“Tracey.Anne.Duncan. I know you did not just bring that dead bird into the house.”
“Tracey Anne, that is not where the scissors go.”
“You’re gonna be a fine writer someday with all those stories you tell, Traceyanne.”
To be fair, the bird was only half dead and the scissors were only halfway up my nose and the stories were always half true, and in those moments, Tracey was only half my name.
Only my mother has ever called me by my full name, Tracey Anne. It’s the same as hers, almost. She was born Bessie Anne. Her family called her Bessie. Except her mother, my grandmother, who called her Bessie Anne in her sibilant Appalachian drawl.
When my mom grew up and moved to the city, she changed her name to Anne and bought an orange corvette and married my dad. She was city living in her shiny sports car with her middle class man and none of it lasted except the name. Anne.
I must have been seven or so when I first heard my mother’s real name, old enough to backtalk and young enough to get away with it. Her name reminded me of Bessie the Cow from some forgotten dairy commercial. I thought she had been named for a cartoon cow. I teased her mercilessly. “Bessie Annnnnnnnnne,” I would holler down the stairs to the basement.
She would take her time coming to the landing, hold me in the gamma ray of her gaze and say, “That’s mom to you, Tracey Anne.”
There’s something intimate about sharing a name. It’s an intimacy that both my mother and I have resisted for most of our lives, she by making the second half come first and me by dropping it altogether. We have never shared the Anne.
Except the few moments when we have.
Those moments share something, are strung together by a tiny glittered strand of twine. It’s not anger. I have never been Tracey Anne when my mother is truly angry. When my mom is mad, I’m Tracey Duncan, half father, with the vowels cut all short and urbane. Tracey Anne is for performed frustration, the work of a mother who must chide, but who is unsecretly amused.
Tracey Anne was the name given to me by a woman who never acclimated to the suburbs and planted the full acre of our back yard with food. It was uttered by the mother who taught her daughter to crack off the gristled ends of green beans and snap them in half so they fit into mason jars for canning, the mother who hunted copperheads with a shovel and told tall tales and whispered on scary nights how to ward off bad dreams.
There is whimsy in this name, Tracey Anne. There are bare feet crusted with mud and salt shakers full of bird catching potion and long nights spent in box fan forts making shadow puppets with our hands. There is innocence and sweetness and some other things about me that I cannot name and can barely remember.
I want back the part of me that believes in love and the magic of beautiful things, who worships the earthworms and chews the bitter buds of ferns that grow by the creek. I want back the part of me that catches fireflies and doesn’t cut their lights off to see how they work. I want back the part that is oblivious to cruelty and who can hear the purr of a kitten above the roar of the world.
I wasn’t that girl for very long. Some childhoods are longer than others. And since then I have been so many other Traceys, all of them serious and most of them sad and some of them a whole mess meaner than I’d like to recall. There have been so many versions that I can’t fit them all in my head, much less in my heart.
Tracey middle initial A Duncan has served me well. Tracey A. Duncan dropped out of high school three times and then wrote her way into an Ivy League school. She spent all day in the library crafting critical theory and fucked her professor’s girlfriends all night and then, years later, wrote poetry about the fragile beauty that was her broken heart and read those poems over white noise in video art.
Tracey has traveled the world and masturbated to Bela Bartok or Bauhaus or both and she has walked in very high heels on ancient cobblestone streets and not stumbled a bit. She has broken into your hotel room and cut thick lines of cocaine both using only her yellow subway card. Tracey has posed in handstands with cigarettes and skateboards thisclose to the edge of the dock on the muddy river, just to see how close was too close.
I’m not exactly done with them, those Traceys, and I hope I never will be. Because Tracey isn’t scared of her shadow and she is not scared of the dark. She’s suspicious and critical and she knows when she needs to be cruel. And those are useful skills, skills that have made the darkest parts of my life seem not just bearable, but beautiful.
But Tracey is scared of the light.
And I am tired of being scared of the light.
I’m tired of being the cool girl and showing you mine if you show me yours and suspicious of kindness and being broken for fun and profit. I’m tired of playing coy and playing the victim and playing the villain and I’m tired of life is suffering so here’s my high thread count noose.
I’m taking back the whimsy that is my birthright.
I’m reclaiming the name my mother gave me that was her name that holds the dreams she had for me and also maybe for herself that neither of us realized because we have both been busy being stilted half versions of ourselves. I’m taking back the dirt and the birds and the green beans and the tall tales and the rolling vowels of West Virginia that you would never guess from my diction.
So you can call me anything you like, a rose would smell as sweet. Or you can call me as you see me and I’ll know what you see by the name that you choose.
But from now on, I’ll call myself Tracey Anne.
And I hope that you will, too.
Author’s note: This rebirth was, in part, initiated by the experiences recounted in tigers.