I was named for a friend of the family, a woman who my parents couldn’t define. Pam was her name and then mine. When I heard of this mystery woman, I asked again and again who she was and every time Mom or Dad would say she’d been a good friend. Where is she now? I’d ask. They didn’t know. How did they meet her? They couldn’t remember. My namesake was a nobody, a lost memory to those who had honored her with their own firstborn.
I made Mom wait a couple of weeks past the chilly summer due date before I arrived in that far-off military hospital. She was 19; Dad was 20. My grandparents were all down in Seattle. In that room up in Alaska it was just me, Mom, and the doctors, who were urging Mom to push. I made her wait but she still had to work for it. From before midnight to two and then three in the morning she grunted, sucking in the cool air that seeped in under the doors. She pushed at me while Dad paced in the waiting area, now half past three, just minutes away from an Alaskan sunrise but thousands of miles from the other soldiers fighting in Vietnam. DESIRED DESTINATIONS, I imagine the army intake form asking. Dad wrote in just one word—“Alaska”—and his ploy worked. He’d avoided the war on the other side of the world.
It was half past three when I finally emerged into that brightening Alaskan summer, received my inaugural spanking and bath, got wrapped and placed near my mother’s heart. Dad stared at me through the glass, unbelieving in the light of day, shrouded in incredulity that this scrunched up old-man face was his daughter’s. The sun rose as I cried, now sharing the seeping-in cool air that Mom had inhaled alone before, in that upside-down state where we had no family and the night never came. Alaska. It was a state I’d leave as a two-week-old, never to return. But the cold seemed to stay with our family, move with us wherever we went. Even as we traveled back to Seattle where my middle sister was born, to Germany where my littlest sister was born, and even down south to Savannah, that sucked-in freezing feeling intertwined with our family fiber, forever seeking open spaces in which to spread.