Growing up playing sports everyone called me Crane. Whether my coaches were screaming at me, barking at me, cursing me under their breath, or praising me, it was Crane this, Crane that. I liked the sound of it in their mouths, reminding me that I was an athlete. To be an athlete, in my eyes, was to be greater than human, god-like. To transcend the fraught questions you had about things like your gender and who you wanted to kiss when the lights turned low.

In high school and college, I wore Crane on the back of my jersey, down the sleeve of my sweatshirt. In the morning paper, the sