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What Happens to a Grave?

The Identity Wars - Part One



This is the beginning of a long and highly personal story that will take some time and many installments to tell. It will also take my having a bit more courage about discussing the personal in this blog and a bit more control, as relates to this story, of my krakatoan rage.

It is my story and I take it very seriously, though almost every person who knows it scoffs at it and at my intensity about it. I choose to tell it here because it has to do with identity and so, with genealogical research, for it touches on changed identity, altered documents, new documents, legal action about documentation and identity, immigration, emigration, and the ways at least five countries (and counting) prefer to document and strive to control an individual's identity. It began over thirty years ago and it is not over yet.

It began on my twenty-third birthday, when I was taking a candle-lit bath alone in the empty house of a heroin addict as a blizzard roared and howled outside. The storm was a big one and filled the Tahoe basin, the winds reeling and slamming against the granite mountains like a great lion that had only ever known freedom  suddenly trapped in a cage. The house was just pine and shook with each wind blast and creaked at its joints. The power was out. The heroin addict, his stunning, ex-model wife and beautiful boy whose nanny I was were at their friend's house, trapped until the storm might let up. I lay in the bath exulting in nature's force and waited for the house to cave in on me. 

While I waited, I thought that, in case I survived, I should like to change my name. It would be a sort of birthday present to myself: a new name. I thought I'd like to have a surname all my own, something no one else on the planet would have. I considered changing my first name, but it was too much a part of me, even if Anne is one of the most common women's names in the west, and that irritates me still. I briefly considered giving myself a middle name and correcting one of my parents' many negligences, but decided it would be a waste of effort unless I were going to insist that people use it. No, I wanted to change my last name only, but to what? Not to the name of my mother's father or to the name of a poet or author. I was a bit of a feminist and rejected all of those on the grounds that they were all men's names and indicated descent from and membership in a certain tribe, like the name I all ready had. No, I wanted something all my own.

What did I choose? Well, it was not as wacky as that of an acquaintance who changed her name to "Eternal Love-and-Unity". I grew up in the mountains and I loved the mountains, but "Anne Mountain" did not please me at all. It was not euphonious. Nor did I like the sound of the Chinese word from the author of the Cold Mountain Poems, Han Shan, for that would have made me "Anne Shan", which would just lead people to think me Chinese and then be disappointed to find me not so. I kept thinking about it as the wind carried on ranting and the candles burned lower. 

When I was sixteen, I had fallen in love with grammar. Just grammar. Spanish grammar, French grammar, English grammar, Latin grammar, each seemed to me like a very cool set of rules to a game better than chess or mah jong. I loved grammar so much that I had made up my own language, which had a tiny dictionary and a huge and complex grammatical structure. I used the language, which I shared with no one, for my adolescent efforts at poetry, most of which I have forgotten , except for this bit:


Se gleserlum lor crilsa

Nin ueraklum weli alush

Erish dateum mir

Pareli esan oth bro, nin...


Leinat corusa tove crilsa

Morddel aisu jan frinoan


The word in my language for mountains was "morddel", and that was the name I chose. The bath grew cold. I got out and dried in a desperate, frozen rush and huddled in bed until the blizzard wore itself out and the junkies came home. My duties caring for their sweet, doomed son resumed. Nothing changed outwardly, but all had changed within.

It was a little, tiny, simple, private decision -- to change my name -- but the moment I made it, it changed me. I was a young person who had plenty of extravagant schemes that I could talk up stubbornly, but in truth, I was nothing but self-doubt, timidity, shame, with the confidence of a squashed bug. Yet now I felt confident and never for a moment doubted that I would carry out my plan to change my name, or that I had the right to do so. Oh ho, what a little fool I was.

©2009 Anne Morddel