This story is by Cecilia and was part of our 2018 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
My mother once told me that you should protect your name at all costs. No matter what torrent life threw at you, in the end you always had your name. I cherished it, until I made the fatal mistake that sent it crashing down along with the rest of the world around me. I let the world know my name, and the connection it held. Even after forty-three years it still held the same stinging quality. It didn’t surprised me when the adoption agent opened my personal file and looked so disgusted she closed it immediately and tossed it on her desk.
And just like everyone did, she frowned.
People would always frown at me when they found out. It was never a usual frown either; it was some strange contorted one. An inmate once told me it takes more muscles to frown than to smile and I like to think thats why everyone looks so strained when they see me. Guess it was just a coping mechanism to get over the fact I will always be a murderer to everyone I meet. Thats the only thing I miss about jail; every one of your cellmates looks at you the same.
“Mr. Kalupa,” she said, carefully. “I’m sorry, but I’m sure you understand. We cannot allow you to adopt.”
“You didn’t even look at all of my community service hours that weren’t required,” I insisted, pushing the folder back across the desk. She looked down at my hand, and gave a long stare. I wiggled my three fingers and tucked them back into my jacket. “I was a featured employee at one of the local soup kitchens, that has to say something! I even brought the plaque with me.” I pulled it out of my pocket and placed it on her desk.
Just like my name, I brought the wooden plaque with me wherever I went. If I couldn’t hold pride in myself, I could at least bring something around that made me feel like I was contributing something good to the world rather than the latests news gossip.
The picture on the plaque was my mug shot from when I was still eighteen, but it was the only photo they had. At that time, I still sported thick brown hair in a mullet that I thought was cool. She shook her head and pushed the plaque back towards me. The room felt cold.
“Do you really think I haven’t changed?” I asked.
“Nico, you were a school shooter. You’re a fool if you think people like you truly change. They only adapt.”
“I was eighteen! Look—” I reached on her desk in an attempt to grab my file. She planted her feet on the floor and pushed back into the filing cabinets. Her face paled. All she saw was a crazy eighteen-year-old boy, not a struggling sixty-one-year-old man who wanted to make things right.
She looked me dead in the eye. “I doubt you even remember the child’s name.”
She was wrong. She was wrong like how black isn’t white and how night isn’t day. That girls name had been imprinted in my brain and every time I closed my eyes, all I could see was its face smiley so brightly and clean.
I rubbed a hand across my face. “Her name was Hallie. Do not ever think I will forget that girls name.”
“I’m sorry,” she said, taking a deep breath. “Not to be rude, Mr. Kalupa, but we don’t get a lot of school —“ she winced. “People like you looking to adopt. You have to forgive me for being so skeptical—”
“You haven’t even given me a chance, though,” I said.
She scooted closer to me and lowered her voice. “How have I not given you a chance? I allowed to stay in my office, even after I found out who you were. You got a chance.”
“You judged me by my name, but you never told me yours. How is that fair? How is that giving me a chance? I deserve to know who you are.”
Something about her demeanor shifted, and she pulled a notepad from her desk drawer. Maybe she admired my thought process, or she didn’t want to get sued, but something changed. “My name is Madeline Brown.” She paused, and let the rest of her words stew her tongue. “Nico, please tell me why you’re here.”
And so I did. I told her that one day I shot a classmate in the head because I wanted to feel something for once in my life. I told her that my body was screwed up, and that no matter what I touched, my fingertips couldn’t feel a thing. I told her about how I even cut a few of them off. She thought that was deranged, but she wasn’t me. She doesn’t know what its like to be alive, yet not feel a thing.
I think about that day a lot. I tell it a lot more than I feel I should, but for some reason my daughter thinks its a good bedtime story. She doesn’t know her parents, or anything about the day she was born, only that it was October 24th, 2050. We celebrate that day along with the one where she was officially adopted. She tells all of her classmates she has two birthdays.
I pull her bedsheet over her body and kiss her forehead. I love her.