Elfquest: The Final Quest
I was very excited when I discovered this graphic novel with Skywise, Cutter, and Leetah on the cover. I grew up on classic Elfquest and have read and reread the original graphic novels many times over the years.
A lot has changed since the late ‘80s. For me and for the elves. New elves and tribes have been added to the existing wolfriders including sea elves and another tribe of wolfriders led by Cutter’s daughter Ember. While it was great to see the elves I was familiar with, there were too many divergent plots for my taste. While I understand that there would be unfamiliar characters, relationships, and plotlines, Elfquest: The Final Quest suffers from overcrowding. Like Crisis on Infinite Earths or any superhero battle royale, there are too many characters to focus on the story. In addition to the multiple tribes and all their characters, there are new human villains with technology to focus on. All in all, like Thanksgiving dinner, Final Quest was something I had to do, but I’m glad it’s over.
Look for reviews of the aforementioned classic Elfquests in future posts. I can’t wait.
Elfquest: The Final Quest combines issues 1-6. Art and writing by Richard and Wendi Pini
Cousins Fone (naked), Phoney (star on his shirt), and Smiley Bone (taller, smokes a cigar) have been banished from Boneville for Phoney’s latest monetary scam of his fellow townspeople. The threesome is separated and they find out that the world is much bigger and more dangerous than they had ever imagined.
The humor, art, and storytelling are G-rated, meaning that there is danger without violence, and characterization without sex or profanity. However, the portrayal of a female human gives the story a hint of sex, which is strange. Fone Bone watches from afar as Thorn takes off her pants and bathes in a hot spring. When the two meet, he falls instantly in love (as portrayed by the hearts circling his head). Later, Thorn is sexualized when she wakes up from a nightmare and her bare shoulder is exposed. I know what you’ll say; “Jan, you’re projecting your own thoughts onto this delightful kid’s comic.” Perhaps, but the oddities continue. Later, when Fone Bone and Thorn (121) are returning to a cabin, Thorn’s cleavage is on display. Finally, on the inside back cover is the image of Thorn from behind holding hands with Fone and Phoney and she’s wearing a suggestively short skirt. What’s my point? The artist, Jeff Smith, has 100% control of how his art appears and these images made me shake my head and wonder why, in an otherwise G-rated comic, would he personify the only female character (other than her grandmother) with these, albeit brief, sexual images?
Furthermore, I’m sure Smith does a lot to explain the world in the coming issues, but I was confused. It’s a fantasy world with dragons, prophecies, talking bugs, rat-creatures, and Sauron-esque bad guys, but the world also includes real-world items, such as comic books, dollar bills, the novel Moby Dick. These “real” items run the risk or ruining the fantasy the writer has worked hard to create.
Bone is an “all-ages” comic that feels like Calvin and Hobbes meets The Hobbit. It has received glowing reviews from The Comics Journal, Will Eisner, and Publisher’s Weekly using words such as “witty” and “masterful”. There is nothing wrong with Bone. It is well-drawn, there are no gaps in the storytelling, and it is a well-received, long-lasting comic book. I really enjoyed Rose, Thorn’s grandmother (ohhhh, I get it!) who races cows, singlehandedly beats a horde of rat creatures, and has a previous relationship with, and intimidates, the dragon. However, I wasn’t drawn in by the world or its characters. Fone and Phoney’s names are a bit too similar for my liking; a small complaint I know, but the similarity confused me at first. Phoney is a money-grubbing trickster who’s backstory makes him seem like a psychopath. Smiley is the light-hearted, agreeable type, and Fone is the stable one. I chuckled once or twice, but otherwise, the jokes aren’t that funny or clever. While Bone appeals to many readers, I found myself unenchanted.
Bone: Out From Boneville collects issues Bone: 1-5 and was originally published in 1993. Art and story by Jeff Smith.
Y: The Last Man
No capes. No monsters. No heroes (well, there’s one-his sister, Hero). No powers. No villains. No magic (possibly a magic medallion). Y: The Last Man isn’t like most other comic books.
