call my name

It has been said that we do not remember new names when we first hear them from a stranger because we are replacing, in our minds, the stranger’s name with our own. This, it is said, is a form of self-protection.

I go to meet my caretaker at the gym because he says that physical activity will be good for my condition. When I arrive he greets me by name and asks: How are you this morning but does not wait for my answer. He consults his notebook. He writes something down. I want to ask: Can you repeat what I just said to you, but I know that he cannot.

Seventeen bills laid neatly on my desk, lined up so that I can see where each is from. There is something aggressive in the arrangement, something hostile in the meticulous overlay, one laid on top of the next with only return addresses visible. The bill on top of the pile is for the trash collection service. I try not to read messages into this.

Incessant screeching of wounded bird outside my window.

I walk out into the front yard in my bare feet and it stops. I come back inside. It starts up again. I go to the window. Again, it stops.

It can see me, this dying bird. And it fears me. This is not the way I want it to be.

My caretaker hands me a weighted ball. I hold it in my open palms like an offering to unseen gods. I shake my head, but he nods up and down, slowly and in an exaggerated way. I put it on the ground, where it rolls toward him. He picks it up, hands it back to me. I take it from him, but then I put it down again. We go on like this, it seems, for hours.

I write the checks for the aggressively-arranged bills that my caretaker has left for me in the order that they were set down. That is, I start from the bottom of the stack and work my way up, bearing down harder on my pen with each successive check until finally, I get to the trash bill and the point of my pen punctures a small hole in the paper at the end of my signature. There is something satisfying in this.

Seventeen times I sign my name. Seventeen times again, I write my name on the envelopes, in the upper left corner, although sometimes I have seen the return address penned or stamped on the sealing flap instead. Also, I have seen the address included with no name above it, so just the street and the city state zipcode. This appalls.

Occasionally, a return address will appear with an initial instead of the full name written out as I have done. I have even seen liberties taken with the names of streets.

I leave my caretaker behind at the gym and walk back toward my car. As I am leaving he tells me about the bills he had left for me as if I have not already paid and mailed them, despite what he calls my condition.

I catch my reflection in the window of a coffee shop. I am slim but my shoulders are hunched and rounded, giving me the appearance, I think, of an older, sadder, more tired version of myself. I try to stand taller for a moment, push my shoulders back, lift my head, but by the time I reach my car, I am hunched again and I think now, after forty-five years, I am what I will become.

I hear my name called as I fumble with the keys to my house. I turn around but there is no one there.

I insert the key into the lock, hear the voice again, turn around again.

I stand in my living room, facing the window. I am holding my bag from the gym, still clutching my keys in my hand. I hear the cry of the dying bird again but it sounds like my own name called out over and over, a thin, high-pitched sound repeated, to which there will be no response.