The moment you are born is the moment you realize what it is you need to survive. And in order to get those things, you need to cry. But the moment that crying fails you is the moment you realize that language exists and that words are indispensable to your survival.
You start connecting the dots. Attaching meaning to the things around you. You explore the relationship between signifier and signified, harvest your first words and begin to speak. First you say mama. If only you had been born into a nuclear family, then you’d say dadda. But in your case, dadda is a useless signifier to add to your vocabulary and this only happens when the dadda himself is even more useless. And so your internal lexicon plants the seeds of its foundation and starts to grow without defining him. Because all you’ll ever need is your mama.
As you get older, your language refines itself through its very complication. You learn new words to say the same things but with a sense of sophistication. Yet you find it harder to express the unexpected, to speak things you’ve never spoken about, to employ the signifier for that which never needed to be signified.
In kindergarten, you start to receive birthday cards from a man you’ve never met before. And every year you hope to god he’ll stop signing off with love, dad. And you find yourself wondering why your mom never says anything about it. Then when you’re 6, she marries a man you’ve always called hubert and the next day he starts calling you his daughter. And you’re suddenly confronted with the fact that dad is no longer an abstract noun you encounter once a year in a hallmark card from someone named hayden. But now it’s a form of address for someone whose name also starts with the letter h.
And then your mother tells you she’ll be having your name officially changed from jynessa marie pinlac to jynessa marie marczuk. Great! Now there’s two people living in your home whose names you don’t recognize. You resent your mother for colonizing your identity without your consent, for making you relearn how to spell your own name so soon after the first time around. She assures you that jynessa marie marczuk is more phonetically pleasing, it rolls off the tongue! But why doesn’t she say the same about dad? Shouldn’t that one syllable word roll off the tongue too?
At age 25, you wonder if things would be different if hayden chow never sent those stupid cards. And you wonder if he wonders where you’re living, what you’re up to, who you’ve become. If he’d recognize you on the street. If he’ll ever tell his wife and kids. If he plans on sending you one last card. He’s the reason why you abandon people before they abandon you. Why you find it incredibly difficult to look men in the eye. Why calling them by their names always feels foreign and uncomfortable. Why you felt like you were giving a part of yourself away when that boy you once liked asked you to call him daddy in bed and you complied. Why your mouth is still somehow incapable of using that word to recognize the man that raised you as if you were his own. Why you have hubert marczuk saved to your contact list, but no one listed as dad. Why you spend every father’s day wondering if hubert knows all the reasons why you avoid writing him cards — and all the reasons you wish you could.
So you ask yourself what’s in a name? How can a word harbour this much meaning for you? hayden, father of sons. hubert, semi-father of daughter. Plath once said it’s marble-heavy, a bag full of God. If anyone asks, you’d echo her sentiment, daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through.