A meeting held to discuss the scholastic performance of Reservoir Avenue Elementary first-grader Kim White was derailed last night, when it became clear that neither teacher Eleanor Borninski nor parents Howard and Tessa Sullivan had any idea of the child’s name.
For Borninski, trouble began only seconds into the meeting. “As soon as Kim’s parents sat down, it struck me that I had completely blanked on her name,” she said. “Then Mr. Sullivan started speaking about her with such confidence and bravado that I was sure he knew it. That made me feel even worse.”
Howard Sullivan’s apparent calm was just an act: he and his wife were just as clueless about their daughter’s name as Borninski was. “At the door to the classroom, I had asked Tess [Sullivan] to remind me of the name,” he explained. “She’s the one who keeps track of things like this. When she couldn’t remember, we both started to panic.”
“I am usually so good with names too,” said Tessa Sullivan. “Especially Kim’s. I have this technique to keep it on the tip of my tongue: I think ‘Kim like Tim’, ‘Kim like Tim.’ Tim is my other child. But this time I forgot both names and was totally lost.”
For fifteen minutes, as each party waited for the other to mention the name, discourse was stilted, and filled with references to “our daughter”, “your lovely girl”, and “that sweet little girl who we all love so much.” Borninski began to suspect that she was not alone in knowing only that Kim’s name was monosyllabic and not foreign-sounding.
“Every time I looked down to scour my attendance sheet, I would look up and Kim’s parents searching through their wallets and on their cell phones,” Borninski said. “Mrs. Sullivan left the classroom several times to take calls, and each time she returned Mr. Sullivan greeted her with the same hopeful look, and she just shook her head.”
Eventually, Borninski attempted to end the uncertainty by asking a question she believed no one at the meeting could answer. “I said, ‘Oh, by the way: how do you pronounce your daughter’s name?’” she recalled. “That led to a show of awkward posturing which would have went on for hours if Mrs. Sullivan hadn’t pulled the fire alarm.”
“Sounding the alarm was a desperate move,” admitted Tessa Sullivan. “But sometimes, a mother must act desperately for the sake of her daughter. Or her son. Frankly, I can’t recall what Kim’s sex is at the moment.”
As the three adults drove to their respective homes, all were reminded of Kim’s name when they passed the cemetery where she was buried weeks earlier.