Without warning or explanation, every male on earth dies. The story centers on the humans, but all the male animals die as well, leaving the females to clean up a patriarchal civilization.
The Why in the comic book is:
It reads like Heroes or Lost, or even 24. You might respond with “Isn’t there a show about the last man on earth called, um, The Last Man on Earth?” Well, invisible questioner, that’s true. But the show is different because it’s a comedy and the comic book is more of a dramatic fantasy. The comic came first, and it’s hard not to imagine that the basic idea of the show was inspired by (ripped off) the comic. No spoilers, but the climax of the first trade paperback is a plot point in the show.
Y: The Last Man is thought-provoking in its execution. The real world concerns of every male dying at once are addressed (What do the survivors do with the bodies? What about the mostly-male governments of the world?) Yorkick, an English-major and escape artist, along with his monkey Ampersand, does his best to travel from the United States to Australia to reunite with his fiancee. Along the way, he encounters violent Amazons, the remnants of the elected government escape from the White House, and a discovers a seemingly utopian town. Did I mention that technology has been knocked for a loop? Oh yeah, the phones don’t work and things like cars and gasoline are scarce.
I look forward to reading the other books in the series. There are many mysteries to be answered, such as: What happened to wipe out half the human race? Will Yorick reach his girlfriend? What’s the deal with his sister? Is Yorick (and his monkey) really the last man (males) on Earth?
Y: The Last Man is written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Pia Guerra and published by Vertigo, an imprint of DC Comics collecting issues 1-10.
Shattered Empire picks up just as Return of the Jedi ends, but the heroes of the movie are mostly supporting characters. The main character is rebel-pilot Shara Bey, a woman who has sacrificed much for the rebellion and feels guilty for her desire to settle down with her husband and child. If you were hoping to see Luke and his fellow scoundrels from the films, they’re all there driving the plot and interweaving their stories with hers.
Shara Bey accompanies Luke on a stealth mission to rescue a pair of Force Trees from Imperial hands. Princess Leia has an interesting story as she travels to Naboo with Shara Bey and interacts with the planet made famous in Episodes 1-3. What is noteworthy about this storyline is what is unsaid. Naboo is the home of Queen Amidala, Leia’s biological mother, a plot point I hope the comics follow.
The art and storytelling are excellent, even if I was distracted by the space battles. The whole “Red One” to “Red Leader” type of dialogue works in the movies but falls short in a comic book. Otherwise, the art from paneling to colors, to inks and lettering are well done.
Shattered Empire kicks off a new line of Star Wars comics featuring new and old characters. Is it a must-read? Not really. There aren’t any new plot threads left hanging, nor are there any dramatic moments that make this story stand out. Shara is a competent character with a believable back-story, and the returning characters are fun but aren’t necessary other than to give readers a hook.
Also, included in the collected edition is issue 1 of Princess Leia and a throwback first-issue of the original comic adaptation of the first movie. Leia is excellent (look for that in a future review) but 1977 Staw Wars is missable if you saw the movie.
Star Wars: Shattered Empire #1-4 is written by Greg Rucka, and illustrated by Marco Checchetto and Angel Unzueta with Emilio Laiso. It also features Princess Leia #1 and Star Wars (1977) #1. It is published by Marvel/Disney
My goal for 2019 is to read a graphic novel or comic book trade paperback collection and discuss them each day. I will write about the plot, art, relevance, links to a continuing mythos and/or my personal connection to the book. Think of it as a mini review. Feel free to debate my thoughts. Tell me why I’m wrong and missed the whole point of a revolutionary graphic novel, or how I elevated some piece of shit to undeserved artistic status. Or, <gasp> how you agree with my findings. Let’s discuss.
Just Can’t Seem to Win
A novel by Jan-Ives Campbell
My search for the father I never knew began with the death of my mother. The journey is real, and what I found out about him is true, but the characters are fictionalized. It turns out that you can’t tell a true story without hurting someone, so I did my best to describe my search without reopening old wounds.
“Who are you visiting today?” said the perky woman behind a plastic window within the Naples Senior and Recovery center. She looked at me with a big smile, but with just a glimmer in her eyes that said, “Hurry this up, pal. I have shit to do.”
