Chapter 1 Names “Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” — Kahlil Gibra Sitting in the back of my classroom, I can see over my 3rd grade classmates' heads. I sit in the back, not because I don’t want to be called on, which is true, but because I’m the tallest. I’m thankful they put me there. It’s easier to hide. Our desks are in perfect rows, like the edges of red, orange, and yellow construction paper lying on tops of green bookcases. On a back table Elmer’s glue bottles with labels facing forward stand in line resembling soldiers in uniform. Shiny scissors wait in their carry racks, including a rusted pair with green handles for lefties. Laminated alphabets line tops of chalkboards, running around the room like happy children. The floors sparkle and smell of what the custodians polished them with, mixed with my new teacher's pretty perfume. Mrs. Kettler, shrieks, “Welcome to the third grade boys and girls!” Our heads whip forward, the volume is unexpected- her hips barely meet her desk height as she stands on her toes, hands clasped in front of her pleated dress, black heels lifted off the ground. I sense something different about her than other teachers. My gut will be right- later in the year she’ll look at me like a mother looks at her hurt child. After calling me up with two other kids to get our green, free lunch tickets, wearing a pretty black skirt, shiny purple blouse, and small white pearls, as the class watches, she’ll kneel on the floor in front of me in her stockings, then use masking tape to bind my sneakers together after the soles fall off during gym. I hear snickering, but won’t look up. I’m used to the snickering walking up to get my green lunch ticket everyday. Today, it’s just a little louder. I hate this part. Mrs. Kettler is taking attendance. When she gets to the “E’s” I get that feeling again; like a large person is sitting on my chest in a warm room. My face is hot, I know it’s red. Breathing gets harder as she moves closer to the “K’s”. I don’t want to do it, but I have to. If I don’t do it on the first day my classmates will tease me for the rest of the year. I learned my lesson when I didn’t correct my teacher fast enough on the first day of 2nd grade. In the 1st grade I had no chance. I was too young. I scan the room. I’ll come after Mario Felini and before Jamie Recker, my best friends. Mrs. Kettler calls, “Mario.” “Here,” he giggles. He won’t make it past 10th grade. In a couple of years he’ll scratch the skin off my face when he teaches me how to shave because I won’t ask my father. Mrs. Kettler makes a check in her book, then moves on. Inevitably, she pauses. Staring at the paper, her lips move but nothing comes out. I know she’s trying to understand what she’s reading. My face gets hotter, redder. She tries again, out loud this time, “Paaaa….naaaa.” “Pete,” I cut her off, as gently as I can. “My name is Pete.” It isn’t. My names and nicknames are and have been; Panagiotis, Panautes, Pete, Peter, Theodoros, Tiodoros, Theodore, Theo, Teddy, Kofitsas, Kofetses, Kofitsa, Kofitsina. Mrs. Kettler is struggling to say the name my mother gave me, Panagiotis, (Pa-na-yo-tis) which is the masculine name for The Virgin Mary in Greek. Defiantly, my father names me Theodoros, after his father, which means gift from God. My mother’s family calls me Panagiotis. My father’s family calls me Theodoros. Everyone else calls me Pete. When someone asks, “What’s your name?” I pause.