Vignette: The Importance of Names

Dan and Melanie Churchpepper married 31 years earlier.  Like every married couple, they’d had their ups and downs, but generally their time together had been pleasant, if not overwhelmingly exciting.  Their lives were predictable, if somewhat dull.

After 31 years in the same neighborhood in the same house with the same jobs, though, both of them began to feel mildly dissatisfied with their lives.  They talked about their tedium, occasionally, but there seemed to be no answers to what caused it, nor any solutions to cure it.  It hadn’t reached the point of being really troubling, so they took no action.   They let it stew.  And like a wheelbarrow full of wet cement left unattended, then forgotten, by the side of the house, the mild dissatisfaction hardened into something rigid and seemingly impossible to remove: full-blown ennui.

One day, Melanie returned to the house from a Home Depot demonstration workshop where she had watched latex paint dry on a piece of HardiePlank lap siding.   She opened the front door and exclaimed, “Dan, I know the problem!  Or at least I know the answer! We need to change our names!”  Dan had been watching Days of Our Wives, his favorite reality show; her exclamation caught him off guard. “What? What problem?”

“I had an epiphany,” Melanie continued, “while I was sitting there at Home Depot, thinking about what’s wrong with our lives. It’s not the 31 years of the same routine that’s got us down. It’s the 55 years with the same identities! We’re bored with who we are! We need to change our names.  Not our last names, just our first names.”

Melanie explained that changing their names could add some excitement to their lives.

“We can lead more mysterious lives! People will be curious about us.  They will be drawn to us because we’ll be exciting! Changing our names will be like starting over.  It will let us renew our youthful exuberance!”  Melanie’s excitement demonstrated her commitment to the idea.  Dan had little choice but to go along for the ride.

Two days later, after considering a very long list of possibilities, Melanie had selected her new name.  And she chose a new name for Dan; at first, he didn’t like it…thought it sounded too elitist…but Melanie prevailed.  They agreed: Dan would change his name to Centurion Churchpepper and Melanie would change her name to Inebria Churchpepper.

That change, alone, Melanie promised, would bring fulfillment to their lives.  These new names, she said, would ascribe joy and new challenge to their otherwise dull lives.

The process of changing their names was no more exciting than the names they were leaving behind.  It was just filing papers, waiting, and waiting some more.  Finally, the paperwork was finished, the judge rendered his decision, separately, to accept the changes, and, presto, they were different people.

Eight months later, Inebria was sitting at the dinner table with Centurion, silently eating the leftover meatloaf, when she brought it up.

“Centurion, the problem isn’t with us, it’s with the neighborhood.  We’ve lived here for 32 years and we hardly know anyone; it’s like everyone stays barricaded in their houses and isn’t interested in mingling.  If we lived someplace else, the name changes would have generated excitement.  But, here?  Hardly anybody even knows!  Everybody here is Dick and Jane and Mike and Susan and John and Linda. They are boring  people who live boring lives and we need to get out of here! ”

Dan didn’t immediately embrace the idea of moving.  He countered with “Melanie..Inebria, we know some of our neighbors! I mean, you have the Wednesday bridge club and we go to the Saturday movie matinee with Ken and Barbara.”

“Movie matinees?  Really?  We know two people whose lives are as predictable as our own and we know our neighbors?  Ken and Barbara acted like we’d lost our minds when we told them we were changing our names!  And they still laugh at us!  And the bridge club?  It’s like we’re living in the 1950s.  This is Stepford Wives, 2013!  Are those women even real people? Granted, we know a few people, but we don’t know most of  our neighbors, so it’s not like we’ll be leaving friends.”

Centurion’s caution was no match for Inebria’s ferocity of purpose.  The house sold quickly, so quickly, in fact, that they decided to put their belongings in storage.  They would rent a furnished apartment in a more exciting area, Inebria decided, until they could decide where life would be more to their liking.

The last day, as the moving truck was preparing to pull away, a neighbor couple, out for a walk with their Boston terrier, came by.  Seeing the moving van in front of the house and seeing Centurion and Inebria outside, they stopped.

The woman spoke first. “Oh, you’re moving!  And we’ve never even met you, though we’ve seen you as we passed by.  Good luck with your move! ”

Chit-chat all around followed, then the introductions.  “I’m Centurion Churchpepper and this is my wife, Inebria.”  The neighbor woman responded, “Nice to finally meet you!  We’re the Smiths. I’m Eagervixen and this is my husband, Bravado!”  And then they trundled off with their Boston terrier, Bob.

Centurion Churchpepper was charged with first degree murder in the death of his wife, Inebria Churchpepper, just six months later.  Her body was found encased in cement left to harden in a large, construction-sized wheelbarrow; it was left near the clubhouse of the apartment building, off to the side, in the back yard.

When I first wrote this, the names of the two guys were reversed; Centurion was Bravado and vice versa.  For a number of reasons, I like that better.  If and when this finds its way into a book or a compilation or a collection of self-published drivel, their names will be reversed.  The “main” character really should be Bravado.  Dammit.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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