Lately I’ve been thinking about changing my name. It’s a crazy notion, I know, being my age. But I’ve been wondering what it would be like to do something that drastic, not to change ME necessarily, but perhaps somehow to become more of me, or the person I was meant to be.
It’s gone so far that I’ve actually been thinking of which names I would choose. I like my nicknames, Mare and Maf. I also like my full first name, Mary Ann, but over the years I’ve sometimes been called Mary, due to Ann technically being my middle name. Of course, I hate Mary as that was the shortened version of Mary Ann that the nuns bestowed upon me in grammar school, and my parents didn’t have the balls to tell them to call me by, ya know, my NAME. But I digress.
When I’ve pondered this idea in the past, it was because I wanted to completely erase who I was and had ever been, and I thought a name change could do it. I considered the maiden name of my maternal grandmother, McAlinden, as Mare McAlinden has a nice ring to it. But my nana was a total alcoholic who completely neglected my mother in childhood, so the painful attachment was too strong. My paternal grandmother’s maiden name was Flanagan, and well, I just hated her, so there would be no taking her moniker. She also was the source of the rancid meanness that permeated her Farley clan of nine kids, with my father being both the baby and the uncontested champion in that particular contest. So no, I’d go nameless before I’d become a Flanagan, as fine a name as it may be for others.
Of course there was my mom’s maiden name, Callaghan, which is nice enough, but considering that her brother Harry was father to 12 children with that last name, I figured there were plenty of blood-relative Callaghans already walking around; the family didn’t need another.
While in my younger years I wanted to erase my past with a name change, the impulse now is more just to start over. If I had the money, I would move far, far away, maybe even to Ireland, where I believe I’m still entitled to citizenship because of the Irish ancestry of my grandparents. I would move to a place where no one knew me with my new name, and just start again, just to see what would happen.
I know what a therapist would say about such a move—that you still take yourself with you wherever you go—that all the issues I’ve ever had would still be with me wherever I would land. But I fully know that, even embrace it, and yet I still want to do it, and I’m a bit puzzled as to why.
When I was a young musician just starting in my rock career, the impulse to reinvent myself was stronger than ever, but it’s hard to explain the controlling hold my father still had in my head in those days, even as a young adult. That’s the thing about an emotional abuser, and a sadistic one at that, as even when you move far away from the torture, the verbal assaults that were repeated ad nauseum throughout your formative years have a way of being on constant replay in your brain, despite all attempts to silence the noise.
That was the thing with my dad. He didn’t just want to control my actions or my clothes or how I behaved. He wanted to control what I thought and felt and believed, and I have to hand it to him, he did a damn good job. As a result, when I became a teenager, I came to loathe the person into which I was shaped, as she was the entire opposite of who I really was, or rather who I thought I might be, as I still had no clue about my true identity. It was as though I had amnesia, fully knowing that a huge part of me was missing, but as I had no recollection of this real self, I was in the terrifying position of not being able to find her anywhere within me.
That’s where all self-hatred begins, I think...when we are molded, or maybe moltened, into a creature that is not us, and so we begin to loathe the Frankenstein we’ve become, assembled by the act of sadism from the deadest pieces of the human heart.
There’s a foul sexual element in the creation as well, as the Google dictionary describes sadism as the impulse to derive "sexual gratification from inflicting pain, suffering, or humiliation on others." While I’ve always known that I was never sexually molested in a physical way, I’ve also known that there was a perverse sexual element in my upbringing that at the time was hard to pinpoint, yet is as clear to me now as sitting here on this couch typing on this laptop. When I look back upon my aunts and uncles on my dad’s side, it clearly permeated the entire Farley brood—all of whom would get that look of a cheap and perverse thrill when they would inflict pain and humiliation even upon one another. It was in their sneer as the vile words would spill forth...a type of melting snarl that could only be described as grotesque and rancid, as if the sneer itself had some kind of rank odor. I couldn’t begin to count how many times my father looked at me that way. It would be easier to count the times he didn’t.
