Who am I? That is a simple question, yet it is one without a simple answer. I am many things—and I am one thing. But I am not a thing that is just lying around somewhere, like a pen, or a toaster, or a housewife. That is for sure. I am much more than that. I am a living, breathing thing, a thing that can draw with a pen and toast with a toaster and chat with a housewife, who is sitting on a couch eating toast. And still, I am much more.
I am a man.
And I am a former baby and a future skeleton, and I am a distant future pile of dust. I am also a Gemini, who is on the cusp.
I am “brother” and I am “son” and I am “father” (but just according to one person, who does not have any proof but still won’t seem to let it go). Either way, I am moving very soon and not letting her know about it. I am asking you to keep that between us.
I am trustworthy and loyal, but at the same time I am no Boy Scout. No, I am certainly not. I am quite the opposite, in fact. And by opposite I do not mean Girl Scout. No. I mean Man Scout. And by that I do not mean Scout Leader. In fact, I am not affiliated with the Scouts at all. Let’s just forget about the Scouts and Scouting altogether, O.K.?
I am concepts and thoughts and feelings and outfits. And I am each of these all at once, unless I am in the shower. Then I am not outfits, because that would be uncomfortable.
To some I am known as Chief. And these are usually people who work in Radio Shack or try to sell me shoes. To others I am known as Buddy. These are people who dwell in bars and wonder if I’ve got a problem or what it is that I am “looking at.” And to still others, who are in that same bar, standing just off to the side, I am “Get Him!”
I am he and I am him. I am this and I am that. And I am, from time to time, Roberta, if I am in a chat room.
People have known me by many titles. In high school, I was Student and Key Club Vice-President and Queer Bait. In college, I was Pledge and then Disappointed and then Transfer Student. I am still amazed at how picky certain so-called “brotherly” organizations can be. And I am actually glad that they didn’t choose me for their stupid fraternity.
To some I am fantasy, and to others I am Frank, mostly because I have told them that this is my name—even though it is not even close to my name. I am a mystery wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a pita. Why the pita? That counts as another mystery.
I am everything and I am nothing. I am just kidding; I am not everything and nothing. That would be ridiculous. I am just everything.
I am what I eat. And I am this especially when I bite my nails.
I have been called Hey, You! and Get Out of the Way! and Look Out! And then, some time later, Plaintiff.
I am my own worst critic. I am going to give you an example. “That’s not me enough” is the kind of thing I am prone to say about myself. See what I mean? I am sure you do.
I am the silent majority.
I am a loud minority.
I am not talking about Puerto Ricans when I say that, because I am not a racist. I am just clearing that up. In fact, I am pretty sure I have at least one friend from each of the races (Hi, Guillermo).
I am friend. I am foe. I am fo’ sho’. What up, y’all?
I am sorry about that. I was just talking to one of my race friends, a black one. I am white and I am black. And I am both of these when I am dressed as a mime. And then I am sh-h-h.
I am Batman, but only on Halloween. And then I am not invited to many parties. But I am fine with that, because that just makes me an even more accurate Batman (because Batman does not go to parties as Batman but only as Bruce Wayne). I am right about this.
I am someone who likes to go to the park. But I am not the guy with the Labrador retriever and the tennis ball and the tattered book under his arm, who is wearing fleece and is kind of tan. No. I am not that guy. I am sick of that guy and all the women who talk to him.
I am the Walrus, but not the one you’re probably thinking of. I am the Other Walrus, the one who is less the Walrus in the sense of legendary music and more the Walrus in the sense of his tendency to lie around on a beach for too long.
I am bravery. I am courage. I am valor. I am daring. I am holding a thesaurus.
I am the sun. I am the moon. I am the rain, I am the earth. I am these when I am taking mushrooms with Kevin. I am good friends with Kevin. I am not sure what Kevin’s last name is.
I am sometimes referred to as Excuse Me in an annoyed tone of voice, because apparently I am in the way. I am so sorry. I am supposed to be some sort of mind reader, I guess. I am moving out of the way now as slowly as I possibly can. I am doing this and there’s nothing you can do about it.
I am often the one they call You but I am no more You than you. I am me. And I am more Me than you are or can ever be. And one time I was Corey for almost five minutes while I was talking with a stranger, until she realized that I was not her friend Corey.
I am neither here nor there, but there—a little to the left. Yeah. That’s me.
I am waving at you. I am waving right at you now.
I am looking right at you.
