When I tell people my name is Mary, most don’t understand it. They comprehend that it’s a name with four letters, two syllables and one and a half vowels because really ‘y’ only counts half the time, but most don’t see past that. And for the few that do, all they hear is Biblical allusions to the Mother and a Follower. Nothing more, nothing less. Mary is a common name, but not mine. Not my Mary, not me.
It’s spelled the same and sounds the same true, but it’s different.
My mom used to tell me she picked the name on a whim. How she was sitting on the level-crossing gate one day in July, thunderstorm on the horizon and five months pregnant to boot, watching trains go by.
She always talked about how much she loved trains. The mighty power behind all that steel and iron and the idea that something that heavy could go so fast. She said the oxymoronic nature of it all amused her to no end. So whenever she was sad or scared or lonely or maybe even all three, she’d go out, sit on that gate and watch the trains go by.
And on this particular day, when she couldn’t tell the difference between the rumpling of the tracks and the thunder of the sky, she saw a brand name on one of the car crates. ‘Merry Shipping Co.’ was plastered in big white letter on the side and as it rolled before my mother’s eyes, something clicked. I was christened at five months old, named by both chance and fate in such a way that made perfect sense and yet none at all.
Most Marys are named after other Marys. I was named after a shipment company and I’ve yet to meet another Mary who has been. But that’s only the first half of why my name is different.
See, though I was christened at five months, I didn’t actually get the name until three weeks after I was born. Mom just couldn’t bring herself to name me because the moment I popped out, pink and mewling, from her womb, my father was gone.
When I used to ask my mom about my father she’d say she was young and crazy and in love. That’s all she would say. Never anything specific, never anything about him. It was through others that I learned as much as my mother loved him, love wasn’t enough to prompt him to leave his wife.
Love was not enough and so my mother birthed me by herself and two days later he was gone. Packed up his clothes and furniture and his wife and moved somewhere else.
My mother christened me Mary on a whim after a shipping company on a train she saw before I was born. But she didn’t name me Mary until much later. Once she found her voice and stomach again and forced herself to look at her child.
She had told him she wanted his help in picking out a name. He told her he wanted no part in naming a mistake. And then he shut the door in her face and she walked, sad and scared and lonely, to the crossing gate and started watching trains, her favourite oxymoron.
The name Mary sounds like the word merry. Merry means to make happy or bring laughter. That’s what every other Mary or merry means. But what makes my Mary so special is that like the train that named me, it’s an oxymoron.
Because while I brought my mother happiness, I also brought her sorrow, and pain. I drove away the man she loved. And I don’t quite know how to forgive myself for it. I don’t expect her to forgive me.
I know she isn’t angry, she never was, but at the same time there are days when I see hidden thunderstorms behind her eyes and I wonder if on the day I got my christening, she sucked some of the storm into her lungs and let everything she had all tucked up inside rage on there. And I wonder if on the day of my birth, if that storm leaked out a little, exploding at the fact he wasn’t there and that there was a moving van in front of his house and that he wouldn’t even grace me with a hello and her with a goodbye.
My mother’s storm rages on to this day, but I know she isn’t angry. Not with me, but rather what I brought about. And I don’t know how to change this, to make her see I am looking for redemption for things out of my control. And every time I try to find the heart to say this to her, my tongue tangles up and it makes me uncertain about if I’m really me or rather a series of results. If I’m the Mary she named after a shipping company or if I’m a different Mary all together.
Or if I’m both and neither, yet another perfect oxymoron. After all, Mary is a name with two syllables, four letters and one and a half vowels because really ‘y’ only counts half the time. I am two Marys and yet I am both and neither. And to my mother, no matter how much she loves me, I can only really count half the time because half of what made me is long since gone.
And in my looking for redemption, as I crawl across the caverns of my heart searching for answers to questions that have no name I find it. I find it watching trains roar by and though there’s no thunderstorm on the horizon, there’s one taking root in my belly.
In big white letters graffitied on the side of a box-car are the words ‘LOVE YOURSELF’.
And something inside me clicks. This is my answer to all my questions.
And yet, I cannot quite bring myself to use it.
So I tuck it up inside the back of my mind, christen it ‘Hope’ and promise myself I’ll find use for it someday. That I will try to do this so we can both restore what stolen from use by
a man who drove away two days after the child he fathered was born. And if I can learn this, then perhaps she can have it to.
But until that day I will just have to content myself to watching trains roll by.