I blinked at her, slowly as if stepping out of the darkness and into the unforgiving sunlight. My mind went blank. Why the hell was I here? In a Florida nursing home. Stupidly I stared. Her eyes opened wider and she tilted her head as if to say, “Are you okay?” I must have looked crazy, I certainly wasn’t dressed for southern weather. I wore ripped jeans, a thick red and black flannel button-up shirt, and fawn-colored Timberland work boots, two sizes too big that clomped when I walked. I looked like a lumberjack.
“Franklin,” I said. “Thurgood Franklin.” How strange it felt to say his name. I knew it like I knew my own. I had thought it many times, I had even typed it more than once into search engines, but I hadn’t said the man’s name aloud once in my entire life.
“I see. Are you a friend or relative?”
A sudden catch in my throat. A cough. After several more, I recover and say, “I’m his nephew.” That was the truth. “He hasn’t seen me in a while; I’d like to surprise him.” In fact, he had never in his life seen me. “Is that okay?”
She stood up, looked me up and down and said, “I don’t think he’s ever had a visitor before. I see you’re not on the list of approved visitors, but he’s right over there in the main room, so I think it would be okay to sneak on over and say ‘hi’.” She smiled again and pointed to a room around the corner that was still visible from the main desk. “He’s the one with the green blanket on his lap.” He sat in a wheelchair with his back to me looking up at the television suspended in the corner broadcasting a fishing show. I took a deep breath. There he was. That was him.
The woman exited the room behind the window and appeared beside me. “Did you bring enough for everyone?” she said with a smile, nodding with her chin at the Dunkin Donuts bag I held with two hands. It felt heavy and seemed obvious that there were no donuts inside. I chuckled but never took my eyes off him. It seemed ludicrous to me that I would be able to get this close. I graduated high school four years ago and I couldn’t remember a time when there weren’t metal detectors or armed guards at the entrances. School shootings were a fact of life. I guess it wasn’t a problem in old folks’ homes.
I followed the woman into the common area. It was empty except for Thurgood and a bag of bones who stared unblinking from beneath a mountain of blankets in the far corner of the room.
“Mr. Franklin. You have a visitor.” I held the bag tightly as he slowly maneuvered the wheelchair around to face us. I don’t know what I expected. He looked shriveled in his chair wasting away from inactivity. The pictures and the descriptions were not of this person. They were of a man who was nicknamed Thor and with good reason. Once, he had a wild mane of red hair and a body to match. His hair was now faded and white; this pathetic creature before me had been withering for twenty-three years, first in jail and now in this tomb.
I expected a different reaction from him. He looked at me as if I were a stranger on the street. I wanted him to react, to shout out, to clutch at his heart and fall over at seeing the resurrection of the man he had killed more than two decades ago. Instead, he took a deep breath. The receptionist said, “Do you know who this is?” she said loudly, almost patronizingly.
“Yup. This is Anthony. I’ve been expecting him.”
“He brought you donuts.” She smiled and left us alone except for the corpse under the pile of blankets. A fan hanging from the ceiling stirred the air with a slight wobble. With a booted foot I dragged a table until it was in front of him. I sat down across from him and placed the bag on the table with a clunk.
“That for me?”
“You look like your father.”
Was he trying to distract me? To make me feel pity for him? I absorbed his appearance,
faded and withered as it was.
“I could yell for help,” he said.
“It wouldn’t make a difference.”
“Is that why you came? To kill me?” He wheezed. “Maybe you’ve seen too many movies and you think I’ll beg for forgiveness so you’ll spare my life?” A slight guffaw escaped his mouth.
To be honest, I didn’t know why I came. I wanted something from him. Remorse. Empathy. Understanding. Truth? I wasn’t sure, but the only way I would know is through confrontation.
He looked at the floor and said, “I am sorry.” My eyes narrowed. He looked up and into my eyes. The whites of his were bloodshot, but the irises were a crisp blue of the deep ocean. “Not because I care about my life or what I lost. It’s all the hurt I inflicted on everyone else.” Was this it? Was this why I came here? “Go ahead, kill me. Hell, leave me the gun and I’ll do it myself.” His breathing was ragged. The skeleton in the corner coughed.
