[Image: Sara Williams, shitfuck]
By Sara Williams
- Be nobody. You are infinite space, pearly everlasting, a perfect, pure moment.
- Now, this: get in the bedroom and watch the dance—put a ring around the posy, take a rocket-full of nosedives; ashes, ashes; we all fall down; as in, fall into le petite morte, revel in roses and bees.
- From the ashes, rise like an incumbent mudball, a slightly erroneous mess. You are sperm and egg like lesions that will become one, er, joint corrosion.
- Take your time. Delineate yourself from the elements. Begin to learn this: the only constant is change. That is your name, your birthright: change.
- Be born into blood and guts and shit and pus. Go through hell (a narrow chamber leading to the world) because you will be a body, your own separate body, whether you like it or not.
- Listen to your parents next. They will give you a name. Her name is Sara,they’ll say. They’ll ooo and ahh. Look how beautiful.She came out perfect, like an egg or a flower or a princess. Look at her crown, how it glows, how her angel-blond locks grow in wisps and lick each temple like sun-kissed jewels.
- Put the record on repeat. Feel the sonic echo; the two syllables “sa”& “ra”will fall like snow and melt into you; they will come softly, with love, even when the sources of the sounds do not know how. Learn this: you—whatever this formless form is—will teach them how. Accept this erroneous lark—and take a stab (at some estimation of truth) in this echo of the dark: maybe you are a verb; maybe you are love and loved.
- Between coos, listen to the lull between coos, the lonely echo that swells until there’sno room for anything but lack. You will see the beasts, the wild things, the tongues that don’tspeak your tongue, the storm that isn’ta storm, and you willfeel fear like a shelter. Here, now, bury yourself beneath layers of acumen and dirt, of calcium and stone, of yolk and metaphor. You are: a collection of spectacular lesions lined against a red brick wall.
- The duality will ebb and flow—you are owned; you are your own.Eventually, the seed of ownership develops when you discover you can speak your own name, form your own sentence;“I,”“I am,”and finally, “I am Sara.”Learn to own the words, to let them out of your body like sand from an hourglass, stretched thin and thick, in intervals, across time.
- One day you will start dancing and spinning circles, a whirling dervish, singing, “I am Sara!”
- When you go to school, you will raise your hand when they say this: “Sara Dynan.”It will sound strange, but you will accept it becausethey told you to and they seem to be in charge.
- Learn that they are not in charge, even though it seems they are. They will fail, again and again and again.
- When you are in third grade your teacher Mr. Rodriguez will look at the myriad freckles spotting your face and say, “If you connect the dots, it will be a butterfly.”You will run to find a marker, march to the bathroom, step on to the stool to look in the mirror and start to connect the dots, desperate to believe that the dots lead somewhere, anywhere, but here. You will learn it is not a butterfly. You will show him. He will not understand that you are stuck, that you are looking to anyone to tell you who you are and how to get there, how to connect the dots so you might figure it out. When another Sara joins the class, he will ask you both what you would like to be called. It will be the first time someone asks you what you would like to be called. You will find solace in the idea of choice, opportunity, the ability to be more than what has always been.
- You will loosely exist in your shell, an egg in warming water. They tell you this and you shrug: one day you’ll be peeled open slowly, sweetly, and discovered to be a solid mass of nourishment, a woman.
- When you are 13, self still fluid, your shell will crack. Layers of blood and soot will fall from your body and cherries will blossom, staining your chest. You will lose your yolk and watch your mother’s breasts grow malignant. You will be singing lucy in the sky with diamonds; and then it will be liquor and smoke; you will be the Chesire’s grin; and then it will be one pill makes you large and one pill makes you small. The eyes of beasts will fall on you; some will fawn, some will moan, still some will whistle; and you will be on the ground, ashes, ashes, fallen fruit. You will forget the ways your names ring true or untrue or not at all. For years, you will walk carefully, or not at all, on your own broken shell.
- You don’t want to be you anymore. You will stand in front of a judge and he will read from the papers you filled in and filed with the state of California. The judge’s disinterested confirmation will echo in the courtroom. It will feel much more quotidian than you imagined it would be, much less grand. Your name is suddenly Sara Williams, a name you chose because—well, because it sounds right, writerly, because Bill Murray was born William, because Saul Williams, Robin Williams, Hank Williams, because etymologically speaking William is the helmet of the warrior; because will,i am; because you willed it.
- And yet, you will still be—well, you. The chains linger, like echoes, o-o-o-o, the you are nothing, the you are a prisoner of the past, name or no name, the chains are fluid, written in your DNA.
