Fluffy-Snowball-Wigglesly-PinkNose-Kitty-Puppy-Princess earned her reputation as the fiercest in the kingdom of my bedroom shortly after that one vomit incident that landed her in the washing machine faster than I could pick her name for the week. Or his name for the week. The process of naming the white stuffed cat was difficult enough without also having to consider its gender. And for a girl who believed she may have accidentally had her own gender swapped at birth, who was I to base my sex-assessment on the creature’s delicate whiskers and powder pink nose?
My allegiance to Fluffy-Snowball-Wigglesly-PinkNose-Kitty-Puppy-Princess was a quiet one, squashed somewhere between my family’s reputation of we-drive-only-Fords-and-love-only-dogs and my Grandma Graham’s intense phobia of cats, which weighed down the family compound’s air with a magical thickness that averted every stray cat in the neighborhood. And if that spell didn’t work, they were methodically executed.
There was order in my animal kingdom. Lists and schedules were in place to ensure that everyone from Izzy the Plastic Lizard to Thomas the Overweight Walrus With the Missing Tusk had equal Going Out time. As the youngest, equality was extremely important. And yet, for a creature I had such mixed feelings for, unable even to settle on a name, Fluffy-Snowball-Wigglesly-PinkNose-Kitty-Puppy-Princess found herself tagging along more than her fair share. This often caused minor revolts among the Plush, leading to heartfelt speeches explaining that it wasn’t that I loved her more, it’s that…
But I couldn’t explain it. I really didn’t like Fluffy-Snowball-Wigglesly-PinkNose-Kitty-Puppy-Princess more. I wasn’t even sure that I liked her at all. They sensed my uncertainty. I paused too long. I was overcompensating. Brandon the Blue Smiley Man sneered. Soda Pop Dexter the Dalmation sniveled. Mutiny! And before I could stammer an adequate apology, even the balcony of Beanie Babies turned away in disgust.
If I learned nothing else from The Neverending Story, it is that having a pet dragon would be ideal. And also, the importance of naming things. While authors and artists will tell you that naming things dispels fear and creates a brighter world, the art of naming and remembering those names is tricky business. It is the commitment to something more chaotic than our brains find manageable. Or it is accidentally loving a certain white cat I know I have been genetically predisposed to hate. A stalwart in time and space is established, and the name can be loaded up with memories and the sorts of feelings and judgments it didn’t bargain for. If I didn’t pick and remember a name, I didn’t have to care that Fluffy-Snowball-Wigglesly-PinkNose-Kitty-Puppy-Princess was dangling precariously from a second story window with a leering 10-year-old boy holding her by the tail. I could casually pick her up from the mud, you know, whenever, and no one would suspect my secret-traitor-cat-liking tendencies.
Only three animals remain, none of which are Fluffy-Snowball-Wigglesly-PinkNose-Kitty-Puppy-Princess. None of which are even from my childhood. For reasons that are beyond me, I still take them off my bed every night, and place them back on every morning. I get mad when my dog tries to chew them. I guard them like I guarded my Plush inner circle– back when they spent nights in my bed and days playing on my floor, instead. And I named them, definitively. Doris, a cheap, lightweight bunny with a pink bow, became mine the day my mother picked me up from the psych ward in seventh grade. My mother pleaded me to squeeze her instead of cutting myself next time I felt overwhelmed. Lion, with his bean butt and his tousled mane, sits center. He was purchased by my mother as a surprise from a play we traveled all day by bus with her church to see. He was the beginning of the end of my religion, and the end of the start of leaving home. Moose-Moose, all white and wearing purple earmuffs, was given to me after that five-year-secret-relationship-with-that-guy-who-should-be-in-jail-because-he-is-14-years-my-senior ended. My mother presented Moose-Moose to me as a consolation for the bruises on my arms, and as a hopeful re-institution of the teenage years I never had.
They spent most of their time in the bottom of my closet during my three years of marriage, while I took on someone else’s name. When I got my name back, they got their place back, too. And now, a bullmastiff named Butter joins them in the carrying the secrets and weight of what I can’t always hold on to at once. They are a difficult crew to keep tagging along, but at least they are remembered because they are named. That’s more than Fluffy-Snowball-Wigglesly-PinkNose-Kitty-Puppy-Princess ever got.
It is not so much what the name is, but the the remembering of the name. The uneasiness of remembering names is the uneasiness of knowing something or someone so well. We can group them and break them apart and reassemble them under a different blanket that is still as functional as the first:
Chair = Red Chair = Furniture. And we sit in that comfortably.
But name the chair Harold, and suddenly our ears prick and the room becomes a little more confusing and full of this presence: Harold.
We know chairs. Red ones and blue ones. We’ve met comfortable ones and cold metal ones, but we’ve never met a Harold Chair before. So we commit to remembering the parts of the chair that make it distinctly Harold. And we wonder how many other chairs we have mistaken only as chairs. We’ve spent all this time stereotyping and grouping, and now with Harold erupts chaos.
So we forget his name. It’s easier. And when we see him next, we can uncomfortably sit and squint our eyes and find a way to casually ask, “And what was your name again?”
But Harold won’t answer. He’s only a chair.