“I suppose you’ll say I shouldn’t do it because my father wouldn’t want me to throw away my life?”
He laughed. It was a breathy rattle that caught us both by surprise. “Are you okay, Thurgood?” a nurse poked her head into the room. He nodded and smiled a mostly-toothless smile. She slipped away.
“Shit, I could go for a cigarette,” he said.
“Too bad. What’s so funny?”
“Your father absolutely would want you to kill me. He wouldn’t want a score to go unsettled. Neither did I. I guess that’s why we’re here. He would just love that his kid had the balls to take care of the son-of-a-bitch who killed his old man.”
The stories, the recent ones my grandmother, aunt, and my father’s best friend had told me didn’t give me the feeling my father was a vengeful man. But they loved him; they would never speak ill of the dead.
As if reading my mind he said, “He was my little brother, in a sense. I practically raised him. I loved him, too.”
His words filled me with anger. He loved him? I grabbed up the bag. Frightened, his eyes went from mine to it, but he did not move. Resolution to his fate calmed him, but it took an effort. Years of violence and self-preservation was hard to ignore. My index finger pierced the paper of the bag to rest on the trigger of the gun inside. The silence threatened to suffocate us. Finally, Thurgood said, “You never got to meet him. I’m sorry about that.” He stares at the coffee table. “He was excited. Happier than I’d ever seen him.”
“Why did you do it?” I ask. “You say you loved him. Why did you kill him?”
“You really want to hear?”
“He beat the shit out of me.”
I laugh despite trying to be intimidating. The snort just bursts out.
He was right, my father would want me to gun him down. To blast him where he sat. Fire five rounds into his chest, and as he slumped in his chair shatter his skull with the final bullet.
The gun felt light in my hand. It felt good. Right.
And my father, gone for twenty-three years, was telling me to pull the trigger.
I wrote a book. Well, it’s not a book yet. I wrote a story, and I’m nervous as hell to release it into the world. Why am I afraid? For over a year it has been just mine. I have slaved over it, changed it, deleted parts, and added others. I gave it to a friend who reads a lot of science fiction and fantasy to get his thoughts: What didn’t he understand? What did he like? What did it need? He couldn’t get into it. I gave it to a successful writer of nonfiction, and he was “stopped dead” after the first page. My girlfriend got lost in all the characters. Then I paid someone to read it and though she was very helpful the lack of interest by everyone else was not a good sign. If my friends and loved ones can’t get through it what chance does a stranger?
So I rewrote it. I added some excitement to the opening chapter (in the form of a new chapter) to get the reader interested in the story and characters. I set a launch date for September 20th, a monumental day in my life, but more on that later.
I read the reviews of a popular writer’s first book to get some perspective. This author has met with a lot of success, but I guess that depends on your definition. The author made some money by self-publishing and continues to reach new readers, even selling the rights to have the book made into a motion picture. Financially successful. They wrote the book on their own terms and published it non-traditionally. Success. It has opened up other opportunities—earning a degree, future novels. Success. I assume these things brought happiness. Major success.
What does success mean to me? One might say that writing a book and putting it out into the world means I am successful. Yeah, that’s true, but as a writer, I want to have people read and like what I wrote. But a “true artist” doesn’t care what people think, right? I don’t know what a true artist feels, but I want to write and have my stuff read and enjoyed. Perhaps that’s a bit shallow, but that’s me.
I know human nature is to complain before giving praise. People are more likely to call up and gripe about poor service than to give compliments. Therefore I dread those one and two-star reviews on Amazon. I read the comments on the author above, and I focused on the one stars, which only accounted 2% of the total reviews. I won’t go into details but suffice to say that I came away realizing that you can’t please all the people all the time. Probably more than 2% will hate what I wrote and demand their money back. Likely a lot more.
