By Em Ricciardi

I was named after my grandmother
it’s not as special as it sounds
everyone in my family is named after someone else
we come in pairs
two by two
growing up I was not just me
I was part of an us
a Little to her Big

I used to love our name
it was uncommon to my peers
I was often told I looked like our name
unique
our name was an identity all its own
our shared self
a link across generations
a sign of my place in our family 
and in the world

when I realized I was trans
finding a name was a struggle
I could no longer stomach her name
instead of pride I felt shame to hear it
but I craved that identity
that connection
I could have chosen another family name
but they hung off my body like an unwanted dress
connected to unknowns
not me
I am part of a pair
I wanted my grandma to be part of me
even if I could no longer be part of her
so I stole the first syllable of her name
Em

I never came out to Grandma
by the time I was ready she was too old
her memory so spotty
I would have to explain 
over and over
every time we met
her name remained as a shadow on me

I stayed in the family
despite their disrespect and distaste
warnings to hold my tongue
to not rock the fragile boat we had become
I stayed for her
and the memory of our connection I was desperate to hold
she died at 96 in a place I could not visit

at the funeral I felt relief more than grief
her death released me from the family
I was free from our pair
free to be Em full time

my grandma was a painter
her home was filled with 
houses and seascapes and portraits
I used to love staring into these other familiar worlds
I received two paintings
after her death
a vase of pink roses on a blue sky
and two cats traversing a sunny windowsill
I had seen these paintings all my life
in the hallway
next to the kitchen
but for the first time I looked
at the blank spaces where she had signed her name

Em 

two letters
one syllable

Em

my name in my grandma’s brush strokes
these paintings were older than I was
older than my true existence
had she somehow known?
thirty years early
way before even I did
had she known I would be leaving her name behind?
had she written our name on the paintings for me?

it’s hard to describe this feeling
this reintegration into one half of who I was
and who I am
as if fate reached forward from the past to say
you will lose family
and you will lose friends
you will lose safety and dignity and respect
but you will not lose this
you came into his world as one half of a pair
this is your identity
you will not lose this

I was named after my grandmother
and I am named after a memory of her
and she, in some ways, was named after me.

Em Ricciardi is a life-long lover of stories: the good, the bad, and everything in-between. Their passion extends to writing queer-focused short stories and poetry that are usually only shared among friends. They are pleased to be sharing these two poems to a wider audience. In their professional life, Em works at the Library Company of Philadelphia as a cataloger and can occasionally be found stage managing at various community theaters. When not working or attempting to write, they enjoy playing ttrpgs, watching silly internet shows, and collecting truly ridiculous amounts of Stitch memorabilia.