Not even to go to the bathroom because the bathroom doesn’t have a door anymore. She wouldn’t know the lonesome blues if the lonesome blues slapped her in her stoned face.
“We’re falling in love, aren’t we,” the man from night school says. He’s fixing his gaze on me, staring into me with blue blue eyes. If I had a name he’d be moaning it right now. Oh Sally, oh Edna, oh Francie, oh Jean. Oh you, you, you.
“When you find the one for whom your soul awaits,” Mom says, “it will be cosmic. It will be so real and so cosmic that you will know right away when it’s him, and you will never believe how far you will go together.”
“Yeah,” Dad says. “I hope it’s really far. So we can get some time to ourselves.”
“I can’t get a job because of you people,” I say. “I can’t prove I’m a citizen. I don’t have a birth certificate.”
“Obama!” mom says. “We can name her Obama!”
Dad howls. He makes a “stop, you’re killing me” gesture.
“That was a good one, baby,” he says, wiping his eyes with both hands.
“You don’t miss things you never had,” I say to the man from night school.
“I miss things I never had,” he says. “Like true love.”
“I thought you said we were in that right now,” I say.
“Well.” he says. “I regretted saying that right after I said it. I’m not very emotionally responsible.” He rolls over and looks up into space.
“I wish we could get married, and then I could have a name and it would be yours,” I say.
“But we can’t,” he says.
“We can’t because I’m married already.” He doesn’t look at me. “I could have probably let this go on for another six months. But it wouldn’t be fair.”
“Yes, it would,” I say. “It would be fair.”
He sighs. “When I’m here I’m not really here. I just can’t get her name out of my head.”
He catches a glimpse of my face.
“Oh my god, that was completely the wrong thing to say,” he says.
“Let it go on another six months,” I say.
“I’ll never forget this,” the man from night school says. “I’ll never forget you, you you.”
My parents are asleep on the sofa. They’re curled around each other. Dad’s long gray beard is tangled on Mom’s long gray ponytail. There’s a snapshot of their wedding on the wall over the woodstove. It’s sunrise, and the light outlines their bodies. Mom stirs, wakes up. She sees me looking at the picture.
“When you name something, you’re saying it’s property,” Mom says. “I guess maybe we…never wanted you to belong to anybody.”
In the picture, they belong to each other so much, there isn’t even a word for it.
My parents hold each other so close that nothing could ever pass between them. Not a beam of light. Not a piece of paper.
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