Yours truly in the third grade
Born into a family of unusual names, or so I proudly felt in my early years, none of us ever had to concern ourselves with others possessing the same fore or last names. My parents, Sol and Jacqueline Urdang, named us Stephanie, Melanie, Nathan, and Gretchen, in that order.
In the third grade, a few weeks after the beginning of school, without understanding her impact on my vanity, a friend at lunch said, “There’s a new girl and her name is Stephanie.”
“No, there’s not,” I said, naively confident since I’d never before met another.
“Oh, yes there is, and she has long black hair all the way down to her waist.”
“I don’t believe you,” I said, staring at the floor of the cafeteria.
“Whether you believe me or not, it’s true. She’s from California and her hair is beautiful.”
“What’s her last name?” I had a bad haircut but I knew for sure she was not an Urdang.
“Shush, here she comes.” I saw the blanket of glistening hair swinging in the wake of the new girl, and so did everyone else. At eight years old, she was a force of nature. My friend turned in the direction of my ear and whispered. “Stephanie Cassandra.” I left the cafeteria furious at I didn’t know what.
The third grade was many decades ago and since then, I’m relieved to say I have met a few Stephanie’s without one ego collapse. The latest was in October of this year. I was at a doctor’s office and when I heard my name being called, as I followed a Latino girl in her thirties to her desk, she looked over her shoulder and said, “My name is Stephanie too.”
“Oh,” I said, “what a nice coincidence.”
We sat at her desk as she was filling out papers to prepare me for my time with the doctor. Without asking if I even had any siblings, she said, “What’s your sister’s name?”
“Melanie,” I said, purposely avoiding mentioning Gretchen because she died twelve years ago of smoke inhalation. Memories and words on the subject don’t come easily, especially to a stranger. Stephanie didn’t respond so I said, “What’s your sister’s name?”
“Gretchen,” she answered.