It came to me late at night. I was asleep, and then I wasn’t, and then it came out of my mouth and that was that. I didn’t notice because it was late and dark and I was, as I said, half asleep. But the next morning there was a strange taste in my mouth. Something earthy and foreign. There also was a change in the air. The apartment felt stuffed. Rarified. Do you know the feeling of being observed you get at airports, or malls, or the subway? It was like that, except that I couldn’t pinpoint why. In those places, airports and malls and the subway, you are actually being observed. I guess I was too but, at first – at least first thing in the morning – I couldn’t notice. There was no way for me to see it. It would take more space, it would become visible, just not then. Not at that exact moment.
I guess it is my fault. Not that I extended an invitation, but it was me who called for it. Calling something, naming it, is a sort of invocation. A name. A spell crafted for christening.
So yeah, guilty.
It’s hard to define what a name really is. Even now, I still don’t think I can. These are the facts I know: we all have one. We all use one. We fixate on the sounds and the shapes of the letters that compose it. But what is, actually, a name? Is it part of you? Do you receive it or gain it or grow into it? Don’t get me wrong. I don’t have answers. It was only that, up until the moment it started living with me, I had never before given it a thought.
What is your name, for example?
What if I mispronounce it?
Is it still your name?
I found it because I almost stepped on it. And after being found, it grew, kind of how a voice would. Wavy, if you know what I mean. It was tiny and soft at the beginning. It’s hard to define how it is that it had a texture or a color, but it did. Sticky and velvety and pastel are good adjectives. Or they used to be, when it was tiny. Squishy and shiny. One could even define it as childish. But then it started occupying more space. Growing angles in abrupt places, softness and roundness where one would expect edges. Sometimes, it would be at the table at the dining room and it would shift color. Sometimes it would happen at the tub while taking a bath: we would find a new finger or ear. Once it grew some hair while sleeping on my side of the bed. It was interesting and amusing. It was also unexpected. And, to be frank, it could be quite messy at times. But I was a gracious host because, you see, I named the name, so it was my issue to deal with.
I don’t know either what you love when you love. If you love a skirt, do you love the skirt as an object or do you love the way it looks on your body? In which case, do you love the skirt or do you really just love you? I think the same applies to any kind of love. Not that is good or bad, but how could we know what it is that we love when we claim we love someone? And, if we grow into our names, if we claim them as a part of us, a part of us someone can love when they love all of us, how could I not love it? It was mine after all. I had summoned it in my sleep. I had fed it, and nurtured it, and swept the hairs it shed, and clipped its nails, and gave it permission to use my computer and eat my apples when I wasn’t home so; if that is love –it has to be– how could I not love it?
It spoke slowly, softly, only ever learning to be self-referential. Just one set of sounds coming out of it. It had different tones though, so we could communicate. Or we imagined a way to do so. We created our own tonal language for our everyday routines. So I can say surely it not only existed, but it loved particular things: bad music from the 80’s, bananas, shiny rings. It also hated particular things: Taylor Swift, tomatoes, big stones. But what my name loved the most was being read to and being caressed in one particular spot that became harder and harder to find as it grew.
I grew fond of the routine: leaving in the morning for work, coming back in the afternoon, calling from my office a couple of times throughout the day. But while I think I found it slightly comforting to know that it would be there by the time I came back, that I wouldn’t have to be alone if it was raining or cold or snowing; it was painful to know that it just couldn’t leave our home. How it never went out. And, as it grew, it needed me more. Or I needed it more. Or, maybe, we created a need for each other.
I started calling in sick to the office. A couple of times over the first few months. And then a couple of times over one month. And then a couple of times over a week. I should’ve known better, but it felt so good to be needed. After a while, it happened. I called it “The Miracle”: it was the morning I looked at it and it had a sort of light blue halo exuding from its skin as it slept. I couldn’t bring myself to leave the bed. Even breathing felt difficult when away from it. I wondered what would happen if I just stopped everything. Working. Speaking. Leaving. All of it. I would just turn the TV on and play another episode. (By that time we had already figured we loved particular TV shows, especially badly made cheaply produced reality shows. Nothing like the Kardashians. More like Toddlers and Tiaras). I would just turn my cell phone off and unplug the wifi. And because imagining it felt so easy, I just did it.
That morning, after the haze, I made strawberry pancakes for breakfast and played Ariana Grande while we danced in the living room. I felt, for the first time in my life, like I was where I needed to be. I was bathed in the realization that finally I would find my own name inside my own shape shifting body. And I was so very happy and dizzy that I called it once, and again, and again. I named it and it joined me in the repetition of the only word it would ever learn.
This time, though, we spoke with purpose.
It might just be a human thing. To hurt what one loves. A human fault or condition. I have never met someone who doesn’t do it. We all just fuck up once in a while and when we do it, we fuck up particularly the things we care about. Like love or lovers. Like naming. Or like pouring wine on top of your favorite skirt. So I’m trying to say that yes, I was guilty of keeping it, and nourishing it, and making it learn things about bodies that it probably shouldn’t have learnt, because it was still just a tiny name that had to grow up so fast. But don’t say I held it against its will or that I corrupted it, because I loved it. I really, really did. I didn’t care about the world because I loved it. And I don’t know how many people can actually say this and mean it.
I never meant to hurt it, but it kept growing bigger and bigger. It took over the master bedroom so I had to move all my things to the studio. It had already claimed the bathroom, the photo frames, the air. It was always hungry and we were running out of money. I kept feeding it bananas. Sixteen for breakfast, at least. Sometimes I couldn’t find its mouth so it would go for days without eating, the bananas would rot and we would get fruit flies. And I just couldn’t do that. I just couldn’t let it starve. I still think that was love. I remember how I did find it. How some people look forever for it. Sometimes I still dream about it and, when I wake up, I feel it was the best thing ever, or the closest thing to that. I proceeded slowly. I read at it so it wouldn’t be scared. Poetry. It bled which was surprising. The last story I told it was the story of the poet who wouldn’t name her creations. Though its blood was thicker and it wasn’t red or, at least, not red as we think of the color red. Back then, we were both stripped of meaning. No colors or words between us. We were both hungry bodies, growing and named. Me, after my grandmother. It, after my dreams. We belonged. And then it was gone. I couldn’t breathe anymore. There was hair everywhere. I kept on sweeping the house and peeling bananas for hours.
I let them tangle in my throat now. I try not to sleep too much and set alarms every few minutes. I can’t remember the last time I dreamt and I believe that’s for the best. I feel them. Crawling and trying and hungry. So many names. So many of them.