We were working our way through the alphabet, cursively. During the letter “r,” I raised my hand to get permission to go to the bathroom. Mrs. Erickson gave me the nod. I gave the pencil sharpener a quick turn before I opened the giant door. It was perched right by the door handle, and so tempting. I looked back in apology and went to the lavatory. I went to the bathroom. Washed my hands. I should have just walked back to the classroom, but the shining white porcelain called my name from down the hall. Just a quick drink, I thought. I did a half scoot/run to the drinking fountain. Bent over. Turned the silver knob. A giant stream soaked half of my long blonde hair. I couldn’t return to the room with all of this evidence. I had only gotten permission to go to the bathroom. The drinking fountain was way down the hall and we were only allowed, single file, twice a day. I race walked back to the bathroom and pulled the brown paper towels from the dispenser. I tried to use them as a towel, but that made my hair look even worse. So I put one in each hand and pulled and willed the water to leave. I tucked the wettest behind my ear, down into my turtleneck. Hung my head low and slithered back to my chair. Mrs. Erickson was writing the letter “t.” I had totally missed “s.”
I was listening to a podcast the other day. The woman said she writes her name in every book she reads. Evidence of the connection. Even when she reads the book again, she writes her name again. I used to do it as a child. I’m not sure why I stopped. I’m going to return to the habit.
But for a brief experiment in Junior High, I have had the same signature. Perfect cursive until the last letter of my last name. “S.” I always make it like I’m printing. It’s not like I couldn’t have changed it through the years. It wasn’t like my only moment to learn how to make a cursive “S.” But I liked it because it told my story. It wasn’t just a letter. Not just a name. It was me.
We always want people to see us. And that’s so important. But we have to be able to see ourselves. Write our own story. Claim it. Again and again.
I wrote my name in my newest book — a translation of French poetry into English. My signature carries the bookstore where I bought it. The friends I was with at the time. The laughter of the day. This day and every day before. The school where I first learned to love to read. The day I claimed my name.