Names Are Always Changed to Protect the Innocent

Nonfiction / Chanel Earl

:: Names Are Always Changed to Protect the Innocent ::

So when I say that tomor­row my nephews, Peter, James, and John, will be inter­viewed by the police, and that after­ward it will be decid­ed if they will live with one or the oth­er of their par­ents, you know their names have been changed. 

And when I write that my friend Lazarus—who is sev­en years old and spent the last twelve months receiv­ing reg­u­lar injec­tions of chem­i­cal poi­son through a port in his chest—just returned from a trip to Dis­ney World, and decided—after los­ing his leg, his hair, and most of his body weight—to stop chemo, that his name has been changed too. 

So have the names of his par­ents, Phillip and Mary, who have four healthy chil­dren, and will soon have four in the ground. I’ll call the oth­er three—who nev­er took in their first breaths—Bartholomew, Tabitha, and Matthew, and—for my sake, not theirs—imagine a moun­tain of flow­ers on their graves. 

I sit and write in silence, and I know that Anna, Eliz­a­beth, and Thomas are asleep in the next room. Eliz­a­beth has strep throat, which has pro­gressed into scar­let fever. Just a hun­dred years ago I would have been up all night won­der­ing if this was our last, but I have been instruct­ed to relax because she took antibi­otics, and the doc­tor insists she can go to school tomorrow. 

I go to her when she cries. Her fore­head is still cov­ered with bright pink spots, and I place my hands on her face and whis­per, Every­thing will be okay. Our breath­ing aligns. Thomas rolls over. He is hav­ing a dream. And I know we are all going to lose each oth­er some­day, but I can’t believe that mat­ters right now because my name is Martha, and I am going to feel this moment, and the next, and always the next. 



From the writer

:: Account ::

Every­thing in this piece is true. One evening while pro­cess­ing the pain of my sis­ter as she went through a divorce, the pain of my friend whose son was dying of can­cer, and my own wor­ry about my four-year-old daughter’s scar­let fever diag­no­sis, I got real­ly worked up about the inno­cence of the chil­dren and par­ents involved in every one of these sit­u­a­tions. I ate ice cream, and cried, and made lists about what I could do to help. Then this came out. I have tried many times to turn this piece into a poem, adding line breaks and play­ing with the rhythm. Ulti­mate­ly, it is and remains a micro-essay about a moment in my life. A moment of grief, con­fu­sion, and the real­iza­tion of mortality. 


Chanel Earl is a recent MFA grad­u­ate, a moth­er of four, and an aspir­ing gar­den­er. Her work has appeared in print and online. For more infor­ma­tion about her and her writ­ing, vis­it