Ivan was not in attendance at Dalia’s christening, because nobody knew who Ivan was or whether he had been, or if he could be.
The beautiful christening dress was too small for Dalia, and that’s just the sort of thing her parents would have blamed on Ivan had Ivan been someone they were familiar with on the day their child was introduced to the Lord.
Dalia’s mother, Reina, remembered a disturbance when she was just two months pregnant with what would one day be her golden child. She was fast asleep next to her husband, Vincent, when she heard singing outside her bedroom window. Their neighborhood was a quiet one save for the occasional homicide that happened whenever a man wanted to leave his family for a mistress or due to financial woes, but those were few and far between. That was why Dalia’s first inclination was that someone must have driven to her house from a bad part of town simply to terrorize all the expectant mothers and potential family-slaughterers that were trying to get some rest.
When she looked past her grey and gold bedroom curtains, she saw a man standing brazenly in her front yard while singing a song about summer and lost time. As his caterwauling grew louder, Dalia felt the baby inside her panic. She had no idea what panic felt like when one was only two months into gestation, but she knew that’s what it was. While her inner voice begged her to move away from the sickening sight of this audacious display, the part of herself that was all lust and longing planted itself there until the a capella serenade got to be so loud it roused Vincent.
“Dalia,” he spoke through a yawn, “Is someone...singing?”
That was the night Ivan became whatever Ivan would have been had Ivan never been.
Nearly a year later at the christening, Dalia was proving to be a nearly-constant panic-prone child with or without someone trying to remember the words to “Come Fly with Me” in close proximity to her. She was what her grandmother would call “fussy” and what her Aunt Asha would call “kind of a pest.” The pest comment was the reason Reina and her sister weren’t speaking. Asha also loved Ivan, but didn’t know how much she loved him, because she’d never met him.
In a corner of the function room at the Ellison Club where the post-baptism bash was being held, Asha made good use of the open bar, and bad use of the karaoke machine her brother-in-law thought would be fun to set up. She begged her mother to tell her what song it was that Reina never wanted to hear again. Something by Frank Sinatra. “My Way?” Was it My Way?” Wrenching the microphone from her hands, her mother told Asha that if she didn’t stop attempting to make a scene, she’d throw her in the nearest broom closet and leave her there until Dalia’s confirmation.
Throughout the party, there seemed to be cold air wherever Ivan would be standing. In a space where a story about a yacht stranded in the Pacific would be regaled, there was nothing but a chill. Next to the refreshments--piles of toothpick-speared cheddar cubes and ham slices--there was what felt like a breeze instead of Ivan flirting with Reina’s elderly neighbor, Maribeth. Where there should have been laughter, there was stodgy conversation about the politics of the day. Not enough to inspire passion or volume, just a comment on the new mayor and how he seemed to be doing a good job, despite the fire that had already eaten up the shopping mall, the supermarket, and two of the three shoe depots in town.
Ivan went without mention, because nobody could remember him and if they did, they didn’t evoke the memory. Reina and Vincent had been very clear about what there was to talk about, and Ivan was the singular item on the No-No list. They were very sad about his disappearance. He had made some bad choices, but they wished him well, wherever he was, even if he even was, because who was he? They didn’t know. Their therapist had taught them this new technique for not only forgetting people, but for helping others forget as well. You simply failed to acknowledge them or anything they’d touched--spiritually or otherwise. Years later, their therapist would be indicted for posing as a therapist when he was really just a set of chihuahuas and a tape recorder, but at the christening, the strategy seemed to work. One by one, people lost Ivan just as Ivan himself was lost.
The new rules of order seemed to move through the christening like an uninvited guest--reminding everyone what could and couldn’t be said only to circle back and change the parameters a few more times. At first Ivan had been but now wasn’t, then could have been but without certainty, then never was and who could say otherwise? It was as though Maleficent had showed up at Sleeping Beauty’s baptism, but rather than cast a spell on the child, she simply convinced the entire kingdom that there was no such thing as a monarchy. It was a communal gas lighting. An agreed-upon changing of the narrative guard. If everyone decided that Ivan wasn’t Ivan and never was Ivan then even the name Ivan became something different. A Russian word for ‘muskrat’ maybe, or ‘Saturday.’ No man had ever been an Ivan. Even the sounds rang false on wine-stained tongues.
“Eyyyyyye-vannn,” Reina’s cousin Brian repeated to no end in the parking lot before puking up the hash he’d had for breakfast behind Reina’s Honda Civic.
It became a tic that moved through the party. The forgetting that didn’t want to be forgotten. The memory could lapse, but the act of disposing of the memory kept growing larger, like an ignored cancer refusing to be diagnosed.
All around Reina were people trying to remember. Trying to piece something together. Her mother ended up going into that broom closet she had threatened Asha with earlier, murmuring to herself “What am I not supposed to say? What am I not supposed to say?” She was so stricken by the threat of saying the wrong thing that she felt she must know what that thing is so as to avoid it.
Reina grabbed her baby and made her way out of the function as quickly as she could. The nearest exit opened up into a contained courtyard with nowhere to hide except for the back of a trellis that looked like it had been discarded after a wedding in the late 80’s. Reina sat down on the ground in her newly purchased Richemont red jumpsuit and looked down at little Dalia.
There was no denying her ears. Her eyes, sure. Those could be anybody’s. Same with her nose and smile. It was the ears that gave it away. Neither Reina nor Vincent could lay claim to those ears. They belonged to somebody else. Perhaps a distant ancestor many times removed, but that was only an explanation because the real one had been relegated to a word on the tip of the tongue that wouldn’t hop off and be spoken.
Asha found her sister in the courtyard a few minutes later. When she came upon her, Reina was standing underneath the trellis cradling her newly baptized baby as though she was making a commitment to the child the way a couple commits to each other during a wedding. Asha wondered what sort of vow you could make to a child that wouldn’t eventually be broken as they grew up and asked questions and demanded answers and poked and prodded and picked apart the past and and and and and and and--
Reina looked up and caught Asha’s eye. It appeared as though she had something to say, but just then, the baby began to cry. Anything that would have been said in that moment was gone. The cry filled up the courtyard, and there was no room for anything else.