My son is named after my late father. It was a sentimental gesture on my part, a sentiment that has now largely passed. My father had an overly affectionate relationship with alcohol you see, an affection that was costly to both him and us. However pregnancy does very strange things to one’s hormones, and a sublime pre-birth rush of progesterone led me to believe that the continuity of the family tree and the embedding of history in the current narrative was a vital part of blah blah blah. And so as all the male family members gathered around him on his eighth day of life to perform the Jewish circumsision ritual (we are not going there), he was bestowed with this somewhat rickety legacy. I was emerging from one hormonal dementia and entering into another (the Big Post Natal D), and was not yet of sane mind. So it still seemed like a noble idea.
It just so happened that Cheating Husband had an uncle with the same name. He was not a particularly salient character in our day-to-day lives, so we had never really made the connection between his, my father’s, and now my son’s names. Until the day he killed himself by flying, head first, into the ground at a meaningful speed while participating in a motorbike race at a local track. My son was about two when this happened, and the sombre mumblings of the mourning adults filtered through into his strange toddler world. Somehow Uncle and Grandfather became conflated, and his name took on greater significance by being somehow linked to this adventurer of a man who died so dramatically. As he grew older and more verbal, he started regaling anyone who stood still long enough with stories about the origins of his name, and no amount of hushed correcting from me could convince him that it was not his grandfather that died while racing motorbikes. Quite the contrary actually. His grandfather died in a grungy hotel room whilst in a deep sleep. I do see how that is a much less compelling story, and my son, with his inherited flair for the dramatic, was having none of it.
One day a couple of months ago my son and I were chatting about this and that. “Mom”, he said, “you know the man who died at the motorbike race? The one I’m named after?”. “Yes dear” I replied, far too exhausted to begin the very involved process of explaining his genealogy to him. “Well”, he said “Did he at least win the race?”
Oh, I wanted to laugh. I wanted to laugh, and I wanted to cry, and I wanted to howl and to celebrate. Because he had let me off the hook, my brilliant son. It doesn’t matter, really, the legacies and stories I syphon ever so carefully into the pages of his book, because those are my stories, laden with my guilt, my battles, my ghosts. He just repels them, turning a drunken grandfather into a heroic uncle, a tragic death into a simple race unwon. With a puff of air he blows away the dust of the ghosts clambering to fill his space with their musty, worn out tales. Cheating Husband and I cannot create the world in which he will live. His words are like the clanks and the bangs of pots being hit with metal spoons – come out come out wherever you are, we are playing a different game now.