My Other Name
My name is Brian, but my father called me Ben from the time I was born until the day he died. I am sixty-four years old and, to this day, I have no idea why he always called me by the wrong name. I loved my father and I’m certain that he loved me too, but we didn’t really have the type of relationship where I’d ask something like, “Dad, you know my real name, right?” Things were different back then and I guess looking back all those years, I was pretty intimidated by my father. I answered when he spoke to me, but I never felt the need to initiate any conversations with him. Not talking to him anymore than required may have often left me in the dark, but talking to him sometimes scared the shit out of me, so I usually chose the former. By the time I got in high school I spent a lot of my time either stoned or playing football and I had long since accepted the structure of our relationship, and the fact that I had two names. And I suppose, by the time I was an adult, it just didn’t matter anymore and I didn’t think about it all that much.
I sat down here at my desk a few minutes ago and looked at beach pictures from the islands and I looked at a glass sailboat that my granddaughter gave to me and then just sat and sort of stared off into nowhere for a few minutes. It’s funny how my mind works and ties seemingly unrelated times and places and events together,
I picked up a bottle of rum that I keep on my desk and popped the cork and breathed in the sweet molasses aroma and a thought popped into my head. In fact, a couple thoughts popped in. The rum reminded me of sitting under the stars at The Ferry Boat Inn in Anguilla while sipping on rum drinks with friends. And that got me thinking about Souly and Mole and local folks I had come to know in Anguilla and St Kitts. Through those memories I began to recall how easily I fit in down in the islands almost from my first day there. I was a white guy from Maine, and I felt as at home in the Caribbean as almost any place I’ve ever lived. Like a fish in water, as they say. And finally, all of that reminded me how almost all of the guys in the islands have at least two names. First, they have their given name, and then they have at least one adopted name that was given to them somewhere along the line.
That’s when the thought hit me and I smiled and poured a little rum and thought, I have two names. Maybe my father knew something that I didn’t know. I mean, he never went to the Caribbean or traveled at all for that matter. But somehow it seems fateful that I would spend so much time in a place where every guy had two names, and my father gave me a second name right out of the gate.
With that, I raised my glass to my father and took a sip of rum and accepted that he called me Ben because he knew that someday I would live in a place where every guy had at least two names. And with that, I leaned back in my chair and dreamed of a million stars in the Caribbean sky and the sounds of the sea splashing on the shore and the voices and laughter of my friends in the islands. Maybe I’ll let them know my other name the next time I’m down there.