I’ll never forget when one of my dance mentors Jason Parsons found me in Denver, Colorado at a dance convention, years after I left NYC.“Suck a bag of dicks,” he flamboyantly spews in my direction. I guess you would have to know him to know that it was the most endearing thing he could say. “You mean to tell me that your married name is DeLaney? Chaney,Delaney…I can’t…EVEN.” It made me laugh deeper and wider than anything imaginable, except he always said my first last name wrong. So the rhyming and coincidence only made sense to him. I couldn’t correct him. He was so smitten. It still bothers me, all these years later. Why didn’t I correct him? I think that maybe his reason and rhyme gave me hope that everything was just as it should be. Because even then I think a little part of my soul quarreled and questioned if everything was as it should be. It’s just that the first few times of anything don’t cause for much alarm. It’s years of inklings, affirmations and feelings of unease.
A decade later I open my front door and find a package from my former father in law. Formally speaking. But I am ruled by feeling and he will always be like my father. Addressed to Erin Cheney, I gasp and gulp back tears that take me by surprise. His kindness. His respect. His duty. His attention to detail.It wrecks and warms me in irrational ways. He took heart to my late night text message. The one that exhausted the explanation of why I would no longer be sharing his name. The one that told him what an honor and joy it was to share his name. I don’t know why, but this message and this night hurt more than saying goodbye, or was it see you later, to my husband, who would soon no longer be. I know now that him and I were just in shock, not lacking emotion.
A few weeks later I pick up 2 tickets at will call. I am asked my name, and I hope that my first four letters will be enough, because it’s only then that I realize I don’t actually know my name. Formality and feeling are strangely lost on me. I pause. I stutter. I try.
“Çheney,” I finally say, It’s only a little late, and I wonder if anyone notices. I say it with a rooted calmness I haven’t known in years, but everything feels foreign. I try to make up for my confusion. I see my father’s face, my sister pride, my aunts beautiful silver strands, my uncles wide grin, and now it is me who is proud of this name, I wonder why it never hit home all those years before, but now is now, and late is better than never.
Erin Cheney. It’s my name. The one I was given. The one I let go of so easily to be made new. The one I cried over, when it was all over, wondering what made sense, what felt right. Giving up Delaney felt like erasing a decade that made me who I am today. It felt like betraying my children, discounting that we are and always will be a family. It’s only a name everyone tells me. But these things matter to me. Everything matters to me. It’s exhausting really. But Cheney was my name, along with my first breath and even when I took another, it was always both and, despite what any paper ever said, or ever will say. Cheney. Erin Nicole Chin-up Cheney.