Let’s Talk About Names: R. Leon

R. Leon is a queer ex-fundamentalist abuse survivor, writer, and journalist near DC. You can find them talking about feminism, abuse, fundamentalism, and their latest crushes on Twitter as @other_echoes.

Trigger warning: child abuse. 


I Carry This Name in My Heart

Image is of a white nonbinary person with short brown hair, smiling at the camera. They are wearing a white button down shirt with blue flowers on it.

R. Leon. Image used with permission of author.

I kept my name when I got married. I refuse to call it my maiden name.

It is my name.

My name is a record of centuries of warfare and oppression, of ancestors that have seen both sides. The children of a aristocratic family, who fled to the New World as their parents were slaughtered. Who raised their children in Puerto Rico. Who came to New York City in the early 20th century and struggled to find jobs.

My name is cigarette smoke, cocaine, cheap beer, and bruises that flower across naked skin.

I carry this name in my heart.

I carry the name of my abuser, the child of an abuser, who was himself the child of an abuser.

I am young, and my father holds my hand when we go to the hardware shop. The smell of the corner hardware shop is a signal that times are good in that moment.

I am young, and my father’s father glowers at me as I pull the tail of the cat. It scratches me. Everyone laughs. I eat scrambled eggs alone in the dark kitchen. Later, I vomit them back up.

My grandfather is dead and I peer at the gravestone with his name on it. I sit down by the hummock of his grave. There is a little door into his grave. I wonder if he will come back to life, come out of the grave, with his scary eyebrows. Maybe he will swing me by the hand, as my grandmother laughs and holds my other hand. We will go get ice cream together.

My grandmother brings home a new boyfriend and I hear them shouting at each other. I am alone in the dark sitting room with the lamp glowing in its red shade. I wonder if this man is my grandfather. He shouts like one. She breaks up with him. She keeps her married name.

I carry this name in my heart.

Veterans Park, Avon Lake, OH. Image is of a sunset over Lake Erie from Avon Lake, Ohio. There's a couple with their back to the cameras, standing on rocks that jut out into the lake.

Veterans Park, Avon Lake, OH. Credit: Robert Criss, CC license.

I am young and I am barefoot in my parents’ bedroom, and my father is hitting me on my naked skin with the flat of his hand. I am crying, and I am frightened. The room is dark and silent. The house is mostly empty. My dad is laughing and tells me I am a baby.

He pulls his belt down from the nail on the wall and moves toward me, fingering the buckle. I back away. He tells me I am lucky he does not hit me with this, like his father hit him. I ask which end of the belt his father used.

“Use your imagination,” my father says.

My name is the one my mother chose to take when she got married. She has vanished into this name. The name is like a small box in which to keep her soul. I keep it close to me, so I can look for her.

My name is the one my grandmother chose when she married. She did not care for her own name. Her parents abandoned her as a baby, and her aunt raised her. She has learned to cook my family’s foods. She does not mention her Irish-German heritage except once, when she says she always kept the window blinds neat on her trailer.

“We weren’t those shanty Irish,” she says.

When she is not drinking, she is giving every last possession away. She knows she will die soon. She gives me her china and her silverware. Her house is full of porcelain dolls and teddy bears and children’s books. She still calls my father by a diminutive name.

Quietly agnostic, she has watched this Puerto Rican family of mine fall in and out of love with religion, switching names and labels and churches the way she switches prescription drugs. She loves my mother. She used to call us when she was drunk. My father always made me take the phone. I learned to say “that makes sense” and “I understand” at intervals throughout her incoherent ramblings.

I carry this name in my heart.

This is the name that my family anglicized when they moved to the States. My Puerto Rican great-grandmother refused to anglicize anything about herself. My dad remembers sitting with her on warm fall afternoons as she made paella and listened to Yankees games on the radio. He learned Spanish just to talk to her.

She is his only happy childhood memory.

My father has spent his entire life chasing his name. He introduces himself to strangers with the same name, hoping beyond hope that they are a distant relation. He has never belonged. He wants to stop drifting.

I carry my father. I carry my mother.

I carry this name in my heart.


This post is part of an on-going roundtable on naming that AWH is doing in conjunction with Flyover Feminism.

Let’s Talk About Names: Fikri is the previous post in the series.

2 Comments

  1. This is an absolutely beautiful, moving post.

  2. Very powerful! I just got married and have decided to keep my name.