I named my flute Lucius. I had my reasons, none of them having to do with Harry Potter. But, like that kid in the habanero pepper video, I immediately regretted my situation.
It was the summer of two-housand-and-god-knows-when, my first season of band camp. I was one of a few new recruits, all of whom I hated in a political quietness and none of whom liked me very much though their personalities kept them from saying anything outright. The age gap between us newbies and our mentors was broad. Very broad. So very broad that the next year we would be the eldest members of the flute section and would be left all alone to look into the shining faces of newbies who were only a year younger than ourselves. For the moment, however, we had our senior mentors.
Our mentors taught us everything. They taught us which songs to memorize and keep memorized, which places around the school were the best to practice when we broke up into sections (and to get there quickly before the saxophones did), how best to navigate the closed school to get to the lunchroom…Everything. All of those important, secret things you’re supposed to pass on to newbies. And there were a few things they passed on that weren’t so general, weren’t so impersonal. When our group time was nearly up and we had practiced all we could, that was when we got to hear anecdotes about the band leader or long-graduated flute players. One day, we got to learn our mentors’ flutes’ names.
“Mine is Olivia,” said the girl with the short hair. She had a name I never could remember and sat there smiling, holding up her flute like a football trophy.
“And mine is Claire,” said the girl I’ll call “S“.
I smiled at the names, neither of which I really liked. Olivia sounded like a woodwind to me, but an honest to goodness, round-sounding woodwind like a clarinet. Olivia…it wasn’t a name for a flute. And S‘s Claire…it made sense for S to name hers Claire. Claire was a light name, a sweet name, an airy name. It was the type of name a girl would choose to name her doll. The type of name you never actually heard attached to real person. Whoever a Claire was, she breezed in and out unaffectedly and smiled all the time.
Then I looked down at my flute and rubbed an oily patch where my thumb had rested for too long. My flute was besmirched and smeared with fingerprints and sunblock. It was dented from where I had dropped it down the school stairs two years ago. It was missing its silver in patches from where it had been used years before I owned it and the poor thing probably could have done with fresh key pads.
All the oil and grime I had lent my imperfect flute was helping the flute to tell me something. But I wouldn’t understand it until I made the mistake of naming it.
For a few moments I felt around in my brain for something I liked. I had never considered naming it, but if I was going to, I needed something I felt fit my flute.
“Mine is Lucius,” I said, throwing out the name of a hero from a movie I had recently watched.
Lucius. It was good, it was dignified. But then…Lucius. The name echoed through my head and I suddenly felt abandoned.
Both the girls looked at me with a sort of blank surprise and confusion after I made my announcement. It was the look a mother gives her paint-covered child just before she says “Well, good for you, honey. You’re painting is beautiful. Hey, why don’t we go clean you up?” Then they smiled, said ok, and we started packing our things to leave our practice spot.
Oh, how terrible I felt. How strangely, mysteriously terrible I felt. Their approval would have been welcome at that moment. In fact, I almost needed it like a hug. Something odd had happened the moment I dared to name my flute and I felt adrift.
“Studpid thing,” I thought. “You named your flute after a boy. Is it a boy flute? They’re both playing girl instruments, but you’re playing a boy flute. How sick.”
But that wasn’t it. That wasn’t all of it, anyway. Now I looked at the grease on my flute and had to call it Lucius. I was touching Lucius. When it sat by itself in the case looking at me dubiously and with contempt, it was because I had named it Lucius. Until that very moment, my flute had been an extension of ME. It had been MINE. It was a greasy, grimy mess like I was, like my skin was. It was my arm, my torso, my heart. But not anymore. Now it was Lucius.
I immediately tried to take it back. I tried to wipe off the name like I wiped off my fingerprints, but it didn’t work. I had stained it. To this day, when I think of my flute, I have to respect the ghost that drifts through my head whose name is Lucius. I have to listen to the mistake I made that also calls itself Lucius. And I have to close my eyes and cry a little for the little machine I had a chance at knowing better, but like Catherine did to Heathcliff, I put a wedge between us when no one else could. And now I can only intrude on the thing I want desperately to call “flute” but will always have to be called Lucius.