“I fill you with Naming.
—A Wind in the Door, Madeleine L’Engle
Freshman year, when we were roommates-but-not-roommates, and you would stay through the wee hours to hide or study or just be or listen to me sleeptalk about bubble-guns. And then when I was really, finally sleeping, you would turn out the light and whisper,
I helped lead the way down the aisle for you this summer, and all I could hear was the love reverb you stacked inside that word with each barefoot step I took: kiddo, kiddo, kiddo.
Three months into your marriage, and five months into my middling “real life” we cozied up in your big chair and talked big-girl budget while my laundry spun. I sink my head in your shoulder, thanking you for being my Waco-mom. Any time, kiddo, you say.
This time and care and giving means more to me than you know.
My mouth is moving faster than anything, faster than my heart, faster than my brain can weave these words together. You know this is not how it normally goes; when it matters, I feel the need to edit and sketch them in the air in front of me, so I can cut, paste, and patchwork to tell you what I really mean.
You listen well, always wide-eyed, and graciously take another loop around campus because you know I need the time.
Or maybe I’m just telling you about my debilitating awkwardness seizure du jour, because you might know better than anyone that for me they are really real, and that the ones I don’t tweet about make me want to hide under the covers with a kitten.
I could also be curled up on your bed, close to tears about what feels like the latest disaster, and I know it hurts you, too. You want to protect, and be angry with me, for me.
Oh, Little One,
you say through it all, again and again, reaching into the heart of things, and speak the truth about myself that I refuse to see. Over and over the same tears. Little One, like a balm, to make me feel the right kind of small.
This one you had to teach me years ago, dear one, along with giggled foreign curse words long before we would dream of daring our own. But it found its way into our friendship early, and stays with us still. Joonam: my dear, my heart, my life.
[I think you told me once it can even mean my liver. We probably laughed loud and long over it.]
It’s steeped in time. I said it at fourteen–hair wild, braces clinking, locker next to yours.
I said it at eighteen–mortarboard askew, loud and always close to reprimand, prankster marble in hand to trade for a diploma.
I say it now at twenty-two–hair still wild but wrangled, smoke settling into my shirt as we juggle sticky s’mores, your hipster beer, and sadly separate lives.
It’s the kind of thing you say in a family, to those you hold close to you one minute and ask to set the table the next. It’s the kind of thing you say to someone who gets it already, whose presence is like that go-to broken-in well-worn whatever. There’s only just enough explaining.
I think these days we use it most in greeting, like an acknowledgement of the setting: joon, my dear, who knows my heart and my life so well.
“To be given a name is an act of intimacy as powerful as any act of love…To name is to love. To be named is to be loved.” –Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water
I read this in reflection and ponder the names–gathered not only as treasure to hold, but as lexicon, as a vocabulary of love to hand out again and again.
Kiddo. Little One. Joon.