It all started with a game of true or false.
At the dinner table, intent on driving the conversation away from pee and poop jokes, Kevin proposed a game. With two kids in the house, ages 7 and 4, pee and poop jokes are like knocks at your door to sell cookies or magazine subscriptions. Both are constant and both can’t read the “No soliciting” sign.
“Tell me If this is true or false: when mommy was a little kid, she did not have a middle name.”
The kids excitedly discussed the possibilities amongst themselves: How could a kid not have a middle name? What happens if a kid doesn’t have a middle name?
I sat quietly because I knew the answer was both true and false.
True, at one time I did not have a middle name, but false, this was not who I was all the time. My identity is both trisected and overlapped, because my married name could not have existed without my birth name.
The name I was born with, chosen by my immigrant parents, was officially replaced when I became a U.S. citizen in college. For many years after, my parents still called me by my birth name, usually when they were about to shift from Western civility back into Eastern rage. But over time, they both started calling me by my naturalized name and opting to emphasize different syllables to convey mood.
Lyn-daah was a tone of affection, whereas curt vowels were like sharp jabs, not meant to hurt per se, yet.
My chosen naturalized name did not have a middle name. Although for a brief moment when filling out my citizenship paperwork, drunk with power, I wrote down and crossed out “X” as a middle name.
This was the name I carried with me most of adulthood: a first and last, but no middle. It stood boldly in my bylines as a young journalist and on my marriage license, because Kevin and I both thought that our union shouldn’t change our identities.
But somewhere in my eighth month of pregnancy with our son, likely influenced by a wall of hormones, I started crying about how I didn’t want our son to have my experience as a child of immigrant parents with two very different names. My classmates’ school paperwork looked so clean — one uniform family name — when mine looked like a jumble of names and identities that looked haphazardly thrown together on a page.
So a month before I gave birth, I became a married name. Today, we are a family with one clean, uniform name.
But motherhood is an all-consuming namesake. You become it and it becomes you, sometimes at the risk of forgetting who you were before your beautiful children. After our son was born, we decided it was best to put my career on hold to soak in every baby moment.
Recently, I found my old article in the graveyard of the internet. The words seemed familiar, but foreign at the same time. Did I write that? Surely that wasn’t me. Can I do that again? And then I started to feel the tingle again — the feeling of inspiration that comes with telling stories about people, because I believe in humanity, and the feeling of my fingers tapping on a keyboard to tell those stories.
I miss her. I miss the storyteller with no middle name.
To this, I remember meeting a person named “Bacon” who told me he got the nickname as an infantryman in World War II. He carried the nickname after the end of the war, throughout his life, and onto the floor of a WWII veteran reunion where I was interviewing him.
“Sometimes I don’t remember what my real name is,” he joked.
This is the very real peril of segmented identities — sometimes you forget who you are. How did Bacon become his civilian self again? Simple: he carried over a part of himself from one part of his life into another. He honored his past in his present through fellowship with other veterans, his wartime nickname. He never let one identity replace the other.
I can see myself on both sides of Bacon. At the time, I thought he was stuck in WWII. Now I see him as a whole person, in a way that I have to find crossovers between all my identities.
All these years, I should have known Bacon had It right.
But I wonder if Bacon ever woke up in a cold sweat wondering if he remembered the gluten-free snack option for the mommy and me group? The horror. The horror.