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‘Mell’-lennial in the Night

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Photo by Karen La

by Mellisa Mulia

Living as a Muslim with an uncommonly spelled name can be complicated and impractical to say the least.

As I was growing up, nobody ever seemed to know my name, that I could not eat pork, and must fast during one month of the year. Even the people who know often forgot.

“Congratulations to Mellisa!” as the announcer handed me my certificate I would look at the paper and feel all of the elation fade into a sigh.

“They spelled my name wrong again, of course.” I would force a smile but still celebrate.

“Mell, M&M the rapper, Melissa, Mellissa, Melisa”— all of these were used to address me but rarely the right one, “Mellisa.” Throughout my mere 16 years of life (I always considered myself the youngest of my class, since I was born in 2001), I was plagued with misnomers and an identity crisis. I got so used to seeing my name spelled wrong that now I am not affected by it, and sometimes even spell it wrong myself. 

It was not until seventh grade when I found out what my name means: “Millennial in the night.” My dad thought of it on a whim by putting the year I was born (a millennial year) and the time I was born, Isha (the Islamic night-time prayer) together. In Indonesian, “Mill” is pronounced “Mell,” hence the creation of my name from “Mel-Isha” to “Mellisa.” To add to the often misspellings of my name, rarely did someone pronounce my name correctly either. I now identify myself with the pronunciation “Mel-li-sa” but my parents and other Indonesian family members pronounce it “Mell-ee-sa.”

While struggling to identify myself as “Mellisa,” it was just as hard to remind people that I could not eat pork and that during one month of the year, I could not eat or drink anything at all, including water.

It was hard at first, to watch my friends eat fries, all of the cakes I craved and drinks I wished to take just one sip from. 

I would stare longingly at the clock and will myself to stay strong; I had only four hours until 8 p.m. when I could eat.

Throughout the day I would resist the hunger and curl up into a ball whenever the hunger pains struck. Every time my throat felt dry, I would swallow my saliva in hopes of quelling the pangs. They became less bad as the month of Ramadan went on.

However, my body was never used to waking up at 4 in the morning to eat and go back to sleep before waking up, and not being able to eat anything until the sun set. I had to eat one meal before the sun rises and another after the sun sets.

All of the cravings I had throughout the day would finally be satisfied at the end of the fasting period, except that when I finally got to eat, I could not eat that much. The food tasted bland and my appetite was gone after five bites. It was a real struggle, wanting something but when finally having it, not wanting it anymore.

If I was ever to eat pork, it would probably taste like sin. Other pork products, such as fried pig skin, Spam, pork-filled egg rolls and the things other people could eat without a care, I was not able to taste. 

When my teachers called my name to get food (they always pronounced my name the non-Indonesian way of course), I would glare at the round pieces of meat that adorned the pizza, wishing that they were never there so I could perhaps eat something besides the usual chips and deserts. All of those pizza parties that were supposed to be celebrations became a pity party, as I would line up for food and end up not getting the pizza I craved at that moment.

Aside from religion, nobody ever seemed to get over the first impression that I was quiet and “smart.”

Although I do work hard for my grades and study to the point where I do not have a social life outside of the books, all the new friends I had always saw the superficial surface.

The ones close to me, however, know that I am anything but quiet.

My sister often tells me “nicely” to be quiet when I start ranting about the most random topics, such as the new BTS (Beyond the Scene) music video, if 52-hertz whales feel lonely or if I grew an inch since the night before.

My friends often say I am everything but quiet, except when I focus on a task. They say I am very spontaneous, creative and use bad puns, although in my opinion they are the greatest jokes. Nevertheless, the ones who got to know me managed to see that I was more than what I seemed, which was strikingly different from the quiet Mellisa.

In the midst of my misnomer-filled, pork-less, BTS-fangirling life, I somehow manage to get over such dilemmas. I would change the spelling of my name on a certificate with my own pens, take the pizza with the least amount of pepperoni and try my best to get more comfortable with other people. 

As a result, I am lucky enough now to know some people who spell other Melissa’s names wrong and always consider me when ordering food.

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