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Wylie Mao This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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I lost my innocence and became human four minutes past six on the second day of September, 1995. My young parents carried me home, tears streaming and hearts high. Mommy took me out of the car seat and held me tightly, but not too tightly because, you know, that would kill me. Daddy drove with more caution than he had since taking his driver’s test, which he had failed twice. The car was stacked with dental textbooks and perhaps a hundred drafts of his doctoral thesis. He knew he had to go back to school on Monday, and with me being born on Saturday that left him a day and a half to finish his research paper.

Mommy and Daddy were naive and clueless ­immigrants that everyone loved in a similarly clueless way. The neighbors looked on from balconies as the happy couple carried their newborn son home. In through the door they went, giggling and smiling while their son cried louder than the obnoxious dog that every apartment complex seems to have. They set him on the table, sat down, and breathed a sigh of relief.

The walls were bleak. They were like any other walls; white, square, flat. People always say, “if only walls could talk,” but maybe it’s better that these walls don’t. Even if they had, no one would listen to the story of Unit 202, Spring Court Estates. They would tell of another family who spoke English but did not dream in it. They would tell of a white-haired school bus driver who had to choose between milk or bread. If those walls could talk, they would sing a thousand somber hymns and a thousand more triumphant choruses. They would tell of why and how my parents came up with the wonderful, brilliant idea to name me something no one could pronounce, spell, or read correctly.

But you know what? I kind of like it. No, I really like it. According to the U.S. Census registry, I am the only person in the country named Wylie Mao. Wylie isn’t exactly a popular name in China, so I might be the only Wylie Mao in the world.

I wonder if that’s why people find my name so interesting. Wylie is so simple, yet Mao is so foreign. Wylie sounds like a classic cartoon character, and Mao is the name of a murderous dictator.

If our names reflect who we are, then Wylie Mao spells out exactly what I am, or at least what I think I am. Weird, controversial, thought-provoking, contradictory, unconventional yet accepted. Argumentative, “new age,” and modern, yet age-old and classic. A little tacky at times and a little hard to ­understand, but above all, genuine and personal.

In a nutshell, different. If we can work with two nutshells here; different and polar. Private Joker from “Full Metal Jacket” was a ­Marine born to kill, but also a peace-loving hippie. He had his button with a peace sign on his chest and his war-torn helmet on his head. As for me, I have my name.

Maybe our names don’t really reflect who we are. What if they’re like the annoying labels that have “marinara” written on them when the Tupperware clearly has tuna inside. Or maybe that hipster song with a title that has nothing to do with the lyrics, or anything, for that matter.

Is it a name that shapes us, or the parents who give us that name? Or is it our environment that shapes our parents, who choose our name, who shape us, and that’s what makes us become who we become, say what we say, and do what we do? If it even matters at all, that is. I guess only the walls know. If only the walls could talk. But even if they could, we all know that no one would listen.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.




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