Nebraska Center for Writers

from A WONDERFUL LIFE
by Aaron Raz Link

A RIDDLE:

Something belongs to you alone
that you give away when you meet someone,
over and over and over again.
I didn't change my name until I was almost thirty. Like sex, like your face, like the small patch of skin at the base of the neck where people like to be tattooed, a name marks the space where private meets public. Your most personal possessions are the ones you only see in mirrors — "Hi, I'm Aaron, who are you?" That’s why I didn't like the idea of changing my name; I clung to the fantasy that I could see myself just fine without a mirror, thank you.
For instance: there isn't any reason why the combination of sounds making up the name "Sarah" should mean woman, rather than man, or human being. The sounds could mean rock in Icelandic, for all I knew. So, was I a rock? Symbols (names, faces, sex, diagrams in books of organs — womb, vas deferens, triple burner — you've never seen) aren’t real. My name didn't mean woman, because I'm not a woman; if other people thought it did, well, other people thought I was a woman, for God's sake. People were idiots. They watched Gillette ads and were deeply moved by the major emotional value of shaving. Their systems of classification included Jimmy Stewart movies, Norman Rockwell paintings, and Precious Moments figurines.
When I changed my name, the first person I told was my cousin, the clown. The second person I told was my barber.
“What happened to Sarah?” my barber said.
My barber's name was Jim. He was an old queer out of San Diego. I didn't know what to tell him. All my plans had involved never telling anything important to anyone.
"Sarah's gone," I said after a while.
"Gone? Gone where?"
What I always want to say is "She was never here at all."
I said to Jim, "I don't know. 'Sarah' is just gone."

Reprinted with permission
from What Becomes You
Copyright © 2006
by Aaron Raz Link and Hilda Raz
U of Nebraska P


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