Caro Nome

Melissa Crowe

PMS 15 | 2016

1.

I am an intellectual. I take words and the truth to be of value.

—Simone de Beauvior

I fantasize renaming myself, and this isn’t because I don’t like Melissa. Melissa is a fine, sensible name with decent music, not villainous or silly. If you open the picnic basket to a surprise sandwich, when you unfold the waxed-paper, Melissa isn’t liverwurst, but neither is it artichoke hearts and sun dried tomato on a crusty baguette. Melissa is a cheese sandwich, with yellow mustard, on white. I’m not delighted to have been named thusly, but I am relieved not to have been named Mildred or Star. I would rename myself, though, with the same joy, the same sense of power with which I might change the word for sofa or slotted spoon or meringue. For a moment, these things might be transformed by sound, their old skin of sense peeled away to reveal their elemental nature before I slid the new name on like a slipcover. And who knows, who knows, maybe they’d be changed forever—if feather became rock, might it seem more solid somehow? Might it fall faster? I want to know—who might have loved me with another name? To my husband, would I smell as sweet? And this—not just what’s in a name, but what’s in a head of brown curls, a dog tooth that slightly overlaps its neighbor, a pale pink nipple, upturned? What about me—if not my name—is essential? If some great shock, some cataclysm, some shrewd spell separates me from myself, how am I to find my way back? By what gesture, what fingerprint will I remember which of these bodies is mine?

2.

The body does not have a ‘truth’ or a ‘true nature’ since it is a process and its meaning and capacities will vary according to its context.

—Moira Gatens

I saw a couple from my car—still yards away from where they walked on the side of the road, shaded by massive oaks—who looked like two old ladies, sisters maybe, dear friends or lovers, but as I neared I could see that the smaller hunched one was much older than the one whose arm she held, and the one who held her aloft not elderly, though much older than me. Clearly they were mother and daughter, the difference between them grown slighter, both women with white hair, elastic-waist pants, good brown shoes. Once that little old lady pushed that other old lady in a pram, held the back of her daughter’s bicycle, both their black ponytails streaming. Once that old lady contained that other lady, held her hammocked below her heart like a secret wish. Now they inched along in the leafy gutter, clutching one another, balance one more thing they stood to lose. And I wondered, when they reach home, when one stands at the bathroom sink staring into the mirror at the bags under her eyes and the dark patches on her cheeks and one sits in the tub staring at her saggy knees, will she think Whose are these? When the names they’ve called each other slip their minds and when even their bodies fail to signify, who might they be?

3.

The attempt to fix meaning is always in part doomed to failure, for it is the nature of meaning to be always already somewhere else... This is not to say that we could or should avoid meaning—simply that it is a more slippery business than it seems...

—Toril Moi

At night, I lie in bed with my husband and our Annabelle—the girl we named and who insists every day on a new name, that we call her Mrs. Banks, Rapunzel, Cynthia. She doesn’t know herself, and like me, she hopes the words will help her get it right, that some alchemy of sound and thing will make her a real girl. Perhaps she thinks the word will bring the thing, the self she will recognize as her own—abracadabra—the way she says milk, then tastes it. I’ve read Lacan, de Saussure—I know language is a system of deferral, that we may speak and speak and never conjure, only elegize the thing we want. But I’m not telling Annabelle—or Cynthia. Let her believe the word might slide down the chimney in its heavy boots, leave a shiny package she will wake at dawn to open, and in it the skin she wishes to wear. Let her believe, for now at least, that no matter how threadbare, how ragged it may become, she will know it is her own, it is her. Let her call herself Clever, or Wendy, or Jane, whatever name, till she gets it right, and let her tell it to me. I see her—a three-year-old girl—asleep in the place where I once nursed the baby, and the ghost of another mouth withdraws. Hair covers the bulb of her skull. The dark darkens. As even this girl slips, ghostly, from the bed, I can do nothing to halt her. I know not what to call her, and she’s gone for good.