Your mother will be dared to do a somersault in her parent’s hallway. She will go into labor and you will be born left hand first at 5:30 in the morning. You will be named Elizabeth Macrae Bowman; Elizabeth after your mother, of course.You are eight months old. You will take your first steps while your mother is at prom. Your grandmother will log this in your baby journal:
June 7, 1986 6:30 PM Beth-Macrae took three steps in the living room. Elizabeth is at Prom.
Cell-phones haven’t been invented yet, so your mother will find out the following morning over scrambled eggs. She’ll swear never to miss another first anything for the rest of your life. She sticks to this, even when you don’t want it.
It is the day before Christmas Eve. You are two and half and baking cookies with your mother’s best friend, Dawn. She wants you to open the presents she bought you, but your mother says no. Dawn will ignore your mother and will have you open the matching outfit. You’ll put it on without taking off the tags. Your mother is not mad because you are smiling and have already stained the shirt.
Dawn will die the next day in a car crash; her green Volkswagen bug sideswiped by a cop that runs a red light. Christmas is not ruined because you are two and your mother still lets you open all your presents.
You are three when you move into your first apartment. You’ll share a bed with your mother, but you like this better than a crib. You’ll have a diet of cheesy macaroni and beef balls.
Your mother will celebrate her twenty-first birthday with her friends. You will cry because you want to get dressed up with the girls, but instead she drops you off at Nana and Papa’s house. Your mother will let you wear the perfume someone gave her as a gift. Nana gets mad at your mother because you have asthma and the perfume is making you sneeze. You’ll take a famous honey bath and get a happy face before bedtime. You’ll sleep well.
You are four and people no longer call you Elizabeth. You will have started kindergarten as Macrae Bowman. You and your mother will move in with Clark the weekend of his and your birthdays. He’ll cook you real dinners with steak and artichokes. You will like artichokes more than your mother’s beef balls, but you will not tell her this. You’ll like everything about living with Clark except having your own room. You will have nightmares.
You are almost six and your mother is a librarian. You’ll like this time spent at your mother’s work. After school, you’ll read a gymnast series and mimic the character’s cartwheels in the fiction aisle. You will get in trouble by your mother’s supervisor, but she still gives you grape bubble gum with the comic print inside. You’ll watch your mother help the special education class that visits every Wednesday.
“Momma,” you’ll say as she opens the car. “You should be their teacher at school.” She’ll buckle your seatbelt and smile.
“But I have you to teach, Crae-baby.”
You’ll get mad that she still calls you a baby. When you are older, you’ll think back and realize she couldn’t go to college because she had you. You’ll feel guilty for a good portion of your teenage years.
You are seven when you lose your first tooth. It is Halloween and you are a slice of pepperoni pizza. Your mother will spend weeks stuffing the crust with at least thirty pounds of cotton. You will not realize your tooth is gone until you have sorted your candy into good candy/gross candy piles. You will cry because now the tooth fairy won’t visit you. The following morning there will be an envelope on the front door. It will contain twenty dollars and a letter from your mother the tooth fairy.
You are nine, and your mother will marry Clark. This makes you happy because you like/love Clark. Clark will give you a family medallion and you’ll be unable to hold back the tears. You use Sutherland as your last name because of the medallion. Your mother will not bother to get it changed legally. As a fourth grader, you will start school as Macrae Sutherland. You will like everything about this except having to sit behind Anna Shin. You will only cry the first time she makes fun of you.
“Just smile at her. Then say something nice like ‘have a great day, Anna’,” your mother will say as you sniffle in the backseat.
You do what your mother says, and Anna stops picking on you by Christmas break.
You will stay with Nana and Papa when your mother and Clark are on their honeymoon. Nana will take you shopping and convince you to cut your hair like Dorothy Hamilton. You will think you look like a boy and be unable to hold back the tears.
You are ten when your sister is born.
“I promise to be the best sister in the world,” you’ll say to Madelyn the newborn the first time you hold her. This promise is easy to keep for the most part. You will only be jealous around Christmas.
At eleven, you will begin gymnastics classes. Three months after starting lessons you will be asked to join the competitive team. You will be scared of your coach, but the fear is worth it.
You are twelve when you get your first kiss. The boy that kisses you wears a red vest and listens to Ska music. It will be awkward and he’ll bite your lip. Your mother will know you kissed a boy. You are unsure how she knows because you don’t tell her. You will be paranoid for the remainder of junior high. You are convinced your mother has spies on campus.
