on a name

I was supposed to be named Rochelle. “Little rock.” Instead, Shantai. The sounds don’t come out right for most people. I learned early on to answer to shh. I answer to accidents and false starts.

I got a name of indecision, one with two paths: Chanter and Shanti, to sing and peace,

to sing in peace

and it’s spelt wrong for both. Makes sense; it wasn’t planned. Shantai was a lyrical suggestion from the lips of a stranger on the day before the night I left the womb.


My name is lonely. No keychains or mugs or fake license plates at roadside gift shops. Nothing that smiles back and says, “You’re not the only one. There are others like you.” She’s not a Susan, or an Anthony, or even an Angela. She’s a, “I don’t know how to spell that.” Or a, “Enchantée Shantai, c’est rigolo!”


Once, I met my name’s homonym. It was on Halloween when everyone pretends to be what they aren’t or shows who they truly are. I was seven, maybe eight, and it was the early evening. The moon’s light and the gold of streetlamps must’ve made everything a blue green over grey because that’s the color of this memory.

I was drowning in my mother’s sky blue nursing scrubs with her stethoscope hooked around my neck, bandaged up in other people’s expectations and fallen ambitions.

At the trick-or-treating spot off White Plains Road, I opened the front passenger door of the minivan and watched my brothers tumble out onto the sidewalk, checkered smiles of growing teeth glowing in the night with high-pitched squeals escaping through the gaps. Somewhere during their loud tumble towards a night of sweets and future gum disease, I heard my name. The voice was new to me.

I turned and looked anyway because like any dog—I mean, child—I had been trained to look when spoken to, to answer when called. And for the first time, my name wasn’t mine. Shantai was another girl, with hair pressed and curled into a sea of Shirley Temples. She and her friends had no chaperone. She was too big for that. She was a blue princess.

ch. 1

I didn’t take his money. I’m still good. I wanted to, but I shook my head no when he asked. My eyes travelled along the rough terrain of his hairy knuckles and his burnt blini back of hand to his gold-plated cufflinks and dark blue sleeves. Sometimes, I ponder selling myself. It was so humid that night. Was he sweating? I can’t remember. His eyes were glutted with a lust that scared me and made me look down to his belly because my sight is controlled like that and I saw a fleshy graveyard haunted by ghosts of palinka and salted meats. The automaton was his wife, an aged piţipoanca: lumpy bleach blonde plastic bottle tan with nipples pointed south. Her blue eyes saw through me. It’s too hot for a sweater.