My name is Mary Ford. My mother, a blonde WASP that grew up in Long Island, named me after Virgin Mary. She dressed me in head to toe white until I was in the Fifth Grade and got my period for the first time. From the moment that my white cotton Capri’s were stained by those few drops of blood, my mother knew her little Mary had crossed over to the dark side. From then on, I did whatever I could to avoid living up to my name. By the Eighth Grade, I was no longer a virgin. My friend, Lauren, took me to the clinic to get a birth control prescription and in the waiting room I swear to God I saw an angel appear before me and say, “Mary, God bless your soul. Mary, you whore.”
To this day I believe that she was a sign, an omen, like Moses and the burning bush. But instead of freeing the Jews, I had to liberate myself from the confinements of ‘being Mary’.
Lauren claims that I must have drifted off while watching Supernatural on the shitty TV they had above the receptionist desk, but I remember her so clearly. The angel was blonde, with deep blue eyes and she wore a cable knit sweater set. She looked exactly like my mother did when she was younger.
Mary. The name haunted me as I continued to grow. I sought the excitement and adventure that was attached to a name like Roxanna or Zeba. With a name like that, I could wear leather and drink beer without worrying about counting the calories. People would assume I had lived in Europe, somewhere exotic and remote. They would believe me when I claimed to be a struggling artist, sleeping on the streets of the Champs Elysees. When I had shared thoughts like these with Todd, my first boyfriend, he had stroked my blonde, tediously straight, “Doctor Barbie” bob and said, “Babe – what’s wrong with Mary? My grandmother’s name was Mary. She was chill.”
As soon as those words fell out of his mouth and hung suspended within our sudden tension, I never saw Todd again.
In the tenth grade, I started seeking a little adversity by driving into The City and walking a little too far up Park Avenue. I’d know I had arrived in Spanish Harlem as soon as I’d hear, “Hey mami, why don’t you show me what you keep hidden under that top?” Half of me wanted to run to the police obnoxiously yelling “RAPE”, but another part, my alter ego, thrived off of their attention.
One night I met a boy who told me that I had the biggest ass he had ever seen on a white girl. I thought it was love. Then he told me his name: Jesus. Mary and Jesus.
When I left Spanish Harlem that night I felt God following me.
My struggle continued as I escaped Long Island, and set forth on my journey towards college life. My mother made it clear that I was expected to ‘go Ivy’ and Brown was the perfect medium: the prestige of an academic institution and the student body of Woodstock. It was the ideal place for my social rebirth. On my first day of classes, a short girl with Invisi-line braces and overgrown bangs tapped me on the shoulder and asked my name. Suddenly, my alter ego took over and declared that it was ‘Marie’ .
With a rolled ‘r’ and a ton of sass, ‘Marie’ was a whole lot braver than Mary had ever been. ‘Marie’ started taking samba classes and performing in poetry slams. Students loved ‘Marie’ because she was spontaneous with an air of mystery. Teachers raved over her punctuality and attention to detail. She was malleable, the girl of everyone’s dreams, including my own. The only person who wasn’t a fan of my new persona was my mother. She claimed ‘Marie’ was too gaudy, too much of a Harlot. I was in heaven.
Towards the end of my time at Brown, ‘Marie’ began spinning out of my control. Her guise consumed me and I decided she was too extraordinary to waste on dim-witted Ivy League children. They were too much a part of Mary’s world, the life that my mother wanted for me. So ‘Marie’ got involved with a boy from RISD, and through him I met his friends Diamorphine and Oxycodone. The four of us would spend long days in his dorm room, bonding over our mutual hatred for tennis whites and ‘the man’.
One night, ‘Marie’ decided to make an art installation out of a bonfire for my old clothes, white period-stained capri pants and all. When I blacked out while chasing the flames and chanting “ITS ALL A LIE’’ and ‘TUPAC IS ALIVE’, I knew my days as ‘Marie’ had come to a tragic end.
I saw her when I came to. The angel had returned, resurrected after my little brush with death. Her blonde hair and blue eyes differed from my memory. She had aged. Her brow was creased with concern, exposing thick lines dented in her forehead.
“Mary.” The name echoed and filled the tiny hospital room. “Mary. You look awful, just awful. When you’re feeling better, be sure to shower and change into the clothes I brought. Tomorrow, I’m taking you home.”
And with that, my mother turned to leave. My eyes focused on the white dress she had left on the chair next to my bed.
“Oh and Mary,” she cleared her throat and peered over her shoulder. “Do smile. You’re beginning to look just like me.