As parents, we do many things unintentionally, accidentally, without thinking. Naming our children, however, is not one of these mindless acts. Names come from a deep place of hope and love.
Jaime and I came up with names for our children long before they were born. In the times when we were underemployed and without Internet, the names surfaced as we talked about what might be. And the names sustained us. There were cloudy days and weeks when the idea of these children helped keep me engaged, for better of for worse, holding onto the dream of these people that I had imagined but not yet met.
The girl's name was a topic of some debate, but Javier was always the boy's name. The name came from many different places. The sound was soft and elegant, similar to the father, but different. There were grown Javiers who we loved and admired. The movie star who appeared on a small screen in the basement of Casa Hispanica and lured me to Spain with wild stories about the streets of Madrid. The childhood friend from the beach, eternally optimistic, warm, and smart. The best friend, loyal and brave. Javier was a Saint born in Spain's Basque country who moved to Paris, had a spiritual awakening in an attic, and then set out on adventure, dying young in the Brazilian Amazon. Javier means house, or, as I prefer to think of it, home. Javier was always the name.
On December 28, 2013, shortly before 1:00 am, an 18 year old boy named Javier was found lying dead in the street, shot dead, four blocks from our home. The date and time of his death came exactly 12 years after the birth of my boy, Javier, who pressed out into the world shortly before 1:00 am on December 28, 2001. So there's that. And the shared names. And the site where he lay, so close to where I lay on that cold winter night. His death made me very sad. I wonder how his parents chose this name, what it meant for them, what they had hoped for.
Last night at 1:00 am, another 20 year old boy was shot in the head in New Haven. This time, across town, in the parking lot behind the hotel next to Ikea where the highway separates the city from the Long Island Sound. When that shot rang out, I was lying on my couch reading Jesmyn Ward's award-winning memoir, The Men We Reaped.. In this book, she describes her life growing up in small-town Mississippi and the lives of five young men - her brother, a cousin, and three friends - who each died in separate acts of violence over the course of four years. Through her writing, we are allowed to meet these men - not only who they were at the time of their death, but as teens, as boys, as members of a community. Her stories are so powerful and authentic that even though none are named Javier and they live thousands of miles away in a world that I have never visited and could never know, I can see my boy and my nephews and myself in them.
Novelist Chimamanda Adichie talks about the danger of the single story. Is it the single story that allows us to be apathetic and inert about the the violent deaths of so many young men? Indeed we are inundated with the story about young, brown, men, dealing and using drugs, carrying guns, partying late night at the club. A story that suggests these men invited death, maybe even deserved it, so that when they fall hard against the pavement, the sound is barely heard. Ward's writing refutes the single story, demands that we hear, see, care, and respond. I have no idea how to make it end. But perhaps a beginning is to hear these stories and allow their terrifying familiarity to surface. That boy lying in the street with his cheek against the pavement is Javier.