The subway train is packed with damp New Yorkers, and I’m standing in a puddle. I can barely reach the pole to hold on as the train lurches and jerks underneath the cold, wind-blown city. The smell of wet wool and snow mingles with the smell of bodies, some unwashed and all too warm. As I sneak into the corner of a free seat, my eye catches this season’s Poetry in Motion poster. Like many others in the series, it’s an illustration paired with a short poem. I love this one: it depicts Eve walking among the animals in the Garden of Eden as she names them. The author wonders if Eve ever wanted the animals to talk back and give her a name, too. Every time I see it, I feel a little frisson of excitement, recognition, and surprise.
I learned a long time ago that a man can walk through the world, touching and possessing anything in his reach. When I was growing up and going to church, it was Adam who laid hands on the animals and named them. He assigned value to the wolf, wild and strong; to the fox, wily and free; to the white-tailed deer, beautiful prey. But he gave Eve a title more than a name; Eve means ‘mother of all who live.’ In the story I’m so familiar with, she’s not an active participant, never really more than a placeholder, really, until it came time for the devil and his apple.
Stuck between a manspreader and someone wearing three layers of winter coats, I think about the poem and the flipped narrative. I am envious of Eve’s naming power, and yet I know her yearning to be named.
I shift in the seat to better brace my back and hips against the jolting and jostling of the train and ease the pain of my misaligned pelvis, a constant reminder of the babies I didn’t get to name and my own placeholder status. I don’t have time for this pain in this moment so I gulp those thoughts down and push them aside. I need to name myself in preparation for my work day. Capable, Strong, Organized, Leader. Boss Lady. Say it again. Capable, Strong, Organized, Leader, Boss Lady. The train doors open, and I step into the day and my role within it.
Before I know it, the sun is setting over the river as I scurry underground like a mole. The snow has stopped; the subway is mostly dry and nearly empty, and I sit down next to Eve’s poem again. I am on my way home to my daughter who, at two years old, is learning to understand the world and everything in it. Her dolls and stuffed animals must all have names - the correct names. She’ll ask me to name her doll, but she isn’t asking me to be creative. I rattle off a few—Suzanna, Mary, Jane, Kaylee. She nods decisively when I get to Kaylee—yes, that’s right—as if she’s asking for a translation into a foreign language that she almost remembers. In her world, everything has a name, a place, and a reason.
She will ask me my name later in the evening, and I won’t know how to answer. I am envious of the easy way she answers the question ‘who are you?’ I shed my name when I leave the office, and take on a title instead. Mother, Wife, Homemaker.
I settle in to the seat of the subway. My well of creativity has been poured, bucket after bucket, into a day of meetings and solutions, documentation and debate, until I feel like a shell of myself. I imagine the Divine, after six days of creative work, setting aside the seventh day to rest. It’s quite obvious that this incarnation of the Divine cannot possibly have been a woman. There is nothing left for creation of the self. I scrape the bits and pieces leftover from my frantic day and attempt to puzzle them into a semblance of a functioning mother and wife. I feel unnamed when all of my names are in relation to others. Getting comfortable in my titles instead of my name takes the full hour and a half of my commute.
When I reach my daughter’s daycare, the woman behind the desk asks me how I’m doing. She’s recently had a miscarriage, like me. We are women together, but we are also Mother, Client, Employee. I desperately crave the connection, the conversation, the recognition of our unnamed babies. But I don’t know how to answer. All I am in this moment is Mommy to the little person I’m here to pick up. I have to be. I can’t think about the missing ones and still function for my family. Instead of answering, I ask her how she is, and I see my conflict in her face. We should be Friend, but it is so hard in this moment. We look at each other and, like Eve to the animals, say ‘name me, name me.’
See me for all the parts of me.
It’s a quiet Sunday morning, too early for rational people, even rational people with toddlers, to be awake. I watch the lights of a solitary car flash across the ceiling of my bedroom and listen to my family softly sleeping around me. It’s that time of night full of halflight and loneliness. I think of the mamas awake with me, rocking gassy infants or re-arranging pillows around their growing bellies for the seventh time in a night.
That should be me tonight, this morning. There is a hollow in my belly for the babies I carried and never held. Now, in the quiet, I can remember them, weep for them.
When I talk about my losses, everyone asks if the babies had names. Oh yes. They were Mine, Expected Ones, Daughters, Hoped For, Loved Ones. But I don’t know how to incorporate their names into my own; I have lost myself. I wonder how Eve felt, watching Adam name the animals, wondering if her worth was solely determined by the children she would bear. Maybe that’s why the apple was so enticing.
I can see the appeal of an apple containing all the knowledge in the world. What a gift to suddenly understand your exact place in the universe, your reason for being, and all of your names. When my daughter asks me my name, I want to tell her: Broken and Lost. Fragmented and Fragile. Grieving the loss of yet another unnamed soul. Longing for Grace and Patience.
The sun is rising, and I start to sense the rustle that accompanies the beginning of another day, another week. It’s time to accept the uncertainties and the fragmentation and to surrender to the broken places. They say that’s where the light gets in, and I am tired of living in the dark. I struggle each day to name myself, to name my friendships, and to hope in the face of despair.
In this half lit dawn, I ask forgiveness of the Divine. I ask forgiveness of myself and try to reframe my sadness. I decide to name myself Hopeful. I christen myself Open. I am Wife, Mother, Self, Advocate, Activist, Capable Boss Lady, and Friend.
I don’t need the apple of enlightenment, because my reason for being and all my names are constantly changing. Being Broken isn’t the end; it’s the beginning of something new.
Guest post written by Elizabeth Vinci Sisti. Elizabeth is a working mama of one with one on the way and lives in the suburbs of NYC with her family and two kitties. She muses on the rhythms of life on Instagram and enjoys squeezing writing into the corners of her very full life. This is her first and, hopefully not last published essay, which came out of the C+C Year of Creativity.