In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

NOT FROM HERE/ Erin McGraw A person with a bad name is already half-hanged. —Proverb CALL IT A FAMILY trait. My aunt Barbara, christened Imogene, changed her name when she was seventeen. Her sister Inez began with a different name too, but she changed it so early that no one can recaU the first one. Theirbrother, my father, struggled under the weight of Clarence Thomas, then got tired of his friends' teasing and went by Tom. Terrence Thomas, mybrother, briefly tried to foUow myfather's example , going through most ofhigh school as Tombefore reverting to Terry. At about the same time, in another stab at personal re-creation, he tried to train himself to be ambidextrous. He would take ten minutes to comb his hair or brush his teeth with his left hand, and his attempts to eat sent the butter dish skittering across the dinner table. I don't suppose he stayed with the experiment for more than a month or so, but in my memory he kept it up for years. I admired his attempts, understanding even as a ten-year-old why a person would want to resculpt the clay of his identity. The whole business of personaUty preoccupied and troubled me. Everything I did, it seemed, served as a clue to other people that I was a certain sort of girl—tenderhearted because I liked animals, snooty because I liked baUet, rebelUous because IlikedJohn better than Paul or George. Choices apparentlyadded up and told the world something about me. But I wanted to teU the world nothing. I resented how freely relatives and neighbors claimed to know some "me" who always struck my private self as brassy and unsubtle. No sooner would an auntpredict that I would grow up to be a baker (since I had made cookies the last time she came to visit) than I would detiberately botch whatever was in the oven. To the neighbor who bought me a one-piece bathing suit, remembering how Td criticized certain showy girls (we Uved near the beach in southern California, and swimwear was a constant topic of conversation), I coldly said that I only wore bikinis. Tm embarrassed now at having been so surly with these kind women. But their assumptions made me feel trapped in a tiny box, and I couldn't stop myself from scrabbling back out. The way I knew myself best was by negation: I was not who other people thought I was. And so I cheered my brother on as he spent hour The Missouri Review · 189 after hour teaching himself to write with his left hand just so he'd be able to startle his friends the day he casuaUy took out his pen and signed his name with a back slant. Ha! his action would say. You thought you knew me so weU. You don't know the first thing about me. I lacked his obsessiveness but not his impulse, and like my Aunt Barbara I waited until I was seventeen to make my move. Seventeen is an age for urgently trying out new identities, the lastyear to make changes before college, that portal of adulthood. Many kids I knew, people who had walked home by the exact same routes for eight years, were rearranging their friends, their habits, their look. Over thirty of the girls in my high school class of six hundred had rhinoplasty the summer before our senior year. They presented their pert new profiles at the beach a safe month after the surgery, when the bruising wasn't too noticeable. PoUte people have told me that my nose lends character to my face; I could have used rhinoplasty myself. And for a soUd six months before my senior year, as my mother reminds me, I pestered my parents for the surgery. Just as they started to waver, I backed off. A change in appearance , especiaUy one that would require general anesthetic, wasn't what I wanted. Surgery would only trade one concrete source of identity for another. I was secretly proud of my profile, which recaUed Ethel Barrymore's. But still I felt the itch to step outside myself, whatever myselfwas. And so...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 189-200
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.