Tea Break Read
A serialised short story
By Allan Hunter
So, there’s this class I’m taking. The people in my dorm said it’s a whacky class but it’s great and I’d really like it. Not everyone in my dorm. Just the people I speak to. You know, my people. Bea and Andy and Goo Goo. They’ve all taken it except Andy, but he talks to Bea a lot. And they said it gets a bit spooky but I think I’m OK with that. So I ask them what they mean by spooky and they say that he looks into you, into who you are, and then Bea said that wasn’t quite right because he gets you to look into who you are. That got me interested. I mean, it’s a prof in a class. How spooky could it really be?
Anyway he comes into the room and he’s just this old guy with lots of gray hair and he reads the syllabus and then he does this thing with us. He calls it an exercise. And he asks us to write some stuff about our names.
Big deal, it’s just our names. Lame. He wants us all to know each other, or may be he just wants to try and remember who’s in the class. Icebreaker stuff from the medieval period. He looks old enough to be an Alzheimer’s job, so that makes sense to me. Perhaps he’ll have us all wear little stick-on labels. So I write about how I’m called Hilda Ann Rawlinson, but everyone back home knows me as RunRun, and that’s because no one in this century is called Hilda. Hilda was my great grandmother, actually, and she was a bit of a hard old bitch – at least my Mom says so, and she should know. I got the name because my mom’s mom, Babci, said it was an honor to have the name of such a powerful woman. Like I really care. I tell everyone to call me Hillie.
Rawlinson is from my dad, natch, and I guess I’m used to that even though I don’t see him much now. When we talk it’s always by phone or text and when I do he always seems to pick an argument. I don’t know why. He asks me all these questions and it’s like, dude, you’re out of my life for like ten years and you come back and expect me to tell you all my private stuff? And then about once a year he takes me shopping and we buy stuff that he thinks I should want, and I let him do it, to make him feel better. I think he’s lonely. He has a girlfriend but I think Mom was the love of his life. She says he hasn’t been right since they split up. And really they only split up (Mom and Dad, that is, not Dad and the girlfriend) because he was on the road so much she felt he was a stranger on the few occasions he came home for more than a couple of days. That’s the life of a not-top-of-Twitter-feed musician, I suppose. Not that he’d know what Twitter is. Well, may be Twitter. But really. He’s not that clued in.
Anyhow, this prof gets us to talk about our names by asking us to read out some of our responses, because we were supposed to write them down. I read off a couple, but I wasn’t going to let anything important out. I wasn’t going to mention RunRun just yet. I got that name when my dad came to a track event I was at in Junior high. And he got all excited and yelled RunRun at the top of his lungs when I was winning some event. And after that the whole school started calling me RunRun. Cringeworthy. I was pretty good at track, you know. The mile was my thing. I could still do it now. I don’t smoke or anything, which helps. Everyone’s into marathons now, and I just don’t have that kind of time. Luckily that was the only time my Dad was there.
I didn’t mention Ann. My middle name. And because he had the class list he asked me, of course. And I said I didn’t know. As if. Anyway there’s nothing to tell. It’s my Mom’s name. But let’s not get into that.
So, some of the other kids there really got into it. One kid, Clare, said how she hated her surname because it was her dad’s name and she couldn’t wait to get free of him. She said she’d take her step-father’s name as soon as she could do it legally because he was the one who brought her up. She said how she’d told her father – her real father – about this and how he’d said he never wanted to see her again. And then she had a little pause, but I could see she was ready to cry. I don’t think anyone else noticed. I was curling up inside. I mean, who cries in college? In class?
Pretty soon it was time to end the class, and I could hardly believe it. It really flew by, which is good I guess. The names part was pretty interesting. There’s this kid who’s called Kim, and she said she got that name because that was the name of the woman her dad was sleeping with at the time she was born, and he wanted to keep things simple. That’s what she said. I mean, that’s kind of sick. I think I’d change my name if that was me.
Our assignment was to write about our names, the first class and what we’d noticed. The prof suggested that we might want to consider identity as a topic. Because when we get named we don’t choose the name, and some of those people want us to be a certain way, which is why we get named after important people in our family. Like me and Hilda. They wanted me to be this powerful, no nonsense, spit in your eye kinda girl. And I guess I am a bit. Except when I’m sad. And that happens a lot these days.
