Not at ALL What You Thought

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Terms of Endearment (an old essay!!!)

As I left forty to arrive at forty-one, I reached a few startling revelations. I found myself surrounded by men who slather me with endearments. This I found “startling” in view of another disquieting revelation: the man to whom I was once married for nearly eleven years never called me by an endearment (but, for a while, I was so in love, just the sound of his voice using my name was endearment enough). Later, in yet another revelation, I remembered that even before I was married, I lived in a more or less No-Endearment Zone, along with most of my family members. These revelations have had an extraordinary effect upon me.

Because I’ve been a Christ and Bible devotee for nearly thirty years, I believe in the authority of the word. According to Genesis, God the Father spoke everything into existence. The writer of Proverbs has said that the power of life and death is in the tongue. One St. James said that the tongue is a fire (kindled probably in Hell). St. Paul, arguing that Christians should be just like God (something apostles are always saying), pointed out that we have the power to speak things –good and bad-- into existence, too.

In my then-twisted mind, this meant that, maybe, my former husband never called me “honey,” “sweetheart,” or “dear” --simply because he did not find me endearing. So was it really his fault? The man seldom called me anything except “Regina” (the name by which my family members and many close friends have called me all my life). When the man who used to be my husband was feeling particularly passionate and feisty, he might playfully call me by my first, professional name, but no endearments. He was rarely inclined to compliment my cooking, the way I took care of our children, the way I made love, or my looks (these last of which, admittedly, were rapidly deteriorating at the time), regardless what other people thought or said about me. But, to tell the truth, unless we were in the bedroom, I never endeared him, either.

Except for one horrific drive home during which I realized –because he showed me deliberately—that, far from recognizing my need for validation, he was beginning to take great delight in wounding me, insulting me, and otherwise offending me. In response, during that drive, I remember, I called him “dear,” “honey,” and “darling”—albeit through my teeth. Maybe, on some level, I thought I could speak his dearness into existence. My belief in the power of the word, in turn, also made me think, way down the road, particularly after our
marriage disintegrated, that I had no endearing charms –that, for example, my hair, my singing, my degree, my clothing, my values, even, had little or no worth, simply because the man who used to be my husband had never behaved as though they were.

Further down the road, years after our marriage had disintegrated, when I was condemning the man for his dearth of endearment-use, I realized that my family had never used them, either. My parents called each other (at least, in my hearing) only by their names, “Agnes” and “Lassie.” (Daddy used to call my little sister “daddy’s baby,” and after we grew up, he’d call me “daddy’s big baby,” and he often called his second wife, while employing an ironic tone, “sweetheart,” but that was about it.) Don’t get me wrong, though: the absence of endearments did not, therefore, mean the absence of love (in the very least manifested, I always think, by the prodigious struggles Agnes and Lassie made to shelter, feed and clothe us).

Today’s preachers make a big deal about God’s naming habits. I especially like the story of Abram and Sarai. These people were a century old, apiece, when God started talking about them making a son together. But how, after all the lies (“Naw, man, she’s not my wife. She’s my sister. Take her”) and betrayal (“Yes, Abram, I know I told you to take Hagar, but I blame you for her new stank attitude, you dirty old coot”), would God get this couple back in bed together? He changed their names. And every time he called her “princess” --Sarah-- and she called him “father of many” --Abraham-- the ancient juices started flowing. Before they knew it, they had made laughter –Isaac-- together.

But times change. Feminism seems to frown on sexual interdependence. Women are not supposed to need men any more. Even among us Fundies, it’s all right to want, desire and get one, but women are told never to say, “I need a man.” But a startling thing happened to me on the way to forty-one: men started finding me dear. I think it was my pastor (the man I call my father in Christ, though he’s a couple of years younger than I) who called me “my dear” first. And although he complains loudly that ours is a church full of “dysfunctional” people, when total strangers embrace him at the prayer altar, he embraces them right back: for some reason, he finds everyone dear. (I think he’s trying to be like God.) And the endearment
continued: the older men asked me, “How you doin’, baby?” and complimented my clothes. The younger men, the men my age, called me “boo” and “diva” and complimented my singing. A colleague called me “angel.” A cyber-bud called me “darlin’.”

And then some sisters started calling me “shoog” and “dollbaby,” and “Aunt Regina.” They complimented my hair.

So what I found out about my brothers’ endearments is probably politically incorrect. But it’s true. While those endearments have turned my mind inside out, they have also opened my heart. Some men, for some reason, found me dear. I started to feel dear. And then I saw the cherishable all around me.

I started endearing people myself. Beginning with my cyber friends, who first became honeys, darlin’s, and sweeties, I then showered my daughters, first with nicknames (maybe the first in my family since my little sister started calling me “Gine”) Loolie and Boolie, and finally with “darlin’s” and “sweeties”. My pastor’s oldest son, who sings next me in the choir, who “babied” everybody (because he’s an old soul, like his daddy before him), I now “baby.” The landscaper, with whom I used to correspond and talk, I “sweetied,” as I do my girlfriends now. A man who was once becoming very special to me I found the courage to “honey.” My students are all “dear,” “beloved,” and, in mass e-mails, “my heroes.” (A chosen few are “dollbabies.”) My nephews are “pookies”. My brothers, especially when they get on my last nerve, are “sweetie-pies.” One of my best girlfriends is “bubbala.”

When I began speaking these endearments into existence, I had no idea of “paying it forward.” But I know what Jesus says: give to those who have nothing with which to repay you. Somebody, somewhere, found my brothers dear, and they gave the dearness away to me. And the more I give it away, the more I find preciousness all around me –and within me. So I thank you, Felton, Fletcher, Kevin, and Ron. I’m grateful to you, Raphael, Hollis, and Sam. God bless you, Arlee, Ernesto, Hector, and Leoghann. You did me a world of good.

c.2004 Gine

Brother Jesus, bless those who openly cherish those You have sent to surround them.


  • At 10:43 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    You knew I wouldn't agree with this, right? That I think it's up to us to endear ourselves and not receive our worth/esteem from outside ourselves even though it's easy to let that happen? And that Mr.Ex-Gine is a complete idiot who still needs his kneecaps broken for not paying you? I'm not denegrating your experience by any means, if that is what it took for you to begin to believe you needed to endear yourself, then that's what it took. But I absolutely, unequivocally deny that a woman needs a man.
    AAMOF, I was just thinking this morning how screwed I'd have been any number of times if I were not as independent as I am.


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