I was born William Charles Barbuto. I only learn this the other day when, for the first time in my life, I see a copy of my original birth certificate. At first this is an exciting discovery. I share it with my paternal sister and maternal brothers. I reach out to my first mother. I don’t ask her why, after over two years in reunion, she hadn’t told me she had given me a name, but I do ask her why she chose William Charles. I wondered if I was named after a literary character, but no. As it turns out, my mother named me after the father of the family who took her in when she was pregnant, because they showed her kindness. I am touched. I know that not many people showed my mother kindness during her pregnancy with me. In fact, hardly anyone knew she was pregnant, only thought that she was away for the summer for a nannying gig. And those who did know largely left her to fend for herself, under the wing of Catholic Charities.
I am named from kindness. Now that has a nice ring to it.
As my excitement over this new discovery begins fade, however, I start to feel queasy. I need to get outdoors, move my body. I go for a walk along the long drive where I live, perched above the Pacific Ocean. My agitation grows. So many names. Do I really have room for more? I feel dispersed, unbounded, like the vast ocean spread before me. This brings the count to three first names, including my current name, Julian, that I chose for myself; three middle names, including being named Charles twice; and four last names, including my current married name, Washio-Collette.
William Charles Barbuto
Anthony David Monterosso
Anthony Charles Collette
Julian Anthony Washio-Collette
My body feels so full, too full, overstuffed. My thoughts scramble to make sense of it all.
What’s in a name?
I feel agitated because I don’t know who I am, yet I continue to have to integrate new information, new stories, new relationships, even newly discovered names. And I want to scream, “It’s too much! I can’t bear it all!” Each of my previous names is a lost fragment, a false start, a life unlived, a ghost. So who am I now with such unstable foundations? I am searching. I am constantly searching, without rest.
Once when I was twenty seven, as I sat on a meditation cushion during a silent retreat, I watched as all the various homes and living situations of the past ten years paraded before my mind’s eye. So many! I decided to count them. Twenty seven, the same number as my age. Really, though? That’s some fucked up math! I made some kind of move on average more than twice a year, and I managed to sustain that pace, unplanned, for a decade. Is that even possible?
But that’s how I lived. From extended periods living on the road, usually on a bicycle, to living in my tent, or on a boat, or in houses and apartments filled with drunk punk rockers, to a room in a house, to a room in another house, another stint on the road, summers in Maine harvesting blueberries, and finally, in the latter part of the decade, in monasteries and meditation centers. The only constant was rapid motion—no roots, no plan, no future.
Thankfully, over the ensuing years I have learned to better ground myself physically, to remain in place for longer periods of time. I am even happily married going on seven years now. But inside, I still know no rest, as if my mind and heart are relentlessly sending tendrils of longing in all directions, searching for that illusive sense of home, of belonging, of the ground that is never the actual ground beneath my feet. William Charles, Anthony David, Anthony Charles, Julian Anthony. As if we are all still searching for one another, searching for our missing counterparts, searching for the real person—a whole person at home in his own body, in his own place, in his own relationships— that we desperately hope to find yet fear we never will.
I long to be bound whole and entire, for all the shards of this broken life to be gathered in one embrace, to know myself as fully known and loved. I long for what cannot be retrieved; to be held in the body, heart, and mind of my mother, to grow from that ground —roots, trunk, branches— so that I can flower. O Lord, Infinite Embrace Groundless Ground Find me.