It started with Mumble Daddy, I think.
Rose married Mumble, and within two years she had us calling him Mumble Daddy.
“He is your real dad. Char doesn’t even pay child support. He doesn’t even come pick you up but two times a month. He is not a real dad. The one who takes care of you is Mumble. You two are going to start calling him Mumble Daddy.”
A new way to break the kids. See, Rose had a problem. I can see it now. You can see it. She has to get rid of Char before this secret gets out. She needs to edge him out of our lives before I grow up too much. Who knows what I am going to look like when I am grown? Who knows the kinds of things you can expect from my blood and my body? Too many questions and she could have a real problem. Getting rid of Char is step number one.
Less simply refused.
“Goodnight, Mumble Daddy,” I said on my way out of the room.
“Goodnight, Mumble.” From Less.
“What did you say, young lady?” From Rose.
“I said,” Less turned to look directly at Rose. “Goodnight, Mumble.”
Rose is up as if she has had a car battery sparked off her ass. “You call him Mumble Daddy!” she shouts. She is up in Less’s face. She is snarling. Her finger jabs in Mumble’s direction as he leans back in his spot on the couch and draws on his cigarette. “Mumble Daddy right now. You say it! Right this instant!”
Less looks at me and glares. I can only stand wide-eyed and stare at the explosion happening in the room. Less looks at Mumble and says, “Goodnight, Mumble.”
As I make my way up to my bedroom, I can hear Less’s screams as the belt is taken to her. There is a pause, then the screams again. How long this goes on, my mind cannot recollect. Too much time has passed, but I can tell you this was job one. Mumble Daddy was the first step.
When Char heard that his kids were being made to call another man Daddy, he began to ask questions. Got answers like, “They have to beat me to make me say it, but Jesse just spits it out every time.”
Love me. Yes, we love me.
Love him. Yes, we love him.
And I am in a box again screaming to get out. When the lid opens, I am begging, and promising not to do it again. But not five minutes after we get back home…
“Go tell Mumble Daddy goodnight, take your bath, and get to bed.”
Again the words sprout out of my mouth. I turn and run. Over the sound of the water running, I can hear the whipping. I can hear the screaming.
Step two, after Mumble Daddy was firm and in place, was the wildest notion I have ever heard. How the woman ever even talked herself into it, I don’t know, but she floated the idea of adoption. She wanted Mumble to adopt us. She talked to him, and by this time, he was doing pretty much anything he was told, so he agreed to it. He would adopt us and give us his name. All she needed was to make Char agree.
When she told him, he was scary calm. She mentioned it after he dropped us off one night after our Saturday visit. She stuck her head in my room as I was bedding down and trying to drown out the sound of mice chewing and scratching around my bed.
“Talked to Char. He is thinking about it. Looks like Mumble is going to be your father soon.”
“Will we still have to go on visits? Will we still have to see him?”
“I told him that if he signed the papers I would still let him see you and your sister,” Rose said.
The idea sagged in my chest. What was the point if I still had to go with him into that house and stand before him when he asked his questions and gave his punishments? As she ducked out of the room and closed the door behind her, over the sound of the chewing and scratching, I heard the song again.
Love me. Yes, we love me.
Love him. Yes, we love him.
That night the door opened and in walked Less. I saw her coming to stand over my bed and I kept my eyes closed, my head on my pillow, as I listened carefully to what she would say.
“You are not going to be Mumble’s son. You belong to us. You belong to our family and you are not going to be adopted.” It was not spoken but whispered. Did not come out a statement but a hiss. It blended in with the scratching to become something monstrous. “He will never give you up. You belong to him. You belong to us.”
I don’t know much, but I do know that if Char had given us up for adoption, Rose would never have let him take us away again. Less would have been saved. She never would have been molested.
But it was far too late for me.
The next weekend we sat at Char’s house in the dark lit by candles and he drew in on his cigar and nodded solemnly. “I have decided that I am going to let you go. I am going to let Mumble adopt you. It is obviously what you want, or you would have told your mother so. And I’m sure that he can be a better daddy than I can.”
“No Daddy, don’t give us away. I want to be your daughter. I want to be with you. I belong to Char, not Mumble. Don’t give us up.”
“Jesse doesn’t want to be my son anymore, do you?”
The hot red cherry of his cigar lit his face and his hands in burning orange, and from the shadows of his bangs came a great gust of smoke.
“No, I want to be your son, honest. I can’t say no to her. She says to do it and I just do it. I don’t know what happens.”
He switched his cigar to his other hand and sighed. One swift smack and I hit the ground. “What happens is you’re weak. What happens when she tells you to do something is you’re a little pussy pansy momma’s boy that does what he is told instead of what he is supposed to do.”
I got to my feet right away. Staying on the ground never worked out for me. It earned me a kick, and I would get called weak again. I hopped up and refused to touch my burning cheek. Cradling a wound got ugly, too.
“I’ll just give you up and they will take you,” Char said. “They will throw you in the car and move up to the cabin Up North where Mumble’s family lives. I will never be able to see you again.”
Less had her arms wrapped around Char’s chest sobbing. Begging, pleading not to be thrown away.
He pulled her off of him and held her at arm’s length. “I am going to get my helicopter pilot license and buy a helicopter. I’ll be able to fly up there about every year or so and we can spend a little time together.”
Less sobbing, and I just stared. I watched it all with unbelieving eyes. I would never have Bramble, but maybe Mumble would get me away from him. Maybe Mumble could rescue me from Char.
