who am i?
The short answer:
My name is Rebecca N. McKinnon. I’m a born and raised Floridian who fostered a love of language at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts and matriculated at the University of North Florida. When I’m not working at the public library, walking my golden retriever or petting my two cats, I’m writing: a young adult novel, titled Janus; short fiction, for publication in literary zines; and blogs at RNMcKinnon.com. Sometimes I stream my writing sessions on Twitch!
The long answer:
In the pre-birth stages of my existence, people asked about me a lot more than they do now. The words that made me before genetics could complete me were simple ones. First, my gender. Then, my name. And, of course, the unspoken prayer that uses words only in the face of an eventual and inevitable failure: my health.
Because the subject of gender would lead to a ramble of unsolicited sorts, let’s discuss my name.
First name: Rebecca.
No, Becky is not okay. If your mind slips and on the way down kicks “Rachael” from your tongue, that’s all right; my mom almost named me Rachael. She liked our family tree’s repetitive “R”. The rhythm of sound soothed her, brought the men and the women together harmoniously with her maiden name Rogers, the paternal name Richard (I, II, and III), and my name: Rebecca.
Middle name: Naomi
For my great-grandmother on my mom’s side. She had my wavy, untameable hair and my love for poetry.
Last name: McKinnon
McKinnon binds me to my father’s side — a long line of Irish whiskey drinkers and Scottish warriors. When I marry, my last name will become Hawk. Though I’m sure it will create entirely new levels of awesome to associate myself with a taloned bird of prey, I won’t give up those Irish/Scottish drunken warriors so easily; I will keep McKinnon for my pseudonym.
If you understand nothing else, understand only the importance of my name, which always was and always is a choice. My mother’s choice first, and now mine as an author choosing a pen. I could have permanently shortened it to the gender neutral R.N. McKinnon. I could have fictionalized a name for my own amusement. I could have ignored my middle name altogether; the rest of the population tends to. But I didn’t do any of those things. In some intrinsic and therefore inexplicable way, my identity felt compromised by all of them.
So here you have it: Hello, Internet. My name is Rebecca N. McKinnon. It’s nice to meet you.
My mom labored with me for three days in what is now a mini mall where my partner and I used to buy groceries. Over two decades ago, Riverside Hospital looked out onto the St. Johns River, which flows neatly North to the Atlantic. If I defeated my fear of heights, climbed a ladder to the top of Publix, and looked out in the direction of water, I would instead see two blocks of high-rise luxury apartment homes. The fortunate claim that view now.
I don’t claim any views, but I have seen many things. In the womb, the doctor kicked me out of a depreciating amniotic sack early but, wrapped in wet warmth and unwilling, I fought to stay inside. Now on land I always find my way back to the water. It is as if I am constantly being born, each memory a birthing, each re-telling an act of sanctification, a baptism. And what do birth and memory have in common? They’re both slippery. I am just water and soul, a life of beginnings and endings, of memories. Where do I end when too many love me for death to stop the memory of me? The birthing of a memory, then, is immortalization at its finest. And memories, like fetuses, can only exist in brains and bodies made of mostly what? Water.
To follow the St. Johns River’s directionally incorrect current, you must start in the beginning of Southwest Jacksonville. Beneath and beyond the miles that stretch across the Buckman Bridge, I played the part of windswept passenger on my soulmate’s father’s sailboat. I was barely fourteen, at the start of my last year as a child, clinging to my purity as if I knew it was warranted, undeniably hopeful in the face of a future I could never be ready for. I smiled at her, squinting in the summer sun, and she gifted me with a rare smile back, full of genuine, albeit temporary, contentment. Over a decade later, I still see that smile in my dreams.
Continue North until the buildings grow taller than the trees, and you’ll find my downtown, its bridges made brighter by an unexpected SuperBowl, its traveling dolphins and manatees visible only to those with patience enough to watch the dark water in silence for hours. The Maxwell House factory sits on the river, its neon sign dripping coffee red as the lips of a first kiss. The deep, rapacious scent of crushed coffee bean possesses downtown only sometimes, but that red drip is the factory’s nightly presence, bringing me nine years of kisses in a variety of flavors. Sweetened, bold, full-bodied, all of them lingering on my lips until morning.
Keep swimming North and you’ll find my childhood fishing spot: an otherwise unidentifiable dock that is now owned by a shrimping business and occupied by a rather large shrimping boat. At my dock, my fishes’ powerful bites required a pair of rusty pliers and my father’s strong grip. Past the shrimping business, you’ll find the beginning of a road at a bait shop. It leads to nowhere now, and a few people set up tents there. I imagine it’s because nowhere’s cheap and quiet. The road to nowhere used to lead to a bustling trailer park, where I survived hurricanes, high-tide-hidden oyster beds, and my father’s girlfriends. Further upstream, you’ll find another, larger dock beside a small drawbridge. Its metal hinges quickened and froze the winter wind, but I did cannonballs into the water beyond the fishing poles in summer. With my feet dangling above the winter currents, I wrote emo poetry about my mentally ill mother and my evil step-mother. Only by over-exaggerating could I understand my feelings and, with understanding, let them gently down into the currents, destined to drown in their Northern trajectory.
Even further upstream, the ocean begins forcing transparency from the otherwise dark river water. In my memories, it’s low tide at Alimacani, just off the shores of Kingsley Plantation, where black slaves lived in white shell houses and where I felt (not for the first time) unnaturally alone on a high school writing field trip. The river’s increasing salinity stings paper cuts as it moves toward open ocean. The river lets out onto a host of welcoming coastal communities: Huguenot. Mayport. Hanna. Atlantic. Neptune. Jax. Ponte Vedra. St. Augustine. I’ve walked these coasts by starlight during the new moon, in deep conversation with myself as often as with others. I’ve walked the coast by moonlight, with thoughts toward the lands beyond the reflective horizon. I’ve jogged the coast by sunrise in protest of my curved lumbar, the pain dull and aching with every soft step. I’ve trudged through and tripped over damp sand toward open water as a thunderstorm turned the ocean’s evening sky red with lightning. It was too dangerous and beautiful to look away, but I tend to trip toward those kinds of places and people. I always trip away (just as dazzled) when slight concern for my safety turns to terror. Cowardice or self-preservation? I could never decide.
So what of now? The Atlantic Ocean leaves me behind on Jacksonville’s shore as it journeys to places I do not understand and places that do not understand me. The limitlessness is intimidating to most, but Jacksonville knows me well enough to scare me more than the roads away from it do. So, in August 2012, I made the move to Orlando, which is fitting, really; there is no river in Orlando but instead scores of lakes that the St. Johns helps to fill. Lakes are curious bodies that I do not understand–consistently attempting yet always failing to achieve their desired form: the perfect circle. I would like to study them and for them to study me, so that we may both learn to find contentment in the mistakes that have gotten us this far.