Two weeks after you kiss a boy, you get your first period. Your Aunts send you ‘welcome to womanhood’ gifts in the mail. They will send you Midol and Victoria Secret’s gift cards. You will be mortified. Your mother will tell you it came because you kissed a boy. You will not kiss another boy until high school. You will not have another period for a year.
You are thirteen and you’ll find out you got into an all-girl, Catholic high school. You will have just broken your ankle at the state championship competition. It is April Fool’s day and you think/want to believe your parents are lying. You know your parents are lying because you failed the entrance exam on purpose. You will cry because they are not playing a joke on you. Your ankle throbs, and the pain medication won’t help. Your sister worries and kisses your ankle.
“Sissy, no cry,” she’ll say until she falls asleep sucking her thumb.
You are almost fourteen when you start an all-girl hell. You will make it a point to not make any friends. To get back at your parents, you will fake-quit gymnastics. This backfires and you end up as a cheerleader. You will not remember any of the cheers. In November, you’ll make friends by accident at a football game. You will return to gymnastics because you will not want to learn the basketball cheers. This makes your mother happy. (It will make you happy, too.)
You are fifteen and get nominated for Homecoming Princess. You don’t want it. You will try to get out of being on court, but ASB won’t let you. You’ll get asked to Homecoming by a boy in a Santa suit. This is a funny gesture, but you accept knowing a princess can’t go alone. You will have fun with your date’s friends; meeting your first real boyfriend while waiting in line for pictures. You will go home happy and your mother will know you are in love.
It is your sixteenth birthday and Aaron, the boy from the picture line, asks you to be his girlfriend. You will say yes because you actually like him. Your mother will be nervous that he drives, but she lets you date him. She puts a condom in your purse before you leave. You will find this instead of your lip gloss. You will be mortified.
At seventeen, you will find out that you were supposed to be adopted. You are not named Elizabeth after your mother. You were named after your could-have-been adoptive mother’s mother. You will be upset by this secret. You will want a permanent name change more than ever.
You will have to go to court to get your name legally changed. You do not want your driver’s license to say Elizabeth Bowman, and you have not been able to apply for college because Macrae Sutherland does not exist. You will wait in a room with newly-weds and transvestites. You will get turned down.
Your Aunt works at the courthouse so she will make a few calls. After paying $400.00, you will legally be Macrae Elizabeth Sutherland for the first time in your life.
It is your two year anniversary with Aaron. His parents are out of town so you spend the night. You sleep in his T-shirt and take it home. Your mother will find his shirt and ground you.
“I know what happened. I hope you were at least safe.”
You’ll break up with Aaron a month after staying the night. You realize you do not love him. He will cry. You will not sleep well for a month.
You are twenty, in your first class at CSULB. You will be sweaty from the long walk from the parking lot. A strange boy will hit on you, asking for your number. You will make friends by accident. You will meet a girl that rescues you from the strange boy. She is Greek and she is friendly. You will make friends on purpose. You will pursue friendship with one student because he writes about the Oscar Meyer Weiner Mobile. You will become friends with another boy because his sister is a gymnast. They will remain your friends, even after graduation.
On your twenty-first birthday, you will be jumped by the crazy ex-girlfriend of a guy you’re kind of dating. You will get a restraining order against her. You will stop dating boys with stalker exes.
You will not want to go out, but your friends will make you. You will meet your future fiancé. He is a bouncer and this will embarrass you forever. Someone will smash a mug across someone else’s face. You will be trapped in a corner; witnessing everything. Your future fiancé will jump a gate and pull you out of the drunken mayhem. You will hold hands and he will not try to kiss you.
You are twenty-two and he will still propose to you even after your mother ruins the surprise. You will say “yes, of course”. You like the idea of becoming Macrae Wenger. You will spend hours looking through bridal magazines with your friends.
You are twenty-three. All your wedding deposits are made. You find the perfect, white dress. You will get into graduate school. You will replace Modern Bride with poetry anthologies. The date of your wedding will be postponed because of final exams. You will make more friends on purpose. When you are studying, your car will get stolen. It will be found two blocks away from your apartment. You will love/hate grad school.
You know you’ll eventually graduate with a M.F.A. degree. You know you’ll eventually become a wife and your name will change again.
You like everything about this.