What’s in a Name?

by Robert Patrick Botchy

microscopePeople always ask me about my name. I’m gonna change it. When I was a kid, I loved it. Danny Duzzlemans. I sounded like I’d be anchoring the news. But now everybody says, “Duzzlemans? Like the cancer?” I’m not ashamed of my name per se, but I get mad when I see t-shirts from 5ks that say “End Duzzlemans,” or “Duzzlemans Sucks,” or “Duck Fuzzlemans.” I’ll always be associated with the cancer.

My dad didn’t have a problem with that. He was a big deal in the pathology world when he made the discovery. I remember his office in our house. The white walls that used to only have pictures of our family and his framed college and med school diplomas suddenly had framed copies of American Journal of Pathology with his slides of Duzzlemans Ductal Adenocarcinoma on the cover. The pink dots in purple cells made a smiley-face in the center of the white cover. He hung that on the wall behind his wooden desk so people would see it when they sat on the cushioned chairs facing him.

The problem is that the cancer was terminal. Nobody’s celebrated terminal cancer more than my father. He’s given speeches to shorts-wearing, Tommy Bahama-clad pathologists at Harvard in the summer. His lecture recordings sell to medical schools looking for easy summer courses that they can charge tuition for providing. One doctor in Colorado Springs even wrote to my father to ask for his autograph.

I was 12 when he made the discovery. He didn’t come home from work at the usual time. My mother seemed distracted. I had major anxiety problems even back then, and I was certain something was wrong. I went to my room after nibbling some peas and steak for dinner, and I laid prone on my comforter, crying into my pillow. Something told me he’d been in a car wreck. Or kidnapped. Or ditched our family. I felt like I’d never see him again. When the top side of my pillow was dripping with tears, I heard the garage door rumble downstairs. My dad was home. I wiped my eyes and looked in the mirror to see if they were bloodshot. They were, but I didn’t care if he knew something was wrong with me, and I ran downstairs. His dress shoes squeaked as he walked across the tile floor of the foyer and into the kitchen.

“What’s wrong, Danny?” he asked.

I hugged Dad. He looked different than normal. Usually he seemed tired in the evening. We never played catch or did anything besides watch Jeopardy! together at night. He had this ineffable jadedness. There was no twinkle in his eye on normal nights is the best way I can put it. But this night was different.

“Did you diagnose it?” my mother asked. She wore a white robe over her red flannel pajamas. The tie of her robe dangled from her waist to her knees.

“I think it’s something new,” my dad said.

He grabbed a plate from the refrigerator and microwaved it. I sat at the wooden dinner table in the corner of the room.

“What do you mean, something new?”

“I’ve never seen this before. Nobody else at the lab has either. I’ve never seen any type of ductal adenocarcinoma metastasize this quickly. I’m going to head back to the office tonight and finish my report and do some more research.”

Dad walked to the table and started gobbling peas, rice, and steak. He wore a button-up shirt and slacks, though no tie because it would drop onto specimens and get in the way of his work. He didn’t take off his shoes that night.

“What does this mean if it’s new?” my mother asked.

“I’ll send a report out to some journals and hopefully get published. I don’t know beyond that. Maybe somebody else has already seen it. I hope not.”

He finished his dinner and left. I heard the garage door rumble again as it descended. From my bedroom, I watched the taillights of his car leave our driveway. I went to bed, flipping my pillow over to the dry side before I set my head down.

I think about that night still. Why couldn’t Dad have discovered a metric for happiness or something? My life would be so much better if people said things like, “I peaked at 200 Duzzlemans during my date last night,” or “I could use a few more Duzzlemans in my life.”

Dad and I have had arguments about this. It’s bizarre to get mad at your father for being successful. In my second year of college, my fraternity held a pie eating competition that cost $5 to enter. The proceeds went toward Duzzlemans Ductal Adenocarcinoma research. We sold t-shirts that said “Take A Bite Out Of Duzzlemans” with a picture of me, head tilted, smiling, giving a thumbs-up. Blueberry pies with checkerboard crusts laid on folding tables in the small field in front of our fraternity house. More than a hundred sorority and other fraternity members came and held their hands behind their backs while they sank their faces into the purple-blue filling that spread across their cheeks and dripped onto my face on their t-shirts. I wasn’t happy. The competition ended with drunken fraternity boys chanting “Duz-el-mans-sucks! Duz-el-mans-sucks!” This was the first time I’d been embarrassed by my name. I had pit stains in my gray competition t-shirt because I feared this was the manifestation of my fraternity brothers’ underlying dislike of me. In high school, nobody cared enough to mention the cancer. In college, I became conscious of the fact that I was associated with something people hated. I called my dad after that competition.

“Why did you have to get this named after you?”

“It’s an honor,” he said. “They usually wait until after the doctor dies to name his discovery after him, but they decided to speed it up in my case. I don’t know why. But it’s an honor.”

“It doesn’t seem honorable. People shorten the full name of the cancer to just ‘Duzzlemans.’ It’s not flattering.”

“That’s just how these things work. Someday, it’ll get cured and people will say that Duzzlemans is no big deal and it’s not that bad. At least it’s not associated with diarrhea or something.”

I wasn’t comforted. My dad has embraced it. His favorite shirt is a black polo with “Duck Fuzzlemans” stitched in white cursive letters over the left side of the chest that he wears to work every Friday. When people ask if his name is spelled like the cancer, he says, “Yes, you want to know why?” then explains how he found it. He works with the Cure Duzzlemans Foundation, giving lectures on the screening process and wagging his finger at people who aren’t in shape, telling them good exercise is the best bet to avoiding cancer. His license plate says “CURE DZLMNS.”

Meanwhile, my life now consists of weekly meetings with a psychiatrist who prescribes me mouthfuls of antidepressants to treat my anxiety since I’m convinced everybody subconsciously hates me. Like how good-looking people are more likely to get acquitted of crimes or elected to political office, being associated with terminal cancer has to make me more unlikeable on some level.

The only thing that calms me is riding my bike. I race around Central Park every Saturday and Sunday. As I weave through tourists holding camera bags, I pretend I’m winning the Tour de France. I mutter in a British accent, pretending to be a sportscaster as I stomp down on the pedals. I wear black lycra shorts and a skintight jersey with the world champion stripes across the middle. Sometimes people stare, probably because they hear me saying, “Duzzlemans has a minute on the pack. He’s flying past everybody. There’s no stopping him today!” In that world, nobody knows about the cancer. Nobody cares about my name. There’s only me, winning the race, dripping sweat onto the top tube, squirting water on my face, once again in a world where Danny Duzzlemans is a perfect name.


Category: Fiction, Short Story, SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU online creative writing