On my first day of Kindergarten, at Our Lady of Perpetual Hope Catholic School, Sister Irene called out, “Shari.”
I didn’t respond. Shari is my mother’s name. She didn’t come to Kindergarten with me, did she?
Sister Irene called out my mother’s name again. I turned around and looked past the ginormous red apples made out of construction paper hanging down from the ceiling, everyone’s name printed neatly on each one, to see if she was standing in the back of the classroom, next to the bookcases, or in front of the crayon bins piled high with so many crayons I could smell the wax from where I was sitting criss-cross applesauce on the rug. Nope.
Sister Irene called out Shari for a third time, adding my last name now. So I raised my hand. I figured I should help her out. She must be confused.
Sister Irene replied with a smile, “Good morning Shari.”
I said, “No. My name isn’t Shari. That’s my mother’s name. My name is Toni.” I thought she looked a little old and possibly very hard of hearing, so I spelled it out for her. “T.O.N.I. Toni. That’s my name.”
Sister Irene planted herself in front of me, pushed her fists into her hips, and with her crucifix blinding me, she grimaced down at me.
When I got home, my mother showed me my birth certificate. She explained to me that my real name was Shari. Toni was just a nickname because my parents couldn’t agree on what to name me when I was born so they decided to name me Shari, after her. But my father was determined to name me Antoinette, so he called me Toni, and it stuck. She told me Toni could not be my name anymore, and from this day forward my name would be Shari.
I was devastated. Seriously? I had to drop the fun, easy to write name and replace it with my mother’s name? It’s got an S in it. You know how hard it is to make an S? Yick. My career as a student was getting off to a really rough start. As if the stark realization that you had to wear the same hunter green and navy blue plaid jumper to school every day for the rest of your life wasn’t bad enough, I was getting my name ripped away from me too. So much for identity.
I quickly figured out how to write my new name and moved past losing Toni, and although my father complied, he was still determined not to call me Shari. So he started calling me Toots. Everyone around me (except for my mother) began calling me Toots as well. I am still referred to Toots in my family and have even more nicknames, listed in no particular order: Roger, Shar, Shariberry, ShariAnne, Shari Junior.
Although Kindergarten meant complete identity crisis for me, little did I know that my life was pretty darn good at the time. Looking back on it, I wish I could have savored those first few years of school a little more than I did, because fourth grade was coming my way and life was going to get even more difficult for me.