My name – A secret shame

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September 11, 2019 by Zuri

This is a writing assignment I wrote for my Literature by Women of Color class. I scored top marks. I hope you enjoy.

In Hebrew, my name means “bitter”, as if four letters could predict the story of my existence from birth.  Bitter – a poison – it coats my tongue, my nose, my throat.  I can’t breathe.  The letters of my name won’t form, my mouth rebelling against shapes that create that wretched sound.  It is a secret name, even those closest to me don’t know the shame that those four letters bring, with its promise of purity, of innocence, of femininity.  It is a dead name, and it makes me ill just to think about it.

There comes a time of choice in every life. My choices brought me to this place, right here, right now.  It seems so long since I’ve abandoned that name to the icy deep recesses of my consciousness.  I chose to forge myself a new label.  A torch to light my way, gold and beautiful, a beacon of sunlight, in this melancholy void.  My choice. My name. My light. It means “beautiful” in Swahili. A far cry from a bitter homeland.

The old letters return to haunt me from time to time.  A document here, an email there, it brings back the four-letter-word that is that birth name.  Only so long can I hide behind the anonymity of the name I chose for myself. The name that brings me comfort, that links me to the people around me. Friends. Family.  To feel the greasy tentacles of the name I was given – the name that leaves me no choice – it is a sickly dampness that seeks to cling wrap me unforgiving until that secret chastity permeates me like a plague.

My real name is a choice and a solace.  Ambiguous – androgynous – and formless in its simplicity.  Plucked from a memory long past, of people who duck in an out of our lives like shadows, it is now my shield, my protector from the storms.  I have armored myself from the past with the letters of my present.  I will not be defined by the corpse that is my birth name.  My license, my birth certificate, my credit card – I will not let them chip away at the safety I have built for myself.  This is my life, and a path I will forge on my own terms.  My name will light the dawn, my name is Z.

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