The Naming

Marriage Mirror

Looking down in my hand, there on the paper in bold capital black ink, those four letters.

They are not love.
They are not hate.

Something far more complex, and though I spent months and hours trying to erase these four letters from my sight and world, here they arise again.

I faxed documents, I made phone calls, I wrote emails and formal letters, stood in official lines to do one thing:

Change my name.

And somehow the mail still appears, as a ghost of my former self, saying hello, before I chuck it amongst the plastic bottles in the recycling bin under my kitchen sink.

 

I remember getting married. It was one of the most joyous days of my life, a hot summer day in the Pennsylvania May sunshine. I laughed, I cried tears of joy, and I danced into the dark hours with my friends and family, embracing the moon above, and grabbing my ivory tulle with gusto and glee.

I couldn’t wait to take his last name, as it rolled off my tongue in one sexy single syllable, and caused me to throw my head back with abandon and howl to the stars above.

My maiden name was flung to the depths with absolute intention to never surface again. That name was my childhood, and didn’t have the ring of “cool” my new name did. This name would bring me happiness, fame, fortune, success, all I desired.

I don’t have memories of resistance or difficulty with the legal process of changing to my married name. Whatever occurred, the feeling remains of ease and quickness.

I was ready.

 

Years later, I looked at the moon through bloodshot eyes, my head throwing back in pain and anguish. There was no celebration now, just deep seated anger and betrayal. The howl came as I clutched my side with one hand and the golden frame of our first dance on our wedding day in the other.

I wanted to get rid of the name with my whole being. I even adopted my middle name for a while as I waited for the divorce to be legal.

Once the decree was in my hand, I started the whole process of returning to my maiden name. I pulled it out of the depths and placed it back where it had lived, a long time ago.

The absence was 15 years, and it was dusty.

Moreover, it was unfamiliar. I knew this name as a teenager, a young 20 something skipping down the aisle, not a mature woman embracing solitude and silence.

It wasn’t easy, and it was drawn out. I started carrying my divorce decree around in my bag because I never knew when someone needed the proof.

Unlike before, I wasn’t ready.

As time passed, I breathed great sighs of relief to see my magazines reflect the change, and new membership cards arriving in the mail with my maiden name.  I got a new passport and drivers license, and the woman looking out at me was clear and smiling.  The fog was lifting from my eyes and my right hand drew in arcing lines my name across checks and documents. As I created new profiles and accounts, I felt the energy shifting.

 

Recently I was out for brunch with a teacher who is very close to me, and she introduced me to her colleagues by my old married name.  It threw me for a loop as she had never done that before, but my reaction was quick, anger flashing across my face, staring at her in disbelief.  She apologized and the anger passed, both of us making a joke about the mishap.

After leaving the restaurant, my teacher turned to me, saying,
“You got really angry in there.  I think you should look at that.”

My first retort was,
“I’m not angry now.”

But she was right.  It had been a long time since someone had attached that name to me, and my reaction was honest.  Where was the anger coming from?

What was I protecting?

After we said our goodbyes, I checked in, and found myself holding that piece of mail again, those four letters staring at me.  How I wanted so desperately to fully disown them, but what exactly was I disowning in the process?

Those 15 years with my married name brought me to where I am standing today.  There are parts that I want to forget forever from pain and shame, but they did exist, and actually brought me my largest lessons.

That married woman had glorious moments alongside her darkened lows. She loved deeply, fiercely, and fully. She was a lioness, who roared in defiance, and purred softly in the walls of her lair. Her teeth were sharp, her fur textured and thick, and her paws were solid and strong.  But a cage appeared in her mind, and she wore a path between the bars, walking back and forth, over and over, unable to see past the metal poles.  She grew exhausted and her fur matted around her sides and belly, losing its luster.  She paced until she could pace no more and when she was forced outside the gates, she could barely stand to walk in the open wild.

In leaving the wife behind, I was shedding layers of control, blindness, the sharp teeth and deafening roar, and coming back to the name I was born with as a complete beginner.  This was the time to love it all, releasing anger into gratitude for the journey.  The cage may have been self inflicted, but I was no longer pacing that path.

 

Two days later I found myself reaching for paper to write two letters.  Each would be written in 10 minutes, my timer counting down beside me as my pen scrawled across the white.

The first would be a letter of Hate.
The second would be a letter of Love.

Hate began with a vengeance, pouring out of me in capital letters and repeated curses as the wound re-opened, and my chest tightened.  When I flipped the paper to write on the back, my pen began to slow and I found the steam emptying from my ink.  I didn’t want to do this anymore.

Ten minutes up, and I reached for the second paper.  Now my writing eased into rounded shapes and letters.  There was space now, and something else, a genuine wish of goodbye.

I took both papers outside in the snow and placed them in a deep soup pot, setting them on fire as I stood above.  The flames danced along the silver edges of the pot, and soon all that remained was grey ash in a soft pile.  I went to go throw them out in the garbage can by my house, but as I climbed the steps to the street, the wind took the contents and scattered them, swirling towards me, and then away.  I tried to dump what was left into the trash, but the ash rose up, not a single piece falling down into the plastic black bag.

