My mother was young. I tell myself that. She was far from her family. She had no mother around. The only real adults were men. They could not understand all the things a woman goes through during those time. She had no-one to explain to her about how babies form and how many things could go wrong.
I don't really blame her.
I wish I could truly believe that. But those are the first words I heard.
I know people don't believe you can remember that far back. But I do. And my first feeling was rejection. The first name I was called was Ugly. It was not the last time. It was used so much I thought it was my real name or at least one of my names until I was seven.
The father who gave me to my mother took me away quickly.
The women gathered around me.
"It doesn't look like any of the men or even the mother."
"We should bring it to a doctor. Get it checked out."
One woman took me. "SHE, she is not an it! She is a baby. I will take her."
One of my fathers drove us to the hospital. We waited in the ER for a long time. A very long time. I started crying. I couldn't stop. My crying for hours is what finally got me looked at.
Bright, bright white light. Each face less loving than the last.
"Someone give this child something to eat!" A man in a white coat ordered.
They fixed me a bottle and feed me. The substance they feed me would come out of my face.
" We can fix this cleft lip and pallet opening with surgery. The birthmark will have to stay. Other then that she looks like a very healthy baby. Why didn't the doctor who deliver the baby explain this to you? " He looked at the woman who brought me in suspiciously.
"This is not your baby? You don't look like you just gave birth."
"No, sir. It was a home birth and the mother freaked out."
"Is the mother alright? Does the father have insurance? Are you the father?" He looked at the father who brought me in.
"I think she is. No insurance and there is no father. I mean..."
"You kids. Creating babies. Having them at home with who knows what around. Not knowing which one is the father. This is not the first child I have meet from your communes. A little girl needs a Daddy.
This is going to cost money. Can your commune come up with the money for her surgery? The longer you wait for it the harder it will be on her. "
My father and the woman looked at each other. They didn't have any real money. Not the kind the doctor wanted.
"When you have the money give this person a call. " He handed them a card with the name of a doctor and an amount written on the back.
"Nurse, get them some formula and some bottles to take with them. "
The nurse left quickly.
"I strongly encourage you to try to get the mother to breastfeed. It is the cheapest way to keep the baby healthy."
The nurse returned with a weeks worth of formula, 4 bottles a package of diapers and pins.
"Take these and here is some pamphlets on how to take care of a baby. The mother might be 'emotional' or depressed. Watch her around the baby."
The nurse washed me off, diapered me and swaddled me in a blanket. Showing the woman how to did it every step of the way. She handed me back to the woman.
When I was brought home everyone gathered around. It was explained about my medical condition and what was needed to fix it.
Each father emptied their pockets. Each mother did as well. For the women, who later saw themselves as mothers to me as they would play with me, smile at me and give me the love my own mother did not have to give.
The months passed. My mother finally did take me to her breasts. She was never alone with me. One of my fathers would be there or one the other women. She didn't do much more than feed me ending each feeding with "Get that Ugly thing away from me!" She was sure I was her curse, her scarlet letter to wear for sinning against God. I know because she would wake up and say it every morning she saw my face.
They would find little jobs here and there. They would bring me to the street with them and out right beg for money. Other communes heard of what had happened. How a baby with many mothers and many fathers needed money for an operation. They would come by and give us what they had. My mothers and fathers sold pot for the 'fix my face fund', my mothers sometimes had sex with older men for profit, sometimes they sold flowers they picked.
It was my first birthday when they finally called the doctor to set up the appointment. At least that is what they told me. May 24th,1967.
My mother called me Ugly.
Each father and mother had different names for me. I responded to almost anything by the time I was a year old. Some named me after their mothers or grandmothers. Some after flowers or other things. Some changed their name for me as I grew. One mother said I reminded her of a cat when I was born. So she called me Kitty. That was until she saw me play with a sunbeam when I was 2 months old. Then she called me Sunbeam. Later as I made a mess while eating sweet potatoes I was Pie Face. When I was crawling I reminded her of a turtle. So I became White Turtle. When I got closer to a year old I was picking the heads of dandelions. So then she called me Dandelion. Another called me Papillon after the birthmark on my face.
When I was brought to the doctors office they asked for a birth certificate. There was not one.
My mothers and fathers brought me to city hall to get one.
"Roberta Susan Miller."
They looked around.
"The Universal God of Love and Understanding."
"So that would be none."
My father's were not amused. They really did want The Universal God Of Love And Understanding on the birth certificate.
"Ha, like I haven't heard that before from you hippies? BOY or GIRL?!"
"Place of birth"
"The Planet Earth"
"San Francisco, it is than. You wouldn't have a date and a time would you."
"Damn, did anyone look at the clock that day? " the mummers among themselves.
"May 24th. Sorry no time other than it was dark out. " My birth mother talked for the first time in all of this. No one was sure what day it was either. It was May. She decided to choose Bob Dylan's birthday. It did make it seem like she was paying attention to something that day.
"The child's name?"
"Ugly." My mother responded.
"No! Don't write that!" the others said quickly.
"Good I was hoping you were not serious. So what is her name?"
"Dandelion, Papillon, Rose, Moonbeam, Alice, Rainbow Walker, Emma, Peace Frog, Matilda" They all said their name for me in turn then my birth mother said "Miller"
"You have got to be kidding?"
"No!" They said together.
"Just write it down." my oldest father said to the women behind the counter.
They waited the appropriate time and got my official piece of paper saying I existed and my name was NOT Ugly. Officially. Not Ugly. Though my mother still called me it from time to time. But mostly she started calling me Dani. Everyone else still called me their name for me.
As I grew older other people thought Dani was short for Danella. They never believed that me that it was short for Dandelion.