Of all the fictional characters I’ve created, the one who haunts me most is Zinnia Koss. She crops up when I least expect her. It happened just the other day, when an application for a Discover Card came in the mail, addressed to her.
She came into being more than 20 years ago when I was newly pregnant with my first child. I filled out a coupon in a store to win a free playpen or stroller that asked for the baby’s name. Not yet knowing if my fetus was a boy, girl or sea creature, I wrote Zinnia Koss — a cute name, and one we were actually considering. I picked a random date of birth for her and turned in the form. In so doing, a Zinnia was born.
Who knew procreation could be so literal?
Soon thereafter, Zinnia, (or Zinny as I think of her) began receiving mail. She did not win the free baby gear from the contest that led to her existence, but she did receive an invitation to have her portrait shot by a baby photographer. Toy catalogs were soon coming addressed to her, along with ads for baby clothes and a discount diaper service.
During the time she would have been a toddler, Zinnia was pelted with preschool invitations and fliers touting mommy-and-me swim classes and Gymboree.
Meanwhile, I’d given birth to an actual blood and bones baby with a different name who, except for a few Enfamil baby formula coupons, was noticeably less popular, commercially speaking, than her imaginary sibling.
This distance between the two increased as time passed. Zinnia was invited to enter a beauty pageant because they’d heard she was “adorable” and “a real charmer!” She was offered ballet, gymnastics and horseback riding and summer camp experiences. It all made me wonder what would have happened if I had written Zack instead of Zinnia on the entry form.
During elementary school, Zinnia received perplexing news of an achievement and citizenship award for which she had been mysteriously nominated. For just a small fee, we could have purchased a handsome keepsake certificate commemorating her accomplishment.
Years later the insults began. Zinny was invited to lose weight with various weight-loss programs at helpful local gyms. She was urged to seek math tutoring. And she was offered braces and skin care for troubling acne. Some great unseeing eye assumed that my non-daughter sucked at math, and that she had zits, weight issues and crooked teeth simply because she was a female of a certain age. But they didn’t know my Zinny. She needed none of it.
I realized Zinny was growing up when she began receiving offers of help in preparing for her SATs as well as scads of hair-removal and beauty products. Restaurants sent her birthday greetings and florists sent messages of love.
By the time she would have been nearing 18, the military got interested. Glossy color brochures arrived weekly touting all the fun she’d have if she enlisted in the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard.
Some colleges wrote too, and there were offers of financial guidance for how to get student loans and grants from industry professionals interested in helping “you, ZINNIA KOSS, find the plan that’s right for you!”
Some sweepstakes claimed she might “already have won!”
These days, banks want her to open accounts with them, and she’s being offered credit cards. I guess it’s time for Zinny to start “living” beyond her means.
Will it be a bridal registry next? Then working-mom stuff, tummy-slimming underpants, anti-aging wrinkle treatments, medical and life insurance, cable TV, early-bird dinner and discount cruise offers? One day, I’m sure, her AARP card will appear in the mail, followed by offers for senior residences, medical call bracelets and burial plots.
The thought brings a tear to my eye as I imagine Zinnia Koss’ funeral, a celebration of her math-challenged, overweight non-personhood. Ah Zinny, what a gal. She never gave this mother a moment’s worry.
• Goldman Koss has created enough fictional characters to fill 14 novels for children and young adults.