While this imagery has been with me my entire life, I’ve made every possible effort (like 18 years of analytic therapy) to come to terms with it all, and to a large extent I have. But oh how it weakened me throughout my adulthood, or rather weakened the trust I could ever fully have in another person. And so throughout my life, it’s perhaps not surprising that I’ve made bad choices in my relationships and even friendships, where I’ve often tolerated mean behavior probably because it was what I was used to. And I could tolerate these things for very long stretches of time, always choosing to focus on what was good about these friends and lovers, instead of admitting that the good was far outweighed by the bad and I should just move on (which I would ultimately do, but not before so much time and hurt had gone by).
Many times, I believe the holes in my soul were quite transparent and obvious to these people, so I was easy to manipulate, even when I knew I was being manipulated. But I never dared stand up for myself and walk away as the thought of being alone was just so unbearable and frightening. I’ve since learned, of course, that when one is truly alone, as in solitude doing a creative act, one’s world couldn’t possibly be more fulfilled or less lonely.
It’s taken me awhile to learn this.
So here I am, at my age, now thinking about just leaving my whole history behind and starting a new one in what most would describe as the last quarter of my life. Is that even possible? I’m not fleeing anything but instead am running towards something, as yet undefined.
Back in my rock and roll days, I wanted to join a punk band and just be someone else entirely. I came somewhat close when I began hanging out in the East Village music scene in my early 30s, but I never completely reinvented myself in the way I had imagined. But isn’t that punk person that I fantasized about still me, even though she never materialized? I just wouldn’t allow her to surface. But oh how I wish I had, as I wonder now how my life would have been different had I always been the person I truly wanted to be.
There is a peace I’m feeling these days that is at the center of this new name-change impulse that began during a transformative night recently when I allowed myself to experience all the rage that had been building up in me in previous months, mainly since my father died in August. Instead of trying to squash it, instead of feeling angry at myself that I could not overcome this anger (talk about irony), I simply allowed myself to feel it, even though it created an actual aching empty pit in the core of my being, as if I were so hungry it hurt. Despite all the years in therapy, I don’t believe I’ve ever allowed myself to feel something so raw or so fully before, so buried into my very bones.
As I’ve often done with this chronic physical pain, I spoke to this rage and told it to just get as bad as it wanted to get—to encompass me and flow through me like water, to become a part of all I was without me judging it. I would stop all the nonsense, too, about forgiveness, as forgiving before we’re ready is an impossible task. We can’t forgive the hurt if we don’t allow ourselves to fully feel it and the rage it inspires. I saw that I was trying to skip an essential step in the forgiveness chain, and part of that was also giving myself permission possibly never to forgive anything ever again if that’s what I needed to do.
So like an infusion of new plasma, the rage got into my bloodstream and made its way to every inch of me, and slowly, something unexpected began to happen. Without warning, I could feel an evaporation of sorts that was slowly replaced by a new and unforeseen calm.
All of the things I was so enraged about during this period began to soften, and with a new clarity I could see that so many of the hurts and abandonments I was feeling regarding others were truly meaningless, as the greatest relationship I have is the one with myself and with my creativity. It's the company of my own heart and mind--two things that I've finally come to love and cherish--that's become the greatest love of all.
Time and life are just so very precious under the best circumstances, so when any of it gets lost or wasted, the urgency to live fully, to pack in as much as I can in the time I have left, can become yet another demand if I'm not careful. Of course, this illness doesn't help matters, as when I have days of great pain or fatigue (which is often), I can get...well, enraged, especially when I'm reminded that it could shave off even more years. But I have to let that go, too and just accept what is and do the best I can. To live any other way would only create more waste.
I’m reminded of something someone said recently on social media, which is that healing means that the damage created in childhood no longer controls our lives. I responded that I agreed with her, but added that there is also the damage that never fully heals and we simply must co-exist with it, perhaps a lesson of aging. It may no longer control our emotions, but like an old limp, the way we move is forever altered.
I’ll probably never know who the real me might have been without all of my dad's bullshit. And as I say that, I feel the rage surface again. But this time, I’m letting it pass through as I make my way into the kitchen to make some tea. There are indeed certain names that have a nice ring to them, and I'm still stringing together certain sounds to test them out. It really would be kind of nutty at this point to do such a thing, but if nothing else, it might be a way to reclaim at least something of my true self as I hit the boxing ring for this final round. If I have to bear a permanent psychic limp in these remaining years, maybe I could do it with a really cool name.