The next word I lightly scribbled on my bit of scratch paper was “Rose.”
Needing yet another reprieve from the clipboard on my lap, I looked up to see pairs of newlyweds peppering the gaudy office furniture. They must have either been too practical or too in love to plan their moments far in advance. I snapped back to the other words that I’d hidden behind haphazard pen lines, so that the letters were sufficiently unrecognizable, and briefly considered adding “Rose” to that growing list. A rush of nostalgia made me pause, the tip of my pen a millimeter above the paper.
Though I’d not thought about it in years, I was suddenly standing beside a hand painted sign that read “April’s Rose Garden,” with “Rose” set at a diagonal, linking “April’s” and “Garden.” During the first of two summers I’d spent in that drab suburb just outside of Dallas, I’d often make the short walk to the garden with a neighborhood boy who dutifully kept me company during those long afternoons in the blistering Texas heat.
Ignoring the thorns, this boy picked a stray rose that wouldn’t be missed and handed it to me, asking if I was a boy or a girl.
Apparently, I was getting the beautifully wilted rose regardless, so I chose not to answer.
In the years that followed, the delineations would become much more defined, much more restricting, but those long summer days afforded me the opportunity to revel in the ambiguity, like any child ought to be able to do, without thinking about it too much.
“Rose” was safe.
The next word that jumped clumsily from the pen to the page was “Mary.”
There were a few important Mary’s for my brain to sort through, and I had no reason to try to stop that process. Eventually, it placed me back in a library where as a slightly older child I’d sought refuge from the increasingly biting Delaware air. There, my body was slowly but dutifully acclimating itself from the Texas swelter of the summers prior, and that was where my brain settled on a towering, slender figure who wore suits better than anyone I’d seen before or since. That figure first caught my eye while the accompanying voice bellowed out a spooky October story in the library for a set of frightened and intrigued kindergarteners. I fancied myself a year and some months too old to join them on the carpet to stare up at the person whose name tag read “Mary.”
Looking in my direction with crystal blue eyes, Mary flashed a quick smile, full of impossibly white teeth. That library had become my haven for the impending winter, and I noticed something peculiar in the way the other librarians spoke about their younger colleague. If I’d had the reference then, I’d have expected them to break into “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?” Nothing, I would realize, could stop Mary from walking chin up, chest out, or from exchanging mischievous smiles with every kid who frequented the library, or from shining brightly in her seemingly endless wardrobe of perfectly pressed suits.
Then, I strode with reaffirmed confidence back to the present moment, where I remembered I didn’t have any more obligation to the second name my mother had given me than to the first, which I’d happily shed all those years before.
I wouldn’t waste the generous gift of a blank form. As I scrawled “Rosemary,” I bit my bottom lip and smiled down at the page. It happened to be the herb I’d used to season a stew the night before, which provided a bit of refuge from the Pacific Northwest drizzle outside my little house made of stone. A lot of the past, my new name would be, with a dash of the present and a bit of levity. “Rosemary” fit perfectly in the box labeled “Middle Name” on the petition for that document I was getting even though I’d stopped questioning myself long before. These bits of paper were to serve as proof, to those who’d need it, that I am who I say I am. That I always have been, and I always will be.