Wednesday, April 3, 2013

any other name~

This may seem unbelievable, but my name has always bothered me. Here, on my profile, you see it as my birthname, Reem. But I'm talking about my adopted name, Emily. My "real" name. The name on my social security card, my license, my [new] birth certificate, and someday: my death certificate.
But it's more that my name never felt comfortable. On the outside, to be sure, it seems a trivial issue---one that many of us deal with, saying, Oh, ya. I don't like my name much either. But it's more than that because I never actually told anyone this fact.
I didn't hate it. I still don't. I actually find it quite lovely. I enjoyed often being one of only a handful of girls with my name. Nowadays, every other little girl I meet has my name.
But I used to lie about my name a lot. I would make new ones up. A story within the story:
I had a very distant cousin on my adoptive father's side I had just met and was playing with at a wedding once, when I was about ten years old. I told her my name was Keza (I have no idea where I came up with it) and she and I ran around and danced all night at that wedding in our excitingly frivolous dresses to things like Paula Abdul. She called me Keza the entire time, a bit confused by it. She would call my name from across the dance floor and run to grab my hand so we could shimmy across it, sharing more cake and those little balls of cantaloupe from the fancy fruit salad. I answered to this name every time. Was I lying to her? Or had I found a way to be more myself? Who are we when we're ten that we need to be more or less of?
The exact opposite of a xenophobe, I was obsessed with All The Other People In the World as a child. No one had yet told me I was half Saudi, though I knew I was adopted. Where did my obsession come from? Looking in the mirror, I knew I was darker than the other girls. But a lot of people just thought I was Italian. A catch:
The only boys who ever had crushes on me growing up were the sons of immigrants or black. An east-Indian I carpooled with from school, a gorgeous black kid named Allan, an Asian named JimLon. They saw something. When I became a teenager, it didn't matter as much, but when you're a little kid, as far as crushes go, I think most go with what they know, which is by default, similar to oneself.
When I couldn't give fake names anymore because I was getting older, I proposed using fake names with my penpals. One became my best friend, who, to this day, has all the dirt anyone will ever need on me. She understood how the game worked; the only person to ever one-up me in the Create the Most Ridiculously Intriguing Name You Can Think Of and then address each other this way on the envelopes moving swiftly between homes. We spent a lot on postage back then.

All those years, having only my non-identifiable information adoption papers, I thought my birthname was Marie. I addressed this in a previous blog post here. There was something simultaneously shocking and relieving in finding out that it wasn't. Marie seemed even more off. But I accepted it for the longest time. When I found my birthmom and she told me in a flatly shocked voice, "Marie's not the name I gave you"; the breath went out of me. Layer upon layer of surprise after surprise. I simultaneously felt like the world's oldest and youngest onion being peeled back, my skin crunching at every new pull; my skin softening, avoiding the resistance, lest I be torn unevenly, too deeply. Too late.
I think I'd already known, all those years, that my name was wrong. That as much as I felt different, looked different, acted different, my name was different, too.
At first it was just another name. But lately, as I come into contact with more and more of my birth family and their friends, people who so comfortably let Reem roll right off their tongues, it's hit me like a crushing wave that that is who I am to them. Just as I am Emily to so many others. It's not even something I can change, even if I wanted to. And what do I want? A new identity? A time in my life that I can't get back? No, I'm not so naive as that. That time is over. We can never have it back. But there's a vestige left, a screaming child inside me who is scraping the walls of my lungs to get out. And that person's name is Reem.


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