I saw the seven words, then it finally registered with all the synchronicity of a lighted odometer turning over from all nines to all zeroes. This was it! The riddle had been solved! In ill-considered black and white here before me, written three days earlier, on my mother’s 48th birthday was the culminating stroke of this freaky name-change operation thing I had charted for months with soft sell handshakes and strange grimaces to any new person who happened to meet me.
And I took the name Gabriel Thy...
The Howell House was clean and active, even upscale I suppose one could say, secure and nearly two-thirds geriatric. My mother lived four floors above me up on the sixth floor of the 18-story building. She was on staff as the senior citizens coordinator and bookkeeper, and I occasionally helped her out with some of the more confined and colorful patrons doing odd chores for them. I was anxious to tell her of my discovery, although I could hardly expect her to understand the impact this fresh twig of myth and reality would have on me, Richard, the eldest of her seven children. It was her birthday and we were to have dinner together. I was bursting with excitement but I was understandably challenged by a mother's sense of her own naming rightsto bring the gift of reason to the dinner table that night.
I was thoroughly bewildered. The name was certainly an odd one, a very special one. I liked it, approved of it, but without a doubt it certainly had a very pretentious ring to it. I was not at all certain I in good faith could take it. And what would I do with it? The cornpone religiosity, the in-your-face God-component of the now prophetic name-change operation, self-fulfilling and otherwise, was obvious to me. But I was sure others would laugh me right off the sidewalk. What about those who already knew me as RSNa right interesting vintage acronym already, particularly when pronounced Risen or risin as in...Christ is risen! How would my family, particularly my mother react to this news, a most suspicious tale ringing with tremendous religious overtones, or as others might prefer, smacking of superstitious or worse, some kind of dangerous demonic affiliations? Of course many people have changed their names with no other purposes other than enhancing one's business, hiding an ethnicity, blending in, or sheer simplicity in mind.
Having finished with ecclesiastical literature, about this time I had also finished reading, was presently reading, or would very soon be reading the herded vapors of Gide, Camus, Sartre, Kierkegaard, Miller, Darwin, Kerouac, Nietzsche, Castaneda, and Douglas R. Hofstadter, author of Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, A Metaphorical Fugue on Minds and Machines in the Spirit of Lewis Carroll, the latter, a landmark ransom for me, among others. But I would not wholly give up the ghost. I clung to every shred of hope massaging my investigations that God would clear me for landing his understanding, that each and every one of the moderns were wrong in their denial of deity, dead wrong in their intemperance in disparaging the creative power from without, even as they worshipped the creative power within whether it be DNA or environmental advantages. Time and time again I found the writers complaining not against Christ but rather against the wretched incarnations of the church, its scavengerlike methods poisoning their minds against all of the burlier forms of theology and the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jesus of Nazareth. Still I persisted just as I persist today.
The name was mine to take. That much was had been chanced upon, had been written, had arrived in a happy circumstance. There was no doubt in my mind that this was living theatre, that I had been given an emblazoned word of prophecy in Corpus Christi, and it was fulfilled here in Atlanta because I had stayed the course. But I also intuited that there were certain terms involved, certain measures and quotas to be filled, certain spiritual hoops to be jumped through in order to discern whether or not this was this real McCoy. Because it was my understanding that I’d come to this earth through the wondrous body of a woman, was named by that same woman, had bullishly married and was now irreparably separated from another woman once twice my age, it was preserved in my mind and reinforced by circular logic that if this name change was truly from God, my doubts could only be dispelled if endorsed by a woman. And by no stretch of time or imagination was this an easy task to discharge, seeing as I knew almost no women at the time and had little coin with which to persuade others that this was on the level, was no prank, no plot to appear artistic and sublime, nor merely a passing fancy. Yes neighbor, I was feeling tragically symbolic, alone but for the voice of God resounding in my head, just as intricately wrought analysis of my daily experiences had led me to belief.
I was working three hours a day downtown delivering pizzas and sandwiches on foot to the downtown Atlanta highrise luncheon crowd. I saw many faces and shared a quick grin or a few words of friendly chat, but my social importance was next to nothing. When I had a few dollars to spare I’d occasionally dip into a rather eclectic pub down Peachtree Street a few blocks from the Howell House for a pitcher of cheap suds, but knew only a few guys, the bar maid, and maybe one woman superficially at best. The happy hour crowd was always buzzing with a spattering of high profile cultural scooters including the nucleus I later grew to appreciate individually as an art curator, a couple of attorneys, an old hippie or two, a librarian, a couple of salesmen, a science fiction aficionado, a banker, a copywriter, an amateur actress, a faux cubist painter, a few struggling musicians, a chess champion, and a CDC technician.
Yes, that was it. She listened to my poem and she approved. Mother would learn only later, and now I recall another event which I shall get to shortly. That afternoon at the Stein tavern I did however note my apprehension at appearing far too pretentious for these cynical hobbyhorse times by dubbing myself Gabriel Thy. I was a nothing, a fledgling writer, a seeker after an illusive and much debated truth, caught within the mechanical web of all breeds and conjugation of fact and fantasy, and yet despite my busy faith and rote exhilaration, I could not call myself a christian because quite frankly I couldn't fathom exactly what the word meant anymore, if indeed I ever did. There were so many conflicting versions of the title that I just preferred to leave it alone, to let the scavengers pick the bones clean if need be.
Little did I know at the time that even as I in all seriousness was changing my name thousands of others were performing a similar operation. The nihilistic era of the rude nickname had arrived in spades, the new epithet of the unsung, pacing the steamy streets and charlatanic nightclubs with the vengeance of a caged wolf, with little respect for anything, hardly sparing themselves. Visceral yearnings in youth were reshaping a new generation’s perspective on love and hatred, and the mad rush for mostly vulgar monikers had already begun in earnest.
Names like Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious became the norming curve for acceptance into this thriving cult of nothingness. My own name mutation, void of applause or record deals, shock value or normalcy, was a serious matter, referencing everything I earnestly believed about the nature and signature of the Creator, flagging for all to observe, his will for me and mankind. To understand this name would take time for me as I experienced what surely would be a new direction in destiny. The easy part was over. Onto the Directed Path of God’s dotted line I was willing to sign, but where, and how?
My anxiety with these problematic questions did not evaporate with the introduction to Kathleen. I still begged in my spirit for more validation.