"You can't name him that! Please reconsider!"
Doctor Hancock looked at my mother with shock. But my mother stood firm. "His daddy knocked me up and run off. I can name him any damn thing I choose. Now write it down." Dr. Hancock, God bless him, tried once more..."But Ms. River a boy needs a name he can live up to, not one he has to live down." He frowned and looked at Nurse Gina. Neither of them could overcome my mother's indomitable spirit. She would not budge.
So they wrote my name down.
I didn't think too much about it as a youngster. Folks would call to me with a sly grin on their faces, but I was a simple boy and chalked it up to them just bein' happy to see me. I was a sweet child. Everyone said so. I never cried much or carried on like a fool. But I didn't stand out among my peers neither.
When I started school--well, then my name got to botherin' me. The fellas would chuck rocks at me and tell me to go play in the deep end of the pool. The girls wouldn't chase me round the playground like they chased the other boys. I don't figure it was my looks so much, cuz every once in awhile a pretty little girl would look at me then glance away real quick, like I wouldn't notice. So I reckon it was my name to blame.
By the time I was 15 I finally had me one good friend. Jimmy Watts. He lived down on Yellow Street, on the wrong side of the tracks. His daddy had a taste for Bourbon and an eye for skirts. More than once Jimmy turned up at school with a black eye. But he was a cool cat in my book.
We sat at the bleachers watching the guys play football. Jimmy passed me a cig and I took a long drag. The smoke filled my lungs and I coughed. My eyes teared up and one of the cheerleaders laughed at me. Jimmy nudged my ribs with his elbow. "We gotta change your name, man. Ain't no girl gonna kiss you with a name like that."
I laughed at ol Jimmy. "Ain't no girl gonna kiss me ever. Don't matter what my name is." Jimmy scoffed and took his cigarette back. "A good lookin' fella like you? Pshaw! Sure they will. We just gotta change your name."
I looked down at my shoes. I wasn't really shy--just invisible. "You really think a girl'd kiss me?"
Jimmy leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees, "I'll tell ya what, Man, we change your name and I bet Bethany will let you put your your hand up her sweater." I musta turned bright red when Jimmy said that. He knew I liked Bethany best of all, but bein' Jimmy, he had to bust my chops. "What's a matter, Man? Don'thca like girls?"
I slugged him in the side. "Shit yeah, I like girls!" Jimmy laughed. "Well, alright then. We gotta get you a new name." Jimmy looked out at the field, "What about Carl?" I followed his eyes. "Naw Jimmy, there's already a Carl Weaver." Jimmy leaned back, "Humph. Well how about Ralph, like the Honeymooners? Ralph's a respectable name!"
"Ralph." I tested it out on my tongue. I liked it.
I went home and told my mother I changed my name. She belted me across my mouth. "Ain't nothin' wrong with your name, Boy! Your daddy's dirt, so it fits you just fine." I decided to go by Ralph at school and let my mother call me whatever she wanted.
So I went by Ralph for the next several years. I even enrolled in college as Ralph. Jimmy'd been right. The girls warmed up to me a lot after I changed my name. It took two years, but it was worth it. I grew up tall and strongly built. I was still average academically, but I found that I had far more confidence with my new name.
Then I saw her. She was walking across the quad with three other girls around her. I never could figure out why these girls traveled in packs, but it didn't matter. The sun kissed her hair, turned it into a golden halo. I watched her laugh as if in slow motion. I stared so intensely that I snapped my pencil.
I found out her name was Angela.
I stayed back for awhile--just to get the feel of her. I learned that she loved music and was a dancer. I learned that her boyfriend had moved to another state to study engineering. I learned that her smile lit up the room.
Finally, I got up the courage to meet her. I skipped trig class so I could catch her at the library. I watched her walk in and go straight for the art history section. She walked along the aisle, barely tall enough to reach the books. I walked up to her, "You need me to reach something for you?" She smiled and I felt my heart skip a beat. "Thanks. That'd be great!"
I helped her get all the books she needed and offered to help her carry them to her dorm. We talked for hours. We stopped at the campus ice cream shop and I bought her a milkshake. She smiled at me and asked the question I'd been dreading. "We've spent nearly all day together and I never thought to ask your name! What's your name, silly?"
I took a deep breath. I looked down at my milkshake. My brain said, "Tell her it's Ralph!" But my heart just could not look into those cornflower blue eyes and lie. I braced myself for her reaction. I looked at her point blank and blurted out, "My name is Mud. Mud River."