I’ll never forget my first day of Kindergarten. I was so paranoid that I would go into the wrong classroom, embarrass myself, and not make any friends. My Mom and Dad assured me that everything would be great: that I would love being at school everyday. To prepare me for the big day, they drilled all of my personal information into my head. Most importantly this included my phone number, which my mom made into a catchy song I can proudly sing to this day. Despite all the preparations I couldn’t shake off the nerves, but whether I liked it or not, it was time for the next chapter of my life to begin.
Everything seemed to be going great; I got on and off the bus, entered Long Hill School, walked down the long hallway, and was kindly directed into Mrs. Karcher’s Kindergarten classroom. I choose a seat in the horseshoe formation of desks next to girl who seemed friendly. She even smiled at me! So far, so good. “This isn’t that bad,” I thought to myself, “I can do this.”
After a lovely introduction Mrs. Karcher started to take role call. I knew I couldn’t mess this up, my name was the easiest thing to remember! I preferred the name Eddie, but my Mom told me the school uses full names on their official roster, so I knew when she called Edward Leavy, I could just tell her I preferred the nickname Eddie. “Just raise your hand at the right time,” I thought to myself.
But Edward Leavy was never called.
There were two problems at the end of Mrs. Karcher’s role call. No one knew who I was, this scared African American boy with thick eyeglasses and a patch on his left eye. Secondly, the child Karl Gurrier was unaccounted for.
I had to go to the main office to sort this situation out. No one seemed to believe me. I was shy, but I knew one thing for certain: my name was Eddie Leavy. I had never been called anything else. I think at first Mrs. Karcher thought I had gone into the wrong class, and she wanted to find out which class Eddie Leavy belonged to. She was so kind and warm. She reminded me of my mom.
When the office looked up all the new Kindergarten students, Edward Leavy was still nowhere to be found. My confidence was shot. Did I do something wrong? How did I mess up my name? How did no one know who I was? Did I even know who I was?
Thankfully, when asked, I could burst into joyous song with my telephone number. I never faltered when it came to music, and this I was sure of! I sang the digits to the lady in the office, and she called my Mom, and explained the situation. They seemed to talk forever, but when the conversation ended the lady had a smile on her face and whispered something to Mrs. Karcher, who then smiled, took my hand, and led me out of the office. As we walked back to the classroom she explained to me that my legal birth name was Karl Eduard Gurrier, which is why she called that name in my class. However, because of my “situation,” she understood that I went by Eddie Leavy, and she would have the office change my name on the official roster as soon as possible.
So I was Karl Eduard Gurrier? Why did I have two names? Why did my Mom and Dad never tell me? Or did they tell me? I didn’t like the name Karl. It seemed so strange. I was just happy the situation was over, that the school knew who I was, and I didn’t have to deal with it anymore. I didn’t want to draw any more attention to myself.
My five-year-old self was filled with so many questions, and I wouldn’t fully understand the answers until I was much older. At this point in my life I wasn’t legally adopted, although I had been with Mary Jane and Edward Leavy since the day I left the hospital. They were technically my foster parents, but I didn’t know them as anything else but Mom and Dad. There was a lot of uncertainty in my childhood. Essentially my parents, birth mother, and the state of Connecticut were fighting over what was best for me. While my birth mother wanted to raise me, Mary Jane and Ed wanted to adopt me and raise me as their own. When I was two years old, I left foster care, I went back to live with my birth mother, and Mary Jane and Ed would babysit me on the weekends. However, after several unfortunate instances, it became clear that my birth mother was not suited to raise a child at that time in her life, and I went back to Mary Jane and Ed. Nonetheless, there was another issue: my parents were significantly older than most parents of children my age. This concerned the state as well. But my parents were fighters – they didn’t give up on me.
Back in Kindergarten the news of my preferred name traveled slowly. In gym class later that day, Karl was called again. The same thing in art class the next day. On Friday, when we had music class, I heard Karl called out again. At this point, I almost expected it. If anything, having to explain my name taught me how to speak up for myself at an early age. By the end of the week, I was able to explain to my new teachers who I really was. They smiled, marked it down on the roster, and never called me Karl again.
Looking back, despite all the confusion and uncertainty, I was incredibly lucky. In my mind, I only had one name and one set of parents, whether that was the legal case or not. Although my foster parents didn’t become my legal parents until I was seven, I never knew them as anything else. They were the ones who read to me at night and gave me my first cassette player. They gave me more love than I could ever have imagined. They were always my Mom and my Dad. I was their 34th foster child (they would go on to have nearly 80), and for some blessed reason, out of all the beautiful children that came in and out of their house, they wanted me to be their son. Their love is what mattered, not some teacher having the “right” name on a sheet of paper.
Flash forward two full years later to my first day of second grade. Mrs. Cummings, my favorite teacher to this day, called Edward Leavy on her roll call. It was the first time the name I always identified with was called correctly on the first day of school. I smiled and proudly raised my hand, and yelled out, “HERE.” I was here, name and all. And I was here to stay.
- written by Eddie Leavy. Follow Eddie on Twitter @EddieLeavy