Monogrammed backpack: ✓
Windbreaker for recess: ✓
Flower-shaped eraser: ✓
Stale peppermints Grandma gave me in the car: ✓✓✓
This was it, folks. My very first standardized test. Unaware that standardized tests are the kiddie version of the DMV, I was on the edge of my seat – literally. We’d spent weeks running drill after drill from our fearless leader, Mrs. Berkenbile (whom I will refer to as Mrs. B because Berkenbile sounds like a bad German caricature).
Tension was high. Our entire academic futures rested on this very moment. Okay, that’s a stretch, but we were seven. Cut us some slack! After hours of instruction from Mrs. B, the test administrator walked in, booklets in hand. The room fell silent, the pungent smell of the unknown looming over us like that time Brooke peed on the reading rug. (Fine, I peed on the reading rug. ONE TIME, guys!)
One by one, the administrator began calling out names as he passed around mystery papers. My pulse quickened with each name. Every second felt like forever.
“Laura,” the test administrator called. The other students searched the room in confusion. I chuckled to myself with a smug little grin. Idiot. we don’t have a Laura in our class. Where did they find this clown, Acme Falls? (I was big into Animaniacs.)
“Laura,” he repeated. “Laura Wilcox. Where is Laura Wilcox?”
I joined my peers in glancing around, waiting for this Laura character to stand up finally. How weird is it that we have the same last name?! Could we be related, you think? Mrs. B picked up the packet, walked over to my desk, and set the papers in front of me.
“Oh, no. My name is Ashlee,” I whispered, handing the papers back. I smiled nicely and wondered why my teacher hadn’t learned my name yet. It was May. Poor thing.
The test administrator just kept going, and I couldn’t hear over Mrs. B’s loud whispering.
“Right, but Laura is your first name. This is your test.”
Can’t she see I’m trying to listen for Ashlee?
“My name is Ashlee.”
“Yes, but it’s ALSO Laura.”
She left me alone with Laura’s test packet in my hands. Now, you wait a hot minute Mrs. B. You mean to say that my name is actually Laura?
*cue internal crisis*
This was fresh news, folks. After a day of tremendous turmoil, I called an emergency meeting with Debbie immediately after school in the kitchen. She had just started on dinner, and I was sitting cross-legged on the floor probably letting our cocker spaniel lick the inside of my mouth. I’ve always been a dog person.
“Mom, I learned something interesting at school today,” I announced like the coy little turd I was.
“That my real name is Laura.”
“Well, your first name is Laura, but your name is still Ashlee,” she said without looking up. “Lots of kids go by their middle name. It’s pretty common.”
I chewed on this news over a fresh pack of Fruit Gushers, the cool mystery flavor kind.
“Yeah, I don’t like Ashlee. There are four Ashley’s in my class, and one always has a red Kool-Aid mustache. I’m going to go by Laura now.”
This is a 100% real conversation, FYI.
“Okay,” Mom said, no doubt thinking it wouldn’t last – like the two days I refused to eat from anything other than a dog bowl. Again, dog person.
But my mind was made up.
At school the next day, when Mrs. B took attendance, I didn’t answer. I told her that I would be called Laura now, in a very matter-of-fact way. From that day forward, I acted deaf whenever Mrs. B or another student called me Ashlee. In hindsight, it is an absolute miracle I had even one friend in grade school. Shoutout to Lindsay for tolerating my presence.
Much to my surprise, it stuck. Soon Mrs. B started calling me Laura, and eventually so did my friends. When I started at a new school the following year, I took every opportunity to introduce myself as Laura. It was in the second grade that my parents realized in full that their child had actually changed names and gotten away with it. Thankfully, the same cannot be said of the dog bowl.
And although I’m still Laura today, I’m Ashlee too.
Many people don’t realize that I went by Ashlee exclusively for the first seven years of my life. Honestly, I forget myself until someone new pops in for a family dinner. You know the saying “old habits die hard”? Well old names die even harder. Eighteen years later, and my family still calls me Ashlee. It is an extremely fun game to play with unsuspecting newcomers.
“Why is your family calling you Ashlee?”
“What? No, they’re not. My name is Laura.”
But in reality, having two names is actually super cool.
Over the years, I’ve been asked a lot of really weird questions about my name(s). Do you feel like you have two identities? Do you answer to both names in public? How do you sign cards? 1. No. That’s weird. 2. Somehow my brain knows when and where to answer to which name. Ask science. 3. Really hesitantly and usually with no consistency whatsoever.
I love that my family still calls me Ashlee, even though it’s bizarre. It’s like an adorable nickname that also happens to be on my birth certificate. I love that my friends only know me as Laura, because it makes me feel like I have (well, had) an ultra secretive covert alias. I love that my pen name (L. A.) somehow manages to capture all the parts of me, past and present. I even love when people smash them together, like I’m on The Beverly Hillbillies. I’m also glad my parents let a very willful child differentiate herself from the crowd.
But above all, I’m glad no one will confuse me with Kool-Aid Ashley ever again. That’s what life is all about.