Identity

I have resolved to begin again. And this time to be completely honest. Except for my name. And the names of my sisters. And perhaps the names of some others.

Beyond the names I mean to practice truth.

Fictionalizing the names is easy enough to defend. My father has a search alert out for me. When my name shows up on the internet he sees it. I know because he forwards me the links via email.

He has search alerts out for my two sisters as well. When Emory wrote about her conversion to Catholicism—a lengthy and carefully crafted love letter to her church—she included the passing noun clause “anemia of my childhood Christian education.” My father emailed her the link with the subject line, “Your Disrespectful and Very Hurtful Essay.” Several months later Ada uploaded a video of herself strumming her guitar and singing a song she had written—a folk ballad detailing the life of Saint Augustine. My father phoned me, angry: “You want me to feel proud of her for posting videos of herself on the internet?”

I want to post stories of myself on the internet without activating his anger, which is to say: without activating his shame.

Paternal shame is never far from my mind, nor is Genesis 9:

. . . And Noah began to be an husbandman, and he planted a vineyard: And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent. 

And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without. 

And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father’s nakedness. 

And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him. And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren. And he said, Blessed be the Lord God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant . . . 

The mandates are clear enough: Thou shalt look away from your father’s nakedness. Thou shalt enter his tent backwards and cover him. Thou shalt not look upon him. Thou shalt not tell others what you’ve seen.

But what if your father is confused about the boundaries of his own body, so that to tell of the light on the mountain is to expose him, and to step out into the world is to walk in on him?

Following parent-teacher conferences at my elementary school he would come home exasperated, throw the paperwork on the counter, issue the report to no one in particular: “A star-student as always. Highly intelligent. Artistically gifted. Respectful. Conscientious.” His voice was full of frustration. Why should he have to stop by the school after work to hear what my teachers thought of his child? Like being made to hear what they thought of his anatomy, humiliating. Then as now, he counters humiliation with contempt.

When I began writing online—six years ago, in France—I felt everything had to be fictionalized lest somebody find out I was me. But now I think the me at issue wasn’t me, it was him. I seem to have been walking backwards my whole life, throwing coats and jackets at sensed masses. In so doing, I have confounded topography. And I have made it difficult to find my own way. Enough of that. He may very well have saved us from the waters of destruction. Still, the world is not his tent. I mean to walk face-forward now. I mean to find the edge of his vineyard and stake claim to some territory of my own.

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2 thoughts on “Identity

  1. what a lovely surprise, so pleased that you are back to essaying.
    [audio src="https://media.sas.upenn.edu/pennsound/authors/Berssenbrugge/3-23-94/Berssenbrugge-Mei-mei_5_Pollen_UB_3-23-94.mp3" /]

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