Sometimes you just have to write…
Three topics came together today, all starting with J. My first name, legally speaking, is Jane. I hated that name when I was growing up because it was so common. In my sixth grade class alone there were four of us: Jane Card, Jane Friedlander, Jane Macintyre and me. Just the fact that I still remember their names shows how important this was to me.
So later, when I started high school, I changed my name. Not legally, but on the first day of school I simply corrected all of the teachers when they called me Jane, telling them that I was called Rachel, my middle name. All of the kids who were new to me – the ones coming from different junior high schools— learned my name as Rachel. The rest, the ones I knew already, eventually made the switch. I started using Rachel even on official forms, like my driver’s license when I got it at 16, and my passport as well.
This comes up because I spent the day today with an old friend from my days as Jane. I’ve been friends with Wendy since primary school. When we went today to the DUMBO area, which stands for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass, we came upon a vintage carousel on the Brooklyn-side bank of the East River, called “Jane’s carousel.” Wendy says this name reminded her that I used to be Jane.
The carousel is a lovely, completely intact wooden carousel. It has all of the original horses and has been beautifully restored. So we took a ride, two 51-year-olds riding those horses up and down, backed by an expansive view of the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges over the East River, with the skyline of Manhattan on the opposite shore.
Jane and Jane’s Carousel link to junior high because my most vivid memories of Wendy and me stem from junior high. I was miserable most of the time, and Wendy and a few other girls were, in my view, the only people in the whole world who understood me. I had bad acne, Coke-bottle thick glasses, and big, frizzy hair. The only place I felt successful was in the lessons, taking tests, doing what was demanded, and doing it well. Outside of lessons I felt completely unwanted and rejected, except with Wendy and this small circle of friends. I relied on them.
I’ve come a long way: from junior high school Jane, who would never have done such a childish thing as ride that carousel, desperately afraid of being noticed and ridiculed, to middle-aged Rachel unashamedly riding, enjoying the view, and not caring who sees me or what anyone thinks. It was a good feeling.