An Abby by any other name

Her name is Abby. At least that’s the name she gives everyone when they ask. She’s about 50 now, or thereabouts. She’s not actually sure how old she really is, given that she doesn’t have any documents that can prove her identity. No social security number, no passport, no postal ID, not even a birth certificate.

“Why Abby?” I ask, curious about her choice of identity.

“I wasn’t really Abby until the 90’s. I was Maricel for a while and just Kid before that” she says in a tone that was all matter of factly. “There was that actress named Abby Viduya. I liked her. So, I took her name. Maricel was because of Maricel Soriano”

I didn’t ask about the Kid part. I kinda figured that one out.

There must be something liberating and powerful about choosing a name for yourself. Maybe that’s why the Native Americans have complex naming ceremonies. The child is given a descriptive name at birth, usually derived from nature and what was happening during the time of their birth. Reminds me of that old joke about shitting cows. Then as an adolescent, they may be given another name and another as they get older, showing their achievements or accomplishments.

“Abby’s not popular anymore. Why not change your name to Nadine or Liza?”

She shrugs “I like Abby.”

Abby looks like she’s about mid 50s. Her straight nose and fair skin can easily make her pass for a Caucasian or at least a half breed. Her language assures you that she is definitely a child of the streets and a graduate of the school of hard knocks.

“I used to be a looker” she says

“I’m sure! You still are now!” I assure her with a smile.

“No, I’m not anymore. I’m way past my use-before-date!” She laughs “But yeah, I used to be really good looking. That’s why I got the best and richest clients back in the club. Thank god for the bastard who got my mom pregnant, eh? He must have been a good looking fuck for me to turn out like this!”

I cringe a bit, half appalled and half amused at her brutal honesty. For her, they were just facts. They were the little realities that are tangible and verifiable. These are things she doesn’t need to speculate or imagine about herself.

I wondered about how difficult that must have been for her. I’m only imagining it and I’m in grief. To not know where you’re from, what’s your name or if anyone out there is looking for you. I must have made a face because Abby tapped me on my knee and said “I know what you’re thinking. I thought about that as well – what’s my real name, where am I from, blah blah. Sometimes I have this image of a woman in my head that I imagine to be my mother. But I’m not so sure if I just imagined her or if she’s real.”

Abby and I met when I was researching for a role. The role was a prostitute. I went to clubs to observe, to talk to them and figure out how to incorporate little pieces about themselves in my character. Abby stood out from all of them. One, because she is of age; second, she was the only one that truly looked and felt comfortable with this blatant display of wanton and fake lust.

I was drawn to her almost immediately, the way you get drawn to an interesting work of art or a trainwreck. I smiled at her. She responded by crudely asking me if I was interested in performing cunnilingus on an older woman. I choked on my own spit and tried to explain what I was doing there with no chance of coherence in sight. Another kind girl told her my purpose and she shrugged her shoulders and sat me down beside her. “Alright. What do you want to know?”

She told me about the earliest memory she had. She was woke up on a busy sidewalk. She remembered needing to relieve herself and at the same time, she was confused why she was on a sidewalk. She tried to hold her pee in, waiting for her mother to come back, thinking that she was just somewhere. Her mother has done this before, left her in one corner but she would always come back. She often wondered why she was crying every time she would come back. She would also ask for forgiveness.

“I didn’t know what she was talking about then. I thought she was apologizing because she took too long. Sometimes, she did. She would leave for a few hours, a day, until she never came back. Maybe she finally gathered the courage and found the right justification on why she had to leave me.”

My heart was breaking in a million tiny pieces. How can she not resent her mother? How can she find comfort in that horrible act?

“I lived her life too. I think I know exactly what she went through. I just made a different decision. Maybe I wasn’t as brave as she was. Maybe I was too naïve. I just love my children. I love them with whatever love was left by my mother. I multiplied that love – so in a weird way, I can love her back.”

Wisened whore. I hated her a bit for that statement. She is more human and more compassionate than any one of us on a normal day, even if she was given so little.

“When I had my first child, I made sure that they had a name; that they had proof of identity. I found out that if you gave birth in a hospital, they would make sure your child had documents, birth certificates! I think I wasn’t born in a hospital that’s why I don’t have a name. You know, that’s the first gift you can ever give your child. A name. With that name, they have an identity. With that name, they can claim dignity.”A name. Something as simple as a name is equated with dignity.

It’s easy to dismiss her and her bountiful pearls of wisdom. All those treasures are hidden in her profanity peppered language, her obviously unmannered movements and her no nonsense attitude.

“Do your kids…” I stopped myself from completing the sentence. I didn’t know how to position the question. She took two cigarettes out from the Pall Mall pack and lit them both, handing one to me. “Do my kids know about my job? Yeah. I never lied or hid anything from them. I let them handle it the way they thought best. They’re more educated than I am. They never were embarassed of me though. They never really said what I did in exact terms but yeah, they know. “

Her son, the firstborn, is now an engineer in another country with his own family. Her daughter is in Italy at the moment, working as a staff supervisor in the housekeeping department of a hotel. “They’ve done great for themselves”

“Why do you still work here? Why don’t you stay with your kids? Wouldn’t that be more comfortable for you?”

She takes a long puff and smiles at the distance. “ They have been bugging me. My son, especially. But how can I? I don’t have any passport. It’s not like I can just go to the DFA and apply for one. I don’t exactly have a birth certificate. We tried to get a late registration but I can’t even remember my mother’s name, moreso where I was born. It’s too much grief. They come home to visit me instead.”

I didn’t think I could ever experience several levels of grief and frustration in the span of 30 seconds. I felt every beaurucratic pain and her children’s longing and her own voluntary defeat. It was just too much – even for someone who has been downing shot after shot of this cheap watered down bourbon. There are some pains that even alcohol can’t numb.

She looks at me, smiles and touches my knee. “I’m sorry. I forgot to ask you. What’s your name?”

“I’m Lisa.” I whispered. Suddenly embarassed by the fact that I have a name.

“Lisa…” She trails, thinking. “That’s a pretty name. It’s simple but classy.”

“Thank you.” I wistfully smiled.

“If ever I change my name again, can I use yours?” She playfully bumped my shoulder with hers.

I leaned in and hugged her. It was taking all of my strength to stop the tears. I whispered to her “It would be my honor.”

 

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