By Kacy Emmett
I had the process down to a science by my last year in elementary school. Take tissue in hand; fold delicately once, twice, and three times. If it was the weekend and I was feeling generous, I'd go crazy and use a couple tissues. Final step: place in bra. Yup. An instant cup size for any thirty-two negative A. By the time my mom yelled, "Katherine, let's go!" I looked like Macaulay Culkin boasting Marilyn Monroe's bosom.
Once fifth grade rolled around, my classmates and I were done picking our wedgies and each other's noses. I had no idea what lay ahead. I cast aside my spandex Gymboree jumper and sequin jellies for my hip-hugging jeans and training bra. My Raffi tapes were wrapped up in a dusty box above the garage while I secretly belted out Britney's songs in front of my mirror, hairbrush in hand. I watched my friends strap on L.L. Bean initialed back-packs while I, to their amusement, rolled mine down the hall. I headed for the uncharted mine-field of puberty, standing alone at the back of the development line.
To my family and friends I was known as Katherine, a quiet ten-year-old with bangs and a gap tooth. Every morning my mom would struggle to poof my hair as my dad licked his calloused thumb to scrub the leftover breakfast off my face. I was the baby of the family, just sitting on the sidelines observing the ritual commotion day after day. I kept quiet and shuffled on, feeling uncomfortable in my own skin.
"Katherine" was also my great-grandmother's name. She was boisterous and curvaceous. Her wrinkled, crackly laughter was contagious, reaching even my small corner seat every Thanksgiving. She'd plop down a spoonful of mashed potatoes with one hand and tell her stories with the other. She was beautiful. She was timeless. Unfortunately, I knew we were different. Two Katherines with two completely different personalities. She wore the formal, family name the way one would a slinky evening dress. I carried it around with me like a "Hello My Name Is" nametag that someone had given to the wrong ten-year-old.
As if that weren't enough, every doctor's visit was the same, from the snotty infants to the complimentary sticker at the end. Dr. Marron would weigh me, shaking her head to remind me that, "You're a mystery. Already 5'4" and only 90 pounds!" Little did my doctor know, I was blessed with a metabolism faster than Seabiscuit's and eating was on my hobby list right under making gymp key chains. I was fully aware of my mis-proportions. Every year my dad would drag me to his eating disorders clinics where he, a specialist in anorexia and bulimia, was the keynote speaker. You can imagine the raised eyebrows and muffled scoffing as my father's two-dimensional daughter shuffled into the stuffy reception hall making sure to smile and fill up her plate at the buffet.
Outside of family gatherings and uncomfortable conference rooms, if I wasn't "Katherine" I was "Daddy-Long Legs." My parents had tried to help me develop a "lion voice" to stand up for myself against name-calling or face pinching. Unfortunately, I had become accustomed to the clever nicknames, preferring them to my own real name. For an entire year I demanded to be called "Michael" after my favorite character in Peter Pan. I refused to respond to any other name so teachers, parents, siblings, and bus drivers all complied. Eventually, Tinker Bell's fairy dust faded and I shrank back into the name I had objected to so often: Katherine.
As fifth grade finally came to a close, the familiar scent of sun and sand was within reach. I continued my morning tissue ritual, convincing myself that I was no different than the other girls my age who had already started shaving their legs and wearing makeup. To celebrate graduation that year my family ate dinner outside under the umbrella of dusk at our favorite restaurant. My dad's crooked ray-bans caught the last breath of the sunset. "Let's talk about the 'f' word. Your future, Katherine," he said. After protest, tears, and a pulled-pork quesadilla, I came to terms with what my dad was talking about. My parents had decided to send me to the most dangerous war zone of all: a new school. I would start that September at Derby Academy and remain there for the entire, painful duration of middle school.
My life flashed before my eyes. "The kids are really creative at this school," my mom reassured me. Great. Surely they would come up with better nicknames than "Daddy-Long Legs" for me like "Slim Jim" or "Mosquito Bites," I thought. "There's also a dress code, which means you'll need new clothes!" she went on, trudging deeper in her guilt. That was even better. I still couldn't fit into Limited Too, which meant, as usual, my new pants would be too short. "Maybe you'll meet some cute boys," she shrugged. So not only would he discover my mound of tissues if he goes for second base but I'll be tormented about it for the next three years.
Second base was the least of my worries. Once I had reined in my hysterical meltdown I realized that this awkward, gangly "Katherine" that everyone (except myself) was so used to wasn't going to cut it in the world of middle school dances and slumber parties. I imagined having to introduce myself to everyone. I'd stick out my small, trembling hand, look at my feet, and peep, "Hi. I'm Katherine. I'm new." The horror. I couldn't let this name that fit as poorly as my new jeans follow me around at my new school.
I ran to my desk and ripped out a piece of paper from my Spice Girls notebook. I folded the paper once, then twice, then three times with expert precision. I tore the piece apart and wrote down a different name on each. I crumpled each piece, my palms beginning to shake with excitement. In front of me lay a line of small, wrinkled opportunities. I wouldn't need my lion voice or my roller backpack where I was headed. I was creating my very own "f" word, as my father had called it. Thinking of my great-grandmother perched in her Thanksgiving seat, I closed my eyes and grabbed the first paper that my hand came in contact with. She could sit atop her name forever− I wasn't about to play king of the castle for this anytime soon. I licked my lips and began to unfold.
Kacy. K-A-C-Y. The name was different. It was unique. It didn't wear pants that were too short or get called names for being too skinny. In that moment, Katherine walked into the bathroom, took out the precisely folded tissue from her bra, and Kacy walked out, turning the light off behind her.