Where do you start with a story like this? As I kid, I was many things: assertive, imaginative, confident, ebullient, and extremely precocious.
Insert Exhibit A:
|You see red polyester knit pants tied around my neck, but I see a magical princess cape.|
Truth be told, I’m not sure my mother knew *quite* what to do with me. I flounced through life, loudly and brashly, but with a certain level of sensitivity. My mother in the meantime, attempted to introduce me to softer, more socially acceptable ways: checking for dirt under your finger nails, waiting to speak until spoken to, maintaining a genteel humility.
Mom was a Russian history major in college, and as a result, there were always tons of books in our house about Russia. Around the time I was nine years old, a book came out called Anna Anderson, the Riddle of Anastasia. My mother bought it, and when she was done, handed it to me. This was long before the Don Bluth film, or the bodies of the Romanovs were discovered. Very few people knew about the Romanov family, and there was little written on their mysterious disappearance.
I loved the book. I loved Anna, this unknown woman who’d suddenly been taken into an insane asylum in Germany and passed herself convincingly as a Russian princess. I mean, this woman just created her life out of thin air! And ran with it! I began looking for everything I could find on the Romanov family. We ordered books through the library system and patiently waited for them to come. I read every English language book that was written on the Romanovs, and my favorite of the family was Anastasia. She was the runt of four girls, appreciably smaller than the rest…like me. She was a goof and often called monkey…like me. She was the only one with bangs, because at a small age, she did something that ended with a scar on her forehead…like me. Feisty, fun, playful. And no one knew what happened to her. Maybe she was that crazy lady from the asylum.
One day I went to my mother (still aged 9) and announced that I intended to change my name to Anastasia.
“Oh really?” my mom asked.
“Yes,” I answered forcefully, “I think we both know that’s the name I was supposed to have.”
“You don’t like the name I gave you?” she asked.
“It’s silly,” I said, “I mean, it’s like you wanted to name me Anastasia, but found it too, well too much. Too dramatic. Too romantic. Too mystical. Tasia? Tasia Anne? Who names their kid that? People ask my name and I say, ‘Tasia,’ to which they ask, ‘Tasha?’. ‘No,’ I say. ‘Trisha?’ No. ‘Well, what is it short for?’ they ask, and I’m like, ‘Nothing. It’s just Tasia.’ And you know what Mom? Despite your best efforts to reign in all those extremes, I am an Anastasia. I am all those things, and I should be able to have my rightful name!”
Sometime in the next few weeks, my mom drove me to the county clerk’s office.
“I’ll wait in the car,” she said with a wink.
(I roamed around for about thirty minutes before finally getting the gumption to ask the question at the front desk.)
When I returned to the car, I got inside the front seat, slammed the door, and sat silently with pursed lips.
“Well,” my mom said, “How did it go?
Fuming I bellowed, “They wanted to charge me TWO HUNDRED AND FIFTY DOLLARS! Just so I could have my OWN NAME!”
“Are you going to do it?” my mother asked.
“Pay them two hundred and fifty dollars, for my rightful name? I think not!”
At the age of nine, $250 was almost as much as million. I never did change my name, but from then on, whenever I could, I signed certain things with the name Anastasia. Everything I wrote was written by Anastasia. Over time, I grew up, became more conciliatory, accommodating, sarcastic, quiet, defensive, polite. Ana developed into a literary alter-ego: assertive, but caring; outspoken, but kind. Sometimes fearful, but always ultimately courageous. She always did what she felt was right, and yet at the same time, she wasn’t a jerk. She loved life. She glowed. She didn’t worry about what others would think. She was just herself and things worked out for her. She was almost like an imaginary friend.
The other day, I was struggling to zip up a dress. As I was running late, I started to get flustered, began to sweat, started considering other clothing options.
“Stop it!” I screamed inside my head. “It’s a dress! It’s fine! What would Ana do?”
And then I chuckled that this self-creation could now take up part of my life in this way at this age. Ninety seconds later, the dress was on, and I sat in front of the mirror applying makeup. Looking at the face before me, I was surprised to see…Ana.
Turns out I was right when I was a kid. Ana wasn’t so much an alter-ego as she was a true version of myself that I had at some point decided to hide from the world. Someone who I now found myself embodying more and more every day.
I smiled at her, and she smiled back.