Now my old name appeared in reverse, the four letters forming a new word, one more in line with the fiery wings sprouting from my shoulders, where once thickened fur grew.

Flow

Phoenix Red

The Phoenix Flame

IMG_4536

I’m staring at a wall of wings, black and white, different sizes. I reach for a white pair in the mid range, and take the package off the hook. All sales are final, and I smile at the youth costumes as I make my way back upstairs to the register where I pick out a long flowing red wig. I throw in some feathered lashes and face paint, and walk out into the crisp October air on Third Avenue.

Behind me the storefront is filled with ghouls and skeletons, and soon the streets will be filled with kids carrying pumpkin shaped buckets, holding their parent’s hand in between handfuls of popcorn and tootsie rolls.

I loved Halloween growing up. I was a sugar consumer to the highest degree, usually spending my weekly allowance to fill a white paper bag with Nerds, gummy peaches, and sour balls. There wasn’t a Willy Wonka treat I hadn’t consumed or a Bubble Yum flavor I hadn’t blown wide into expanding colorful circles.

My costumes varied as a child, but were most elaborate the year I dressed as Martha Washington, complete with period appropriate dress, white wig, and my personal glasses. The bifocals aided the First Lady look, and grazed my cheeks in true 80’s style.

I had an academic theme going around that time, including dressing up as a Lady from the Middle Ages.  My entire fourth grade class was knighted following our individual historical presentations on cathedrals, fiefdoms, and European society. My mother had crafted an impressive gown for the knighting ceremony, with bright gold and vibrant indigo, complete with a tall cone shaped hat and nude chin strap. I was happy to wear it a second time, and receive candy to boot.

As an adult, I got stuck on being a vampire. I bought this pair of really cool canine teeth I could insert with a moldable putty and wear all night with a bright blue bob. Adding fake blood dripping from my lips, and dramatic eye makeup, I had an instant costume topped off with tight black clothing. I repeated this for most of my married years, keeping the teeth in a little black felt bag and the wig in my closet, only seeing the light of my room come late October. I was consistent, repeating my habit. I didn’t wonder what I would be come Halloween, because it was waiting there for me from the year before.

Then, two years ago a Halloween came where I didn’t put on the wig or the teeth. Hurricane Sandy had ravaged the city, and I was just returning home from performing in a show. Trees were down on our block, subway service was minimal, many were without power, and a dark cloud was forming over my home. It wasn’t fully realized, but the energy had shifted, and an unnamed panic had settled into my heart and skin.

Seven months later, on an early June day last year, the contents of my closet and the jewelry box that held the teeth were all emptied into cardboard boxes, taped up with thick packing tape, and labeled with black Sharpie pen through shaking hands. Tears fell into the boxes before they were folded shut, all four corners closing in the darkness, holding my life within square and rectangular shapes to be placed into storage until they could be opened. They were moved by my family, and closest friends, who provided a community around me as the U-Haul was filled, and I lost my home.

A fire had begun, a raging furnace that burned ceaselessly, feeding on my identity, my ego, my marriage, my relationships, my belongings, and my job. I would burn with each loss, and from ashes lift my head to begin again, but as the fire continued, I despaired. I felt I was receiving the same message over and over. How much could I lose?

While licking my scorched wounds, I expressed my fears to a close friend. Her answer was simple:
“You’re a Phoenix.”

From her words, there appeared a door. Though the door was charred, I was still able to grasp the handle, twist, and pull towards me, seeing what lay through the blackened frame. My hands still worked, my feet could step forward, and my eyes could take in the present moment, as I exhaled the black smoke of my past.

And where those pieces, definitions, and material objects lay before, I felt something new.

Space.

I had convinced myself I needed all these things in my life to survive, that I WAS these things, and yet, here I stood breathing in the doorway, alive, without them.

Maybe now I was ready to truly learn who I was, now that I had the space, now that I had made friends with my fire. Maybe the only way I could rebuild, was to lose everything that had supported my previous state.

The holiday season came around last year, and I watched the pumpkins and scarecrows emerge in my new neighborhood. I tentatively opened my jewelry drawer to look at the small felt bag with the vampire teeth, and loosened the string. The teeth fell into my palm, yellowed from the years, the putty hardened and brittle, aged from the storage. I had remembered them as a much different color, more ivory or white. They appeared shriveled and small, transformed into something I no longer recognized.  I couldn’t imagine placing these in my mouth now.

I put them back in the felt bag, pulled the string, and then turned my palm upside down over my kitchen trash can. The swinging lid took them in with the momentum of the fall, and then closed back up, it’s red curved plastic edges aligning to a position of stillness.

In place of the vampire, I decided to be an Auror, inspired by the courageous character Tonks from J.K. Rowling’s glorious imagination.  I only went to work, not feeling any desire to go to a party, but tucked the wand into my belt and wore the blue wig, giving it a new association.

For this year, I considered repeating being an Auror, as it was a lot of fun, but a new image popped into my head, and I remembered that conversation with my friend. Plus, I didn’t need to rely on Tonks, and I was done with the vampire.

First one leg,
then the other,
into red fabric.
My hands reach through the elastic straps
to place so gently my feathered form
rising from my shoulders.
These wings,
tinged red,
honor the fire from which I came,
and from which I will return.

wings and wand