I am sensing that you don’t know me. I am starting to feel awkward.
I am getting out of here. ♦
I am from weeknight family dinners, napkin on the lap, elbows off the table, and asking permission to be excused. I am from Häagen-Dazs coffee ice cream for dessert and Dad’s piano practice before primetime television when he, with the Chicago Tribune, and Mom, with her needlepoint, sat in the den together to watch a show, their hours together protected.
I am from the ranch house with the circle driveway by Ravinia Park that my grandparents built. I’m from the park’s summer music filling the Japanese garden in the backyard, Lake Michigan’s wind blowing the porch screens back and forth on stormy nights. I’m from my father’s and aunts’ childhood memories preceding mine and my sisters’ in every room.
I am from snowy walks to school, the smell of lilacs in the spring, and the mysterious ravines nearby where I played until my second round of poison oak. I am from the rumble of the Metra Train, from shaded walks on The Green Bay Trail leading to Glencoe or “uptown” Highland Park. I’m from knowing in my bones that The Lake is East and The City is South. I’m from the gorgeous drive up and down Sheridan Road, past Northwestern University and spilling into Lake Shore Drive.
I am from businesses like Grandpa Norman’s and my father’s fasteners, to Grandpa Chuck’s scrap metal, to Mom’s handwriting analysis and her store, Winnetka Stitchery. I’m from Grandma Susie’s and Grandma Pauline’s art, from their desire to express and create. I’m from world travelers, readers, theater goers, lovers of symphony, and rescuers of greyhounds.
I am from the tradition of summer camp, in my case eight years at Chippewa Ranch Camp for Girls in Eagle River, Wisconsin. I’m from color war (go tan!), loud songs after lunch, horseback riding, archery, sailing, water skiing, canoeing, and so many outdoor activities that neither my husband nor my kids could picture me doing now.
From “someone has to be the adult” and “Sackheims don’t quit.”
I am from a Judaism that was peripheral, but that ignited in me an almost inexplicable attachment and deep curiosity—what a rabbi and friend later called my pintele Yid, Yiddish for Jewish spark, a spark that is so alive for me now.
I am from the people of Highland Park and the places that haven’t changed. I’m from my parents’ closest friends, who are still like family, and from the kitchens and couches of all the Braeside Elementary School girls. I’m from the Edgewood Middle School girls who sometimes filled me with terror and other times awarded me a desperate dose of approval. I’m from the security and love of Jennifer, Dana, Lindsey, Emily, Taryn, Gwen, and Norah. I’m from cheese fries at Michael’s, Piero’s pizza, Carol’s Cookies, Once Upon a Bagel’s tuna salad, and Sunset Foods. I’m from the lost era of Gsell’s Pharmacy, Chestnut Court, Chandler’s, and The Style Shop.
From a name, Norman, my grandfather, who died in a plane crash before I was born. From Saturday night sleepovers with Grandma Pauline, who never remarried. From my mother’s memories in Rochester, New York where we spent many winter vacations sitting at Grandma Susie’s beautiful table and hearing Grandma Chuck’s clarinet all hours of the day and night.
I am from drawers full of photographs that one day my sisters and I will have to organize on our own.
I am from the peace of mind that I’m building a world of memories for my kids. I’m from the assurance that despite all the moments of imperfection and times I could have done better, that they will look back with a clear sense of atmosphere, family, and mostly of love. That they, like me, will remember the gift of home.
Where are you from?
Author’s Note: I discovered the “Where I’m From” template from fellow This is Childhood writer Galit Breen, whose beautiful version was recently published. After reading Galit’s piece, my mind was filled with images of the people and places that made up my childhood in Highland Park, Illinois, where my parents still live in the same house where I was raised. I immediately wanted to complete the exercise myself, which I hope, like Galit’s, makes you think of your own family as well as the friends, places, foods, and passing moments that made up your earliest years.
The original template based on George Ella Lyon’s poem “Where I’m From” can be found here.
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This entry was written by Nina Badzin
About the author: Nina Badzin is a freelance writer living in Minneapolis with her husband and four children. She has written about parenting, marriage, friendship and more in The Huffington Post, The Jewish Daily Forward, Kveller, and elsewhere. You can read more of her work at www.ninabadzin.com and connect with her on Facebook facebook.com/ninabadzinblog and Twitter (twitter.com/ninabadzin).
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Tags: childhood home, children and childhood, family, growing up, Nina Badzin