Jenny. I think I have finally learnt to like my name. I hated it for so long. Jennifer: the second most popular name of the 1980s. Me and fifteen other Jens and Jennys and Jennifers standing in a class photo shaped like a jagged pyramid and me always at the top, standing next to boys with names like David and Michael and that chubby girl Courtney whose mother put flour in her hair when she didn’t have time to take a shower.
Jenny. A bunch of twenty-year-old jokes about “You can sit here if you, wa-ant.”
Jennifer Lee. Even worse. Jennifer Lee sounds like General Lee, which sounds like I grew up on a plantation in the rural south, not on Leonora Drive in the San Fernando Valley, one block away from Ventura Boulevard, two blocks away from the 101.
Jennifer. My dad is singing “Jennifer Juniper” my whole life and I am thinking, Then why is my middle name Lee? He’s singing a song I’ve never heard of and chewing on Jujubes, half of which will end up on the floor of his F150 truck, along with pistachio shells and strings of chewing tobacco.
I look at myself in the mirror at this face and I now like myself for all the wrong reasons – the self-destructive ones that make me terrified I will be alone for the rest of my life, the parts of me that suck people in and then spit people out. I like the gristle, the bits cut against the grain. I like me for my capacity for tragedy.
Now when I hear it, I hear the voices of the people who have left me for various reasons. I hear them say my name and imagine them feeling an old fondness for a complicated girl they met at a time that would never be good. I look at myself like they look at me, caring from a far away distance, removed from the day-to-day reality. “Jenny,” they would say, and they would remember me differently, coated with the sugar-candy sweetness of that goddamn name.
Jenny sounds like a childhood friend you played with in your grassy backyard, drinking lemonade until your throat hurt. Jenny sounds like the girl in the mint-colored house down your black asphalt street humming with summer heat. Jenny is the girl who sat on the sidelines wearing a dirty jean skirt, chewing on pink gum, while you played shortstop. Jenny’s got scars on her knees and when she falls she cries. You take care of Jenny.
But I take care of Jenny.
Jenny is mine.