Hers is the kind of name that belongs exclusively to grandmothers, and Gretchen Morris didn’t grow into it until her mid-seventies. Before that, she wore her name like an oversized hand-me-down, warm and snug, but not quite flattering.
She watched herself float through life, a specter who was there but only ever partly. She went to all twelve years of school and four years of college, officially moved out of her parents’ house, applied to her first job and a succession of other jobs, met a guy, broke up, met another guy, had the relationship fizzle out and die, broke up, met yet another guy, got married, and bore two kids. The cycle repeated as they too went through school, college, and alas, heartbreaks. And it wasn’t that she hated the cycle. It was fine. The cycle gave her summer holidays and shared laughter with colleagues; it gave her two wonderful men she was proud to call her sons, and a husband whom she later outlived, but otherwise loved.
She wasn’t miserable either, or at least, not more miserable than her next-door neighbor. Still, whenever she introduced herself, and God knew how many times she had to do that, the syllables never rolled off right. “I’m Gretchen,” she’d said in her first parent-teacher conference, and the teacher had smiled but Gretchen could see the thought she immediately had: ‘what kind of young woman has the name Gretchen?’.
Then, Gretchen turned old, and everything fell into place. It happened slowly, as old age does, starting with the first strands of white hair that overtook her head. Most women cried at the sight, but she thought they looked like the onset of a crown, like the first flakes of snow on a boring stretch of earth. Her body changed to finally fit the name she was given. It hung perfectly from her stooped shoulders, and she realized that her wrinkled arms filled the extra fabric the way her toned muscles never did.
When Gretchen now stands in front of the mirror, she doesn’t see a ghost anymore. She sees a woman who has lived through more than seventy birthdays but no longer has to ask what the purpose of birthdays is. Her eyes shine a little brighter, and the world, somehow, seems more beautiful from behind her black reading glasses.
“I’m Gretchen,” she says to the little girl that her second granddaughter Mabel brings home. “But please, call me Grannie.”
Erica Fransisca is an Indonesian-based freelance writer who studied English Literature at the University of East Anglia. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Anak Sastra, Paragraph Planet, 101 Words, and Five Minutes. Find her at https://ericafransisca.com/.