- You will start to publish your writing; and with that, the name will start to solidify. For example, you will interview and write about your idol, Saul Williams, and see your name so close to his, printed in brushed shades of gray.
- You will get comfortable; even when your dreams tell you to open your eyes, that nothing can protect you from the fragility of being human; that this is your birthright, your name: change; that you will always be a body in the middle of the ocean, your head bobbing up and under the surface, screaming like your hair is on fire.
- Because your hair is on fire. But you will write it off as a dream. You will sing hush now, baby, don’t say a word; mama’s gonna buy you a mockingbird.
- You will wake up one morning to a credit report. In it, your name will become a weapon used to shoot that thing with feathers down from the sky. It will show you your worth in negative numbers and you will well up inside like a salted snail. Your shell will start to falter. You will start to examine yourself again and again, to strip the mine until there is nothing left; until you’d like to strip the name and whatever self lies at the bottom of that label; and yet, there is a little lift in there, a grave that you could sit your bones within and curve into a stone smile.
- Here, now, you disembody completely, and give yourself to a new god. You won’t see the flaws. He will be a golden age, a gold that shines and shines, a gold that you believe in. And you will be coal rubbed until it’s raw and unfamiliar, mere meat.
- When you are 23, you will begin teaching writing at a university. One of your mentors will hand you an article, “teaching with a fake ID,” and you will. “Hi, class. I am Sara Williams, your instructor.” It won’t ring in your mouth. It will taste like a penny, thick and bloody, yet gaunt.
- You’ll find your way to Jewel Heart, a Buddhist center where you will reclaim your self (but not until after you lose it again). You investigate its members and its founder carefully before you ask him to be your teacher. You will make yourself precious by wrapping yourself into a hand-engraved leather jewelry box filled with polished precious stones and Pearly Everlasting so it might smell akin to the joyous nature you wish to be; you will offer this, your contrived self, as a gift; and it will be given back to you, but stronger, true. First, though, he will hold it like the child you once were and coo. He will hold it as if it is something worthwhile, something you couldn’tconvince yourself of. You thought you were hiding yourself, but he unwraps it and shows you the mirror and wipes it clean. He will give this to you as if it is nothing, as if it is effortless. He will remind you of your self that sings “I am Sara!” And so, it will be as if he never gave and you never took anything at all. This will be because he is so completely embodied that there is no way for you to see reality; so, yes, of course, it will appear as nothing, but it will be something else entirely.
- That something else entirely will be so heavy and gilded that you will not know how to accept it. Your head will fill with light and then dark and then cave in on itself and the hospital will take you in and tell you it is what you always imagined it to be, irreparably damaged, a dark, swollen meat. You will attempt to go back to the golden age, but it will be silver and tainted, stained with time and a crust of golden liniment. And yet, it will appear so precious. You will accept it almost entirely and you will walk forward, adorned with a crown and flowers and jewels. You will stand there, love and love and love, and then it will end and you will open your eyes and see the sun and feel a little light touch down and you will know that you have done everything wrong. You will anoint yourself with liquor and milk. And when that stops working, when you start to wake back up, you will blow smoke rings into the air and see that it was all a mad, mad dream.
- And then the dream will end. In its place will appear a series of nightmares. And so you will become, again, a shell-less form, a slug, unsalted, unbuttered, raw, yet loosely set upon the platter you made yourself. And then you will layer yourself in salt and salt and salt and you will lose all will and become the suggestion of a little dance in the dark. And it is there, in the dark, that you will truly believe in the “I” and follow it into the waves.
- You will live and you won’t ask You will only have lived, when it was never your right. You will pull the plastic cords from your veins and let loose the chords in your chest. And you will be who you always were, the whirling dervish singing, “I am.”
- You will tattoo the song on your wrist, three simple letters in black and white; and each morning, you’ll wake up and try to practice singing the song of yourself, to take responsibility by shedding your skins, your shells, your eyes, your throat; you will give it all back, because you can.
- You will be milk, and then a dot, some semblance of a sentence, and then the crescent moon.
- You will begin again.
Editor’s note: This essay is part of a series called Name Tags, about issues related to names and naming. You can find the original Call for Submissions here.
Sara Williams is a writer and artist located in rural Northern California. Her undergraduate alma mater is University of California, Santa Cruz and she earned a Master’s degree from Eastern Michigan University, where she taught Creative Writing for ten years. Her favorite smell is pine pitch sopped up by pearlyeverlasting. [IG: pinketherumbilical]
[Family photo courtesy Sara Williams]