His first nickname was Dr. J. Then the kids heard about Julius Erving. Their parents were old enough to remember. So there was already a Dr. J and everyone knows the coolest nicknames can only belong to one. This one needed the coolest nickname ever and I happened to agree.
They considered the other options. For the kids of The Center, nicknaming their new hope became a creative workshop. Except every suggestion was valid and nobody felt left out. Just figuring out what to call him became a community effort to bring them together. For me, it felt just like a block party without the kegs of beer and inner-suburban current of materialism. For the kids, it was a shared excitement that help was on the way. Their excitement turned help into hope.
But before hope could arrive, it needed a nickname. All the goofiest nicknames that you'd expect from a group of kids coping with physical agony and the onset of anguish taking an immense toll both psychologically and emotionally. The kids needed a hero. The best way to grant hero status is to assign a cool name. An alter ego.
They tossed suggestions around like the actual kids they were. Before they had been plucked from life and their bodies betrayed them from the inside out. After the betrayal had hit them so hard, seeing them rally was a remarkable sight. Knowing that they had been specifically chosen over money and prestige spoke to them in ways every age level understood. Their expiration dates didn't loom so large anymore. The childhood equivalent of a death row exoneration had been presented with new ideas which included them as opposed to merely utilizing them.
Being included in the future introduced a sense of metabolism; a welcome change from the constant and precocious familiarity they had developed with the oily yin and yang of metastisization and remission. The metabolic currents ran wild and brought their parents to tears to see so much electricity return to circuits long thought to be burnt out. Some of the tears seemed to be of shame; almost as if the funerals had been planned and their children were already lost. This was the first of many pithy and amateur social psychiatric observations I kept to myself.
While their parents watched, they continued their search for a worthy nickname.
“J-Mac” was proposed but quickly decided to be too easy. It made him sound like a teacher trying too hard to be cool. This made me smile because I'd done the exact same thing when I'd started as a teacher. Trying too hard to be cool was not how you gave hope the power it needed.
After “J-Mac” came “J-Mickey D”.
“Mickey” came into play because they'd stalked his social media and found pictures from our honeymoon at Disney World. They enjoyed most an image from the day he'd sported a Mickey Mouse Club cap. That cap stayed on his head all day long just because I'd wondered how something so dumb could still exist. By the time the kids found that photo, I'd long since learned to treasure the spirit that took my cynicism at the time and turned it into a dare. It was that spirit that made him the perfect candidate to be their hope but to me, it was what I loved most about him. That picture had become the picture for me. I could have told them about how important the picture was in the grand scheme of my life but certain luxuries are best kept in perspective.
Soon enough, however, J-Mickey D was discarded and the photo was forgotten. It hurt my feelings a bit but my feelings could take it. I knew they needed something cooler and their feelings were rallying in response. The nickname couldn't come from his dorky, extroverted willingness to force my borders to expand. The nickname needed to be forged from iron in the fire via blood from the demon Tumorus Malignus. A nickname more streamlined and bad-ass.
Not a nickname. A moniker. An alter-ego.
If hope were going to walk in the door, it needed to be identified via the shortest and sweetest means possible. The kids shared a burden with a name weighed heavily by vowels and rooted in Latin standards. To fight this burden, their hope had to stand at odds.
Hope needed swagger and sweetness existing in a tender balance. Consonants and alliteration that grew larger than life but remained humble at heart. Towering monoliths of cast iron that inspired attitude and bad-itude but left room for tenderness and empathy. Hope had to hug with one arm and throw a mighty punch with the other. A nickname to end all nicknames. A moniker that dropped the microphone and walked away. An alter-ego for a superhero.
They called him JMZ.
What made the alter ego funny is that I already used it during a road trip a few years prior. We'd agreed if I drove the first hundred miles, he would switch the music at my immediate command. So he was my discman and I jokingly told him his initials would make a “cool” DJ name. Now it was Superman to his Clark Kent. No pressure or anything.
JMZ vs. Cancer and I got to be Lois Lane.