My phone buzzed and I checked the message. “Pilates may be cancelled tomorrow morning depending on the weather” wrote a person my phone identified as Maybe: Talia. Maybe Talia? I questioned. How could it possibly be Talia? How could my toddler daughter be texting me about my exercise class from beyond the grave? And then I remembered that the very fit, instructor who is teaching me how to finally use the abs I supposedly have, shares the name, and the dark curly hair, of the daughter I lost a year ago.
When choosing the name for our third child, my husband and I were ready to get a bit wilder. Nathan and Audrey, our first two, were named after an extensive hunt through baby books. We searched for a name that neither of us had hated or dated in our younger years. We wanted something stable, not too off the wall, and easy to pronounce. My husband out of hand rejected any names that started with S because our last name also started with S and as Jews, he truly didn’t want S.S. anywhere near our family.
For our firstborn, we chose Nathan, despite my fear that he would be called Nate Dogg, like the rapper who collaborated with Warren G on “Regulate”. In fact, I became the first person to call him by that name, and his demeanor really still is quite dog like. His middle name honors my grandfather Gerald, who hated his first name of Jacob so much that he insisted on being called by his middle. I felt the opposite about the two names, so Nathan Jacob he became. The fact that he was born on the day his grandfather would have turned 100 only solidified the connection.
Audrey was named, despite the fact that her initials A.M.S. Mean “Altered Mental Status” in medical lingo. In fact, during her early tantrums, and later embrace of all thinks quirky, she came to occasionally embody those initials. Audrey’s middle name is certainly the quirkiest of all. We wanted to honor David’s grandfather who had recently passed away but Max Mozes proved a difficult name to give to a girl. While in labor with Audrey we finally settled on Moselle, the female version of Mozes, and coincidentally- a river in France.
When it came time to name our third, I wanted more than anything to name her Lola, after David’s grandmother but she was still alive (and still is) and Jewish tradition dictates that it is a bad omen to name your child after a living relative. It could hex the living relative. In the end, we embraced the more unusual and “Jewish” name of Talia. As her middle name, we honored my mother’s parents who passed away when I was a child and gave Talia the middle name of Lynn. I was so happy that she would bear the name of the grandparents that I carried only as brief memories of. The soft hands of my grandmother, backgammon games in their apartment with black and white tiles, and the towering figure of my 6’6” grandfather are certainly not enough memories were not enough to hang a relationship on, but they were real and as Talia would teach me- it’s not the length of the memory that matters, it’s the truth of the connection.
Of course the irony of our insistence of avoiding the S.S. initials became clear once Talia was diagnosed with Tay Sachs, the fatal disease that eventually took her. Referenced as T.S. in nearly all medical literature it was as if they were directly calling out my daughter as they listed the symptoms of seizures, paralysis, inability to swallow. David and I had bitter laughs about the coincidence of naming our child after the disease she had. We would have done better to stick with Lola- the Bubbie (Grandma in Yiddish) who is the last remaining great-grandparent on either side and true survivor in every sense of the word. Perhaps she would have protected our child more than T.S. ever did.
So I look back at my phone and tap a message to Maybe: Talia. If class is cancelled, that’s fine by me. I replace the contact info for the number with “Pilates Teacher.” She needs to remain nameless if I am to ever work with her again. I feel a rage at other Talia’s existing in the universe while mine is gone. I wonder if I had chosen a more popular name like Ava or Emma if the shock of hearing it so frequently would help lessen the pain. I doubt it. The name would forever belong to the child I loved and lost. Every child’s name is chosen with love an care and a clear eye towards their future. When that future is gone- I want the name to go too. There is only one Talia Lynn Steckman in the world, and she was mine. Nameless Pilates instructor- you’d better steer clear!