In my mind's eye, I could see myself palling around with my little peanut, Sammie, on our many adventures. In these fantasy outings I concocted in my head, her mother had often dressed her in overalls instead of a dress, and she dragged a little stuffed monkey around with her.
With no real point of reference having lost my own father at age three, I don't know why I pictured fatherhood that way. I just did.
She could wear a dress to church and be called Samantha, but for our daddy-daughter outings, my Sammie needed to be ready to get a little dirt on her knees. She also needed to know how to defend herself in a scuffle just as well as pose for a photo. I’d leave the posing to Mom, but I planned to show her a few tricks that would come in handy in those inevitable scrapes all kids get into.
A couple of years after her birth, in a moment that was simultaneously cringy and pride-inducing, I’d discover her M.O. for handling conflict at what was supposed to be a congenial neighborhood gathering. After another toddler bumped her aside in his enthusiasm to dig a particular toy from his toy box, she promptly gave as good as she got and then some, grabbing him by the back of his diaper, upending him headfirst into the box, and shutting the lid amidst his exaggerated wailing. Scrambling to free him while simultaneously stammering an apology and suppressing a giggle, I knew then that any fatherly teachings I had in mind about standing up to bullies wouldn’t be necessary. In fact, maybe I should give them self-defense lessons.
Samantha was perfect in many ways, both at the time and in hindsight. Call it bewitching if you need a little groan-inducing attempt at humor, yet here we sat, nearly a week into our NICU stay after her premature birth with no nametag on her crib. It just didn't fit, and we were reluctant to name her.
But the wait was getting ridiculous, if not embarrassing then at least uncomfortable. Our baby deserved a name.
So the three of us—Mary, Kate (Mary's sister), and me—started yet another brainstorming session. We ticked through name after name, rejecting each for one reason or another and sometimes for no reason at all.
Elizabeth was too ubiquitous. Valerie had been a mean girl on 90210. Kelly was Kelly Kapowski from Saved by the Bell. And Tiffani... Tiffani was definitely out since she'd played them both!
And then Kate said, "Ruby." I don't think she even managed to get the word out without giggling through it. In fact, we all laughed at first, dismissing it even more quickly than the rest.
It was such an old name. It reminded me of a Coney Island fortune teller in a floor-length red velvet dress and white shawl that had faded to off-white over the years, cleverly parting tourists from their hard-earned money with outlandish tales of riches they'd acquire and hearts they'd break along the way. It certainly didn't conjure an image of an innocent little girl.
We hadn't yet heard her raspy laugh that sounded more like it belonged to a smoker with a two-pack-a-day habit than to a baby. That would come a few months later when her unmistakable personality started to develop.
Even so, maybe we intuitively knew already that she wasn't going to embody the typical image of an innocent little girl despite possessing a certain angelic quality. Our original choice, Samantha, wasn't a name for a delicate flower, and neither was Ruby.
Maybe she was destined to be more of a mischievous storyteller—someone who knew things about people and the world that she shouldn't rightfully know at her age or at any age. She already knew how to breathe room air without her oxygen mask, and she shouldn't know that at thirty-two weeks and two pounds. I didn't think she should know how to scoot toward my hand to say hi when I'd put it through the care porthole in her incubator either, but she knew that, too.
Ruby lingered in my mind overnight, and I brought it up the next day. To my surprise, Kate and Mary didn't despise it either. The more we repeated it, the more it grew on us.
I don't remember who first called her "Roo" or when. Did that come before or after we told the nurse to write "Ruby" on her nametag? Had we brought her home from the hospital, or were we already referring to her as "Roo" in the NICU?
It doesn't matter, because, from the moment I heard "Roo," wherever I was, I knew that was her. There was no lingering, no growing on me, and no adjusting to it. She was Roo, through and through, the first time ever I heard it. She just had to be Ruby to be Roo.
CODA won Best Picture last night. I don't think too much of awards for art. Do we really have to compete over everything? Aren't some things just meant to be enjoyed and appreciated without a scorecard? I know my opinion is unpopular, but shouldn't participation be good enough for some of life's pleasures without crowning winners and losers?
You sang. You danced. You acted. You created something, and maybe someone will find some beauty in it. Good for you! You made the world a better place in some small way just by having the courage to participate, kind of like Roo did. Here's your trophy. Go in peace and create some more.
These awards do serve a purpose, though. Occasionally, some small film I might not have otherwise heard about gets enough press to pique my curiosity, and then I go and find it.
I'm going to find CODA and watch it. It must be pretty good to have won, but more importantly to me, the title character's name is Ruby.
To this day, that name is rare enough to stop me in my tracks when I hear it, and I feel a connection to every Ruby—both the real ones and the fictional ones. Mostly though, I feel an unbreakable bond with the one Ruby who was a part of my life for a few short years.
"What's in a name?" you ask. If that name is Ruby, then, for me, everything.