“I Don’t Know, Elias. I Don’t Know.”

Nope, I have no tattoos. I know! I’m surprised, too. There are a few ideas that I entertain from time to time, but I’ve just never, you know, done it. My sister and I talk about getting matching tattoos, something celebrating our family. She wants one that celebrates our dad—knowing all too well that our dad hates tattoos. Wonderful, I think. I want that too. So, naturally, I throw out some ideas:

“What about that sign at the Attica Rodeo? It say JR’s Quarter Horses. It’s perfect and tells about a side of dad that we rarely get to see.”

“Oh, hmm. What sign is that?”

“You never saw…ah, never mind. Or that idea we had of our last name in Arabic?”

“Yeah…I just kinda want something that’s just dad, you know?”

“Oh, okay. I guess a rosary bead would be way too generic.  Um. Why not a fridge full of vitamin water? Or the back of a big dually-pick up? That speaks about dad.”

“What? Yai, are you being serious?”

“No, of course not.”

“Because I was thinking of something with horses.”

“Hmm…horses. Maybe let’s just keep thinking on it.”

Go figure, the tattoo still hasn’t happened. And why should it? So soon, I mean. Or, even at all? Every tattoo is personal as is everyone’s relation to the word, family. Rose and I both value our dad and our family, but celebrate it differently. The fact of the matter is that my sister’s relation to family comes from a cherished place, like a nostalgia: a warm fuzzy memory. My relation to family isn’t as sweet. This is not to say it was bad, I don’t know exactly, but I’m figuring it out. My relation to family has been absent, thus confusing and full of questions.

Full of wonder, I moved back to Buffalo for a year in 2016. I didn’t want to go through life not knowing my family. In some ways it was too late.Sure, I met my family; I got to know a few of my many hundred relatives. In some ways it was like meeting them again, and in other ways it was like meeting them for the first time. After all, I am not the same person that I was when I was a child driving with my parents to meet my cousins and aunts. It’s as if can’t fully associate myself with a family because I never tethered myself to them emotionally. I do not have many of those warm, familiar memories that make me think fondly of family. Partly, that’s because I missed the opportunity. I was a kid then, and had my selective interests: I just was not present then. I cannot celebrate the old stories of people’s character now.

It’s nothing to get into right now. And please don’t read this as a depressing or bitter account. As I said before, I’m figuring it out.  Warm, fuzzy memories can still happen, although the reality is that I live 600 miles away from family and those opportunities to form those relationships are rare. In some ways, I’m okay with wondering.  I’m more attentive now to the stories and the presence of my family because of such. Plus, wondering lends me to encounter unexpected accounts like when I worked for a farm school in New Mexico. There, the director, Patricia, recognized my last name from her professor in high school.

I could say the interaction was serendipitous, but I already knew then the world was small. She was from the Dunkirk area, just south of Buffalo. And largely this, in addition to complaining–because Buffalonians love to blame something else– was how we bonded. On a good day when the complaining subsided, I asked Patricia what she knew of my family. She told me she knew my cousin, Father Antoine Attea, who has since passed, tragically, in a plane wreck.

According to Patricia, there’s a story that Father Antoine told her once about the origin of the name, Attea.  The story goes like this. Father Antoine’s parents arrived at Ellis Island. The scene is a near mess, with the lines noisy.  When the person at the counter asks for their names, the wife, (who I believe is named, Madeline) shouts in Arabic to her husband (George?), “What did he say?” “I don’t know!” George responds — and somehow I can see the two of them fussing over one another.  Thus, our last name became “Attea.” Now, I don’t actually know what Attea or Atteah translates too, exactly, but I don’t think it’s “I don’t know” (Actually, I thought it was “Gift from God.”). Still, if it was, how amazing that would be —

— Because that’s what my name means to me. Ahdya, my chosen name, has its own story, but it also emulates the pronunciation of Attea.  Thus my name reads, “I don’t know, Elias. I don’t Know.” Don’t take it so literal. Like that tattoo–whenever it may happen– every chosen thing has a separate meaning, identity, and story. Even if I’m still suspended in some wonder, I recognize that I can still I celebrate my family.  I recognize that I don’t know, but that I’m present now and committed. I’m figuring it out, too. Somehow, I suspect, I’ll find my place somewhere at home eventually.

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