I don’t have a name. At least, I haven’t found it yet. I spend most days trying on different ones, to see if they feel right on me. It’s “Margaret Ingvertsen” one day and “Piper Redding” the next. Sometimes I wake up and feel like maybe I could be a “Jake Tannenbaum” and I will walk around with my chest bound and a baseball cap on and loose jeans slung low and say, “Yeah, it’s Tannenbaum, like the tree,” and maybe get a few questioning eyes when my voice is an octave too high.
But most of the time I pick the girl names because those feel the most right on me. You never know, with so many people feeling like they’re being born in the wrong bodies, I wasn’t sure if I felt that way too. Before. But I’ve tried “Jake Tannenbaum” and “Ryder Montgovern” and “Hal Ricks” and all of them felt a little too baggy so I’ve since forgotten about those.
And sometimes, I will try on a bunch of different names all in the same day, just for fun. I’ll take the bus down to the strip mall and go into Chick-fil-A as “Nancy Hertz” and I’ll speak really slowly and say, “Hullo, meediyum franch frahs, puhlease.” And then I’ll walk into JCPenney as “Grace Porter” and I’ll ask, “‘Ello there, is it quite alright if I carry these chips into the store?”
That’s what they say in Britain, chips. I’ve decided that I might be British because sometimes, after an accident, your brain malfunctions and you can wake up talking in a completely different accent from your native one. And that would explain why nobody’s come for me, if they were all overseas and didn’t even know that their dear daughter, or friend, or fiancée, had taken a secret trip to Memphis, Tennessee, on a whim and gotten herself in a horrible automobile accident and plum erased all of her memory.
That’s something else I try to do, use different expressions like “automobile” and “plum” and “washroom” and “fixin'”, just to see if something feels right in my mouth, like it’s been there all along. And that might give me a clue as to where I’m from, I think.
Two weekends ago, I was going out to this tucked-away nightclub as “Kyler Jansen”, who is quite the vixen. I knew this would be a good time to see what kind of man I was supposed to love. I could barely find one before he found me, a “Scott Yuker”. I kept thinking how ugly that name was, “Yuker”, and it’s all I could focus on until he had to repeat the name I was supposed to have over and over. “Kyler, Kyler, Kyler,” he kept saying, and then he laughed, this big laugh where he tossed his head back as if opening his mouth up for falling rain from the sky. After that laugh, he said, “I’ve never heard that name before. Kyler. Were your parents hoping for a boy?”
I looked at him and realized I didn’t know what he meant. “My parents didn’t name me,” I wanted to say, “I did, an hour ago when I was putting my maroon lipstick on, I named me.”
But instead I said, “What do you mean?”
“Well, I suppose they wanted to name you Kyle, or Tyler, but you turned out being a girl, so they just invented a name of their own, hmm?”
“Isn’t that how it works,” I wanted to say, “aren’t you supposed to invent them out of thin air, to pull the names from the way your curves fall that day, or the way your hair frizzes, or the way the maroon lipstick looks on your lips?”
But I couldn’t say that. Because I realized that “Scott Yuker” never had to think about whether or not he was “Scott Yuker” because he always had been “Scott Yuker.”
And I downed the rest of my mojito and grabbed his hand, because I thought maybe if I put “Scott Yuker” and “Kyler Jansen” together, some name would come out of it that I could snatch from the air and say, “Oh, that’s mine! That’s mine.”
I was wrong. A name didn’t come out of it. But something else did. It happened as I was touching his chest, full of hair, feeling so foreign. I started having a lot of thoughts, even as he was thrusting into me while I was pretending it felt familiar. I thought about the time Nurse Allie had brought me a leather jacket from the Lost and Found bin, saying it had been there all too long and that I deserved it. And when I put it on, it fit. It fit perfectly. It smelled of smoke and it felt familiar. I tried smoking the day after that, lit up a Camel in the courtyard and nearly coughed up a lung. Foreign. Foreign, I was thinking all while this “Scott Yuker” was still on top of me, his landscape as foreign as the Camel. And so I waited until he was done doing whatever he was doing and I apologized and said I had an early morning and that I needed to leave.
“Have a safe trip home, Kyler,” he said as I was closing the apartment door, and I didn’t answer him because I was in an in-between zone. I wasn’t “Kyler Jansen” anymore but I wasn’t quite sure who I was going to be now.
The next eight minutes were very lonely. You feel lonely enough when you have no one else to keep you company, but when you don’t have a person inside you, that gets even lonelier. I picked the first bar I found, one with flashing blue lights. I still don’t remember what it was called because when I walked in, I found me. I found her in the group of eyes at the bar that turned to me. In the girl with the dirty-blonde hair and the freckles. And she came right over to me, shook my hand. The girl who said, “What’s your name?” To which I said, “I don’t have one.” And she giggled and said, “Okay, I don’t either.”
For that one night, I knew who I was. I was the girl who danced the salsa with the dirty-blonde girl, I was the girl who touched her face and felt something familiar. I was the girl who felt the curves of her body underneath my hands and remembered something. I was the girl who kissed her and remembered the sweet taste of a girl’s lips. It wasn’t a name, but it was familiar. And for one night, I didn’t need a name. And she didn’t need a name. Because it felt familiar.
The next day, I took out a piece of a paper and I wrote down everything I knew about myself. “Leather jacket”, I wrote. “Lesbian”, I wrote. And then, I started to cry. Two things. I only knew two things about myself.
Since then, I’ve been building my list. It began getting so long that I had to move it to a journal. My journal of who I am. Before I go to bed every night, I read it, the entire thing. Just hoping that the letters will morph, move on the page or jump into the air and fall on each other to form my name. It hasn’t happened yet. So instead, right when I close my eyes, before I drift into my subconscious, I remind myself of what the dirty-blonde girl said.
“Okay, I don’t either.”
And I smile.
Jenna Gomes’s home is in the undergrad classroom, where she attempts to inspire social change, all while teaching freshmen and sophomore composition. When she’s not teaching, she’s writing. It’s her greatest belief that the best stories come from the parts of ourselves that we keep hidden. You can find her on Twitter at @OhOhThunderRoad, as well as @MWFStories for a taste of her microfiction.