I said I was done. Like a download that’s stuck on 99%, I finished the story, but it refuses to let me walk away. Since my editor read it I’ve made some changes. I will spend the next six weeks reading it out loud, stressing over comma placement, and being frustrated by formatting issues. I’ll worry that the characters won’t “ring true” or the ethnic characters are stereotypes, or don’t accurately reflect their cultural histories. Or that my female characters aren’t strong enough, or are too strong and do not speak to the female experience. My worst fear is that I will have used “too” and “to” incorrectly. I like what I wrote. I spent a lot of time with my characters, working hard to flesh them out without repeating myself. Or breaking the ultimate writer’s sin of telling not showing. Gasp!
I’m going to write about the writer’s experience for the next few weeks. Maybe fledgling writers will ask me questions, and maybe I’ll have helpful answers. “Successful” writers might have inspirational suggestions. I’ll talk about my journey, my hopes, and fears, and hopefully, create a dialog. Here are some subjects I will be discussing.
-Self-publishing vs. “traditional” (How fast do you want it?)
-My history as a writer (The hero’s Journey)
-Marketing (Selling out!)
-The politics of the writer (What statement are you making?)
-Categorizing one’s work (What shelf do you want to be on?)
Stay tuned. Comments welcome!
Bursting as it was with people from all over the world, Mexico City International Airport did its best to slow Daisuke’s progress. The Japanese sarariman hurried to make the last plane to Brazil, a trip that had begun in Taiwan and was full of long flights and one very long layover. Moving as fast as his tired body and the crowd permitted, he glanced out the airport windows at the dark skies, fearful they might further delay his trip. Fellow travelers battled him and each other in an attempt to reach the next stage of their individual journeys.
Stopping without warning, he closed his eyes, and when he opened them, he was no longer Daisuke. His consciousness had been invaded and overwritten by an alien force. He became a dormant passenger as the entity known as Tvrkialk took command of his body. The ancient being stretched the man’s arms in triumph. How beautiful and strange were the sensations of physical form! Although, for a moment, the memories and emotions of the host body were nauseating; Tvrkialk sat down on an empty bench until the sickening feelings passed. The being dropped the man’s briefcase onto the floor and watched the crowd with keen interest.
After several minutes, a man wearing an official identification lanyard and a jumpsuit uniform stopped pushing his broom to sit on the bench next to Tvrkialk. Without looking at the custodian, Tvrkialk said in an alien language, “Greetings, P’strth. The approaching storm—is it your doing?”
P’strth said, “No, but can you feel the chaos rising to the surface? It searches for recipients worthy of its power.”
They spoke a language lacking in structure and familiar sound. Guttural almost to the point of being animalistic, their words would have been unrecognizable to anyone in the airport, had they heard it spoken. Subtleties and emotions, even personal histories filled their conversation. The language was full of so much information and nuance that it would have been impossible for mortals to follow, much less comprehend. In their true form, they could communicate more effectively, but in the flesh prisons, their vocal cords strained with each word. “You are enjoying this,” said the spirit through the Japanese businessman. “Why are you here? Of all the places in the world, why this place?”
P’strth, through the body of the custodian, made no expression, nor did it look at Tvrkialk when it replied. “I suspect I am here for the same reason as you. I detected two mana recipients.”
Throngs of people moved past the two, without noticing their strange conversation. “I had hoped I would be alone.” Tvrkialk chuckled. The laugh was awkward, dry and gravelly, as if by one who had not spoken in a long time. “It is so unlikely to find two in the same city, much less the same location.”
Tvrkialk moved to the edge of the bench. “What do you think of that one?” Within the crowd, a young woman hurried by. Her fellow humans did not take notice of her, however, to the strange pair, she might as well have had a light shining upon her. They did not notice her youthful skin, her curly black hair, or her curvy waistline, nor did they have any concept of her ancestral origins. They did, however, see her soul as a near-blinding vivid multicolor glow that indicated she was already a bearer of the link.
P’strth squinted at the girl as she disappeared into the crowd. “It has a versatile aura. Beyond that, I see a capacity—a powerful mana. For the group I am assembling, it would not fit well. You may have the creature,” adding, “It has a glaring weakness, as well.”