When we got home, Less lost her mind. Screaming, sobbing, fighting. She threw things and she stomped, and I think she even would have started biting if Rose had not sent her to her room.
“Tell me what he said, Jesse. Tell me what he told your sister and you.”
And then I blacked out. I blacked out when all these conversations began. I blacked out every time I called Mumble Mumble Daddy. I blacked out, and Servant came forward.
See, Servant was born the night Bramble left. When Bramble had walked out the door and we looked into the kitchen from the dimly lit living room, we saw her holding herself weeping. She had her arms wrapped around her body and she was crying.
Servant stood, a new creature that saw what he was needed for, and he hugged her. He held her while she wept. It was him the night after Char talked to us about the adoption that answered all Rose’s questions.
Helicopter. Up North. No visits. Never see him but once a year. And the tiny bit that he had told us when he dropped us off.
“He said that all we had to do was to tell the judge that we didn’t love him anymore and we wanted to be Mumble’s children.” Servant looked at Rose with a quizzical look. “Is that right? Do I not love him anymore?”
“No, stupid, you still love your father. Go to bed,” Rose said. As I walked away, she turned to Mumble. “Well, he fucked that up for us.”
“Well they are his kids.”
“No, Mumble. They are not. They are my kids.”
The topic of adoption came up again a few years after we moved to Waynesville. Char was in prison by now, about to get out. It would not have taken much to pry us away from him then. All adoption talk ceased when Char went to prison, really when he was accused and we stopped going to visits with him.
See, she had gotten what she wanted. She had gotten us away from him. Now this was by no means to protect us. She didn’t care what he did to me, and I think she only called the police on Char because of Less so it would clear him off her table.
Bekah even has a theory that someone else called the police that night, but I can’t confirm that. What I can say is that once Char was gone, there was no need to adopt anyone. I think maybe Rose knew that Less wanted it now. And if she did, if Less wanted to be clear of Char’s name, then Rose would not let it happen.
Now we are in Waynesville and I mention it in passing. Mumble says he would love to adopt me when they get the money. And shortly after that, we head Up North.
I am sleeping in the living room on a giant couch cushion. Rose, Mumble, and Mumble’s father are talking in low tones in the kitchen.
“We are thinking the time might be right for Mumble to adopt Jesse,” Rose said. “Get Char’s horrible name off of that boy once and for all.”
“Absolutely not,” his father said. “I don’t want him in the family.”
“What?” Rose asked.
“What?” Mumble mumbled.
“Kid is damaged goods. And with everything I hear about his real father and all that man comes from? No. You keep that kid out of our family. I have a grandson. Grasp is my grandson. I already have an heir from you. I don’t need to muddy that up. What if Jesse one day ends up with a claim to this land? No. He is out. Don’t mention it again.”
Second semester of college and I am in therapy. Roslyn notices that every time I say my last name, I wince. Every time it comes up, my face twitches.
“Have you ever thought of changing your name, Jesse?” she said. “Your last name.”
“Mumble was going to adopt me for a while, but that never happened.” This is Shadow, and he did not hear the conversation that Rose, Mumble, and his father had that night. He never knew why the adoption went sideways. All he knows is that it never happened.
“Well you can change it to anything you want to now. You should think about it,” Branch said. “Might be a good idea.”
I am back in Waynesville talking to Rose and I tell her I need to change my name. Mumble’s name is out. Rose’s maiden name I am giving her is Mocking, and I think about that. But I am nothing like my uncles, and I don’t believe in the same things they do. I keep searching before I find my grandmother’s people tucked away in the back of my mind.
“What do you think about me changing my name to Canny? What about that? Would Grandma have a problem with that do you think?”
Well Rose is beaming now. There are nothing but heroes on that side of the family. They are all myth and legend, and Rose adores every one of them. With barely contained excitement she chirps, “I will ask her.” She adds., “I think it is a beautiful idea.”
The next time I come to town, Rose forces me in the car and we buzz off to Grandma’s house. She does not allow Bekah to join us and leaves her to wait for us back at Rose and Mumble’s house.
When I get to my grandma’s house, she meets me at the door. She hugs me and holds me out to look at me. “I talked to all of my sisters and brothers and we are delighted. We would love to have you.”
“I haven’t exactly decided for sure, but it is the front runner for sure.”
“Haven’t decided?” Grandma glares at Rose. “I thought you said he wanted to be a Canny?”
“That’s waht he told me.” Rose spun me around to glare in my eye. “You said you wanted to be a Canny. You said it in my house on my couch last week.”
“I need to think about it a little more. It is not a little thing. This is the name I will have for all time. I need to get it right.”
“Canny is the right choice,” Grandma said. “And I have decided that if you choose to go with Canny, I will pay for it all myself. Lawyer, paperwork, court case, all of it. Whatever it costs, I will pay for it. If it is too much, my brothers will help.” She pointed at me. “You come to your senses and you come to your family.”
I went with Teller. After Guardian’s War and all of that fallout, I could not let myself be a Canny or any other name associated with that family. The Cannys are great men and women. I am proud to have their blood running my veins.
But there is more in a name than pleasing a grandmother. There is more in a name than the convenience of a maiden name. Tying back roots is so important, but finding yourself in a name, that is the gold right there.
I named myself Jesse Andre Teller. And in doing so, I created a new family. A new set of traditions. A new law. We are like no family I have ever seen. We have a crest that was made by Bekah for our wedding. We have a family sword to be handed down for generations. We even have a motto.
Honor. Creativity. Love. Inclusiveness.