Thursday, June 25, 2015

Eye to I: A Memory of Childhood

I, a most troubling pronoun. Both the loneliest letter and the most distressingly multiple, I is a tragically alienated case of dissociative identity disorder. Contra Rimbaud, I is not merely an other; it is a host, a myriad, a convention of others more vulgar than Shriners and wearing even funnier hats. Not the simple sum of the series zygote, fetus, infant, child, boy, adolescent, man, I enlarges to include father, mother, uncle, cousin, aunt, grandfather, and all the branches and roots of not-so-greats worming down the miry dark backward of every I’s forgotten past. I is born from nothingness and to nothingness returns, and the interval between is defined by what I lacks, what I needs to take inside to fill the void that frightens with its overwhelming freedom. I is each of the shattered, scattered fragments of a mirror in which I may have seen I complete, once, in the corner of my eye.

When I was a child I despised the nametag I was forced to wear for the first few days of school each year until the teacher learned our names. (Why did I not end that sentence with ‘my name’? Because I is the greatest dissembler, much better than ungrammatical me.) That rectangular piece of paper stuck to my shirt above my left nipple annoyed, offended and angered me beyond my understanding, beyond anything that could have been occasioned by the ‘Brian O.’ carefully teacher-printed inoffensively thereon. It was as though I hated my name like a traitorous friend and wished no further association with it. I was George Washington and my name was Benedict A. These six letters written on my chest (five in the fourth grade when a sudden dearth of Brians dropped the differentiating 'O') were the runes of a sinister magic, an Arabian Nights spell that would trap me like a bottled genie in this life, this family, this bag of skin, where every moment was a new anxiety or another, graver fear. I resented this linguistic fixing of my self (not yet knowing the word ‘fix’ as a euphemism for genital surgery, I understood the naming process already as the ultimate castration), this freezing of my fluidity into a single name chosen by my enemies. I, I somehow knew, was other than Brian O.; I was something seen in pictures, outside words; I was a river of selves swiftly flowing and Heracliteanly unrepeatable; I was a jewel cut into so many facets it looked different from every angle of the 360-degree round; I, I knew, was a clamoring crowd, not a random collection of curves and lines signifying a sound that grated in my ears. At the end of the first week of fourth grade, I ripped the nametag from my shirt and threw it into the bathroom wastebasket. I stood there and spat on it until the letters disappeared, spat and spat on it until it was pulpy and darkened and smeared.

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