“Yes, I noticed that,” Tvrkialk said. “I can work with it. You have seen the other female?”
P’strth said, without emotion, “Yes. It has a susceptibility making her perfect for my intentions.” P’strth’s disgust and confusion at the concept of gender were palpable to Tvrkialk, who had always found the sexual specifics of physical beings to be delightfully peculiar.
P’strth’s words conveyed a subtle warning, a reminder how much was at stake. “I worry about your intentions, my old friend.” They both laughed. “Remember, the bearers of the maelstrom must endure a great burden.” An elderly man turned to them upon hearing the strange sounds they made, then immediately hurried away.
Tvrkialk stood. The words “Then it is decided?” communicated an understanding, but also a joy at the uncertainty of the situation. They had vital parts to play, but there was no reason they couldn’t have fun while protecting the fragile fabric of reality. They were spawns of chaos after all, and thus they tended toward mischief.
“Yes, I do not care.” P’strth surrendered any claim on the woman with a wave of the janitor’s hand. “Good fortune to us all.” The presence that possessed the worker left him. Freed, he looked around, confused. He was sitting on the bench next to an Asian man in a suit who turned to him and smiled a wide smile. The janitor stood, looked away from the odd man, and resumed sweeping.
Tvrkialk, still in the body of Daisuke, left the briefcase behind and began following the black-haired girl. The mana entities felt it was important to shepherd the humans, to guide them to reach their destinies, for the unrestrained energy only knew chaos and violence, and would naturally lead its bearer to the same.
“Yes. She will do fine.”
I am six-years-old. It is midnight. I am debating if I can survive jumping from the backseat of a car traveling at sixty-miles an hour onto the highway. I’m not even tall enough to see out the window. I will have to hope I get lucky.
As I contemplate the leap, I decide to question my captors hoping they will set me free or turn the car around and bring me home. “What did I do?” I ask the blonde. I try to be cold and emotionless when I say, “Where are you taking me?”
She responds with a smile so wide it shows her back teeth. Her smile is that of a wolf. “Jan-Ives, you didn’t do anything,” she says, emphasizing the word “you.” She drags it out like laundry from a washing machine. Her words are heavy, cold and wet. “Your mom just needs some time to get back on her feet. You are going to what is called a foster home.” She uses my full first name, proving that she doesn’t know me.
“My name is Jan,” I say through clenched teeth. Her smile fades and as she turns away.
I have never hated anyone before. I am six. I hate this woman.
I don’t know the man and woman in the front seat. I was never introduced, but I silently select the names Dick and Jane for them. I do not respect them, so I do not ask them their real names. I don’t care. My mother held back the tears when she told me I had to go with these people. She said I would be all right–that she would get me as soon as she could.
Alone in the backseat of the speeding car, I stare intently at the lock. It is a silver piece of metal that looks like a skinny bullet the Lone Ranger might load into his six-shooter. With no plunger to press against, the bullet hurts when it is pushed to lock the door. I am deciding if I will pull it. I am contemplating pulling it to unlock the door, open it, and jump onto Route 495.
Jane tells Dick–the driver–that the next exit is the one they should take. I know my chance of escape is growing smaller by the second. I don’t know why my mother told me to go with these people in dark suits in the middle of the night. I have school–1st grade– in the morning. She must have forgotten. I don’t understand why she would let me go. If I can get out of the car, I can get back to her. She will apologize for the mistake. Everything will be okay.
When I leap out of the car, I tuck and roll along the pavement to the grassy median strip. I execute a perfect somersault and rise agilely to my feet and begin pumping my legs for the other side of the highway. I hear the screech of brakes and the blaring of horns behind me and the inevitable crash of several vehicles. I dare not look back as I run onto the opposite highway that leads home. Cars and trucks slam on their brakes, and another pileup ensues. As my feet touch the grass that precedes the safety of the woods I hear shots ring out, and I see several bullets explode into the wood of the trees ahead.
I open my eyes as my fantasy and my journey come to an end. I decide that even if I survived the escape, I wouldn’t know where to go to get back to my mother. The car slows down and pulls into a driveway. I look out the window and see a gold Cadillac though it is too dark to see the color and I am too young to recognize the make. The only car I am capable of correctly identifying is a Pinto. I received the Matchbox version for my sixth birthday. It was my only present.
