Updated: Nov 29, 2018
I was nine years old when I witnessed an argument between my father and his mother. It was the first time I heard my father say that his last name was Sanford and he wanted to know the identity of his real father.
The next day I told all my third grade friends that my real last name was Sanford. Some kids completely understood . . . and me . . . I was very confused.
Growing up I was an overachiever in school. As the awards and trophies filled my bedroom, I'd always looked at them and wonder, "Is that really me?" I'd see my name knowing it wasn't really mine. It was borrowed from a man that had no blood relation to my father or myself. So it always crossed my mind if my name were different, would people treat the same? Would I have still made the same choices in life?
"Would I have still made the same choices in life?"
As an adult I have established my name to reflect the person I am. It is a powerful identity marker, your name. It is so powerful and emotional for me that I refused to change it when I got married (later I caved and did the hyphen thing). Yet all these years later, she is still there. The confused little nine-year-old wondering if she'll ever get the answer that was denied to her father.
Death does strange things to people. And for me, the death of my father, and ultimately my grandmother, meant I could finally live and speak my truth. I could reinvent myself and my new legacy simply as Carrie. It meant I could link my place on an unfamiliar family tree without fear that I was betraying the family secret. It is only in telling the truth that I have found freedom and peace . . . and maybe, someday . . . forgiveness.