I think I can write a couple of pages on that, no problem.
This class got a little looser, which is fine by me because by the time Wednesday comes around I’m tired and I could use a bit of a change. So we got arranged into birth order groups, like Only, First Born, Second Born and so on. We even had one kid who was a fifth born. He was kind of on his own so he got folded in with us second borns. Then we had to write down the messages we got as we were growing up, but not just what our parents said. Instead a message could be the way we were treated, the things that it was assumed we’d do, and the way that got conveyed. It was pretty interesting actually, because I got to talk to all the people in my group and we had a few laughs. By the time he asked us to report our results we were starting to get a bit bonded – well some of us were – and I felt like these were cool kids. So that was good.
Then he asked us for our report on what we’d learned. Well, the Only children each had their own list, and it was kinda silly. Lots of stuff about not sharing and feeling alone. Then the first borns did a sort of office presentation. It could have been an assignment right there. They’d produced this list of things about being responsible and being held accountable and so on and they all agreed with each other. If they’d added a couple of Powerpoints the whole thing would have been just like one of those boring science classes, or maybe what they do in Management. That was weird. Then we second borns had to report in, and no one had much of a list and everyone who spoke said how different they were from everyone else. And that’s weird, because we’d just been getting along really well because we’d found so much that was similar between us. Plus, I think we were the loudest group. And then here we were saying we’re not like the others. Now I think about it that’s just plain weird. The third borns didn’t even get around to making a list. They all spoke about how their strongest feelings were for their siblings and how they looked up to their older siblings. Not me.
I guess the thing I got out of it was that even though you’re in the same family the experience you have as you grow up isn’t the same as even your siblings. That’s true of me and my brother. I mean, for one thing, he was a boy, the first grandchild, and so he was special. But he was a boy and when I arrived they were all kind of like oh it’s a girl, and that’s nice but she’s a girl. So we got treated a bit differently, I suppose. Well, it stands to reason, right? I didn’t tell them what a complete fuck-up my brother turned out to be. OK, yeah, he’s going through a hard patch just now. Perhaps it was the pressure on him from the family. I don’t know. I’m just glad they never expected that much from me and so I could do what I wanted to, pretty much in terms of who I had as friends and what classes I took and even what college I went to. I think they were pissed that he went to a decent school and then flunked out after they’d paid all that money. Me, I was happy to get to a state school where I could do my own thing. Then after he dropped out they all kind of looked to me as if I was now the star, and that felt a bit like pressure, really. I was expected to make up for him.
So the good thing is that fifth born kid in class is really friendly. He’s called Jesse. He joked that his mom really wanted another girl so he got a name that sounded like a girl’s name. He’s kinda hot, too. He’s got no trouble in talking with anyone. I asked him about that and he said he’s never had any trouble talking with anyone, not even girls he has the hots for, because he has older sisters. I wonder if that’s what’s wrong with my brother. He needs a girlfriend but he doesn’t know how to talk to girls, not really. Not at all. He was never interested in talking with me, unless he was telling me what I’d done wrong. I mean, as if I didn’t already know what I’d done wrong. Dork. Now he’s the one who’s doing everything wrong. I don’t tell him he’s a screw-up though. Not any more. I think he already knows how I feel. And any way, who wants to hear that stuff? I know I don’t.
I don’t know what I’m going to write about for this week’s assignment, though. I mean it’s obvious so why write about it? Being a second born and a girl I never had much of that sibling rivalry that some of the others had, and I was never that close to my brother. I was lucky to be left alone, I guess, at least for a while, but how do you make a decent paper out of that? And yeah, I do things my own way. That used to bug the shit out of my highschool teachers. I didn’t follow their dumb rules. But I am kinda pissed that my dad only ever noticed my brother and ignored me – until my brother (he’s called Arnold, by the way, another dorky name) fell apart. I think Dad couldn’t handle a kid of his having problems. Maybe he was afraid he’d have to pay for the therapy or something. Yeah, I know he buys me a lot of stuff now, mostly stuff I don’t need, but I think that’s because he’s basically cheap, and he’s trying to prove he isn’t. Doesn’t fool me. He could pay my tuition, for one thing, if he really cared. Do what he’s supposed to.