The engine turns off, and Jane turns toward me. The headrest obscures the right side of her face, and with the warmest smile she can muster she says, “Jan-Ives, we’re here. This nice family is going to take care of you.” She keeps smiling her wolf smile.
Dick opens the door. I step out and take a good look at him. He is wearing a dark suit like Jane’s, and an offensive amount of after-shave. I hold my breath as Dick puts his hand on the back of my neck. It is a loose grip, but if I decided to bolt, it could become tighter. He gently pushes me toward the front door of the largest house I have ever seen. There is an attached garage, but it is empty.–or perhaps it is too small to fit the monstrous luxury vehicle in the driveway.
Dick releases his grip on my neck, steps forward and rings the doorbell. Soon, I am welcomed by the Coutu’s. A father, a mother, two boys, and two girls, all of whom are older than me, greet me from inside what seems like a mansion. Compared to the one-room motel I was living in an hour before, it is.
The kids show me around while the parents discuss ransom with my captors. In the kitchen, Marky, the youngest boy, introduces me to the canine member of the family. I look down to see Sparky a short-haired Dachshund. I have never seen a dog of this breed before. “Go ahead, pet him,” urges Marky with a sly smile.
Butchy, the oldest boy–big and meaty like Thurgood–attempts to assuage my fears, “Don’t be afraid. Sparky won’t bite.” He is an enormous seventeen-year-old with muscles that give shape to his t-shirt, and a buzzed haircut. I doubt he knows the meaning of the word “afraid.”
I crouch down and pet Sparky’s soft fur. The little red dog turns around and chomps me on the wrist! I am shocked, but I do not pull away because he is not biting me hard. I look up at Marky with questioning eyes. All four kids are laughing with joy as Sparky begins to pull me toward a cabinet below the sink.
“Go ahead,” Marky urges. I open the cabinet to find a box of Alpo dog biscuits. I take out a small treat, and he politely takes it from my fingers. I smile and pet Sparky again. I like this dog.
“He can give paw, too,” says the oldest girl, Suzanne (though I have no doubt they call her Suzy).
The four adults have entered the kitchen. “You are going to like it here. The Coutu’s are very nice people,” says Jane. I stare at her. My hate wells up behind my eyes and is released in salty streams of despair. The men shake hands, and my two abductors leave me with my new family.
Mr. Coutu looks at me and extends his hand. I can only stare at it. He is wearing a dark green polyester suit, and I wonder if everyone got dressed up for my capture and delivery.
He is still holding out his hand as I look dumbly at it. I have never shaken anyone’s hand, let alone an adult’s. He takes his hand back and puts it in his pocket when I don’t give him paw.
Mrs. Coutu crouches down to my level and puts her hand on my head. She is wearing a green skirt and white blouse and has wavy, shoulder-length hair. She looks like the stereotypical housewife character on any number of 70s sitcoms and dramas. She strokes my long brown hair, and I suddenly feel like Sparky. I wonder where my biscuit is. “How do you say your name?” she asks me with a genuine smile. Speak! A new command.
“Jan D’Alesio,” I reply with practiced ease. I am new to the first grade, so I am used to annunciating my strange name. I drop the “Ives” purposely.
Mr. Coutu shakes his head. “Jan is a girl’s name,” he says as he runs his fingers along his thick mustache. “Let’s call you…” he ponders for a moment before finishing his thought, almost as if he were indeed thinking, “J.D.”
Now, I hate two people.
As an adult, I continue to use my name as a mental litmus test. The speed at which someone grasps it is the amount of mental lucidity to which I give them credit. All of my adopted animals retain the name they know. To change their names would be to cause them the same subtle trauma I suffered in the foster home. I wouldn’t change my name now. To me, my name is a badge of honor. It is like a tattoo or scar. Names are important. To take a name away from a person is to take away his or her power. This is true when it is done to an animal, or a six-year-old boy who has just been taken from his mother.