Shortening my name did not lessen me for long. I moved into the basement and Melissa swelled again to fill it. I read Plath and Lorde and lay on the floor and wished for Duras’s lover. No, to be that lover. To say everything in so few words. I wished to be silent but blistered with sound. I breathed it into my dark basement, into girls’ mouths, into my hands. I prayed for such small hands but I was a Hekatonkheir, hundred-handed and hungry. You touch too hard, said the first girl I loved. I rode my bike from ocean to ocean but her words followed me.
So I left home. And though I loved that dirty water, Boston was not box enough. Even New York could not quiet me.
Then heroin did. Drugs emptied me, refilled that space with vapors. Even the fiery melt of crack was an emptying: inhale it, and exhale the unseen self in a smoky swarm. The crackling splatter of me in that hot glass skillet—the abracadabra of evaporation.
How can I explain this? To hear my name and feel nothing. Freedom. Melissa became a mannequin of moveable parts. I could make her do anything. Dye my hair. Change my clothes. Answer an advertisement in the newspaper: Young woman wanted for role-play and domination. Good money. No sex. It was a challenge, and I had something to prove. Names meant nothing in that place. Melissa stepped into the elevator and Justine stepped out. It wasn’t me. Those men could call me anything and I never flinched. It felt like choice.
At the end, when I had descended so far beyond the bare fact of myself that it was no longer escaped, but lost, I’d whisper into my cupped hand, Melissa. A caught bee, its familiar hum held to my ear. Melissa. I wanted to go home. I wanted a new word for help. I wanted a name for what remained underneath what I had become. It was the first time I admitted that Melissa might be such a name.
Melissa Febos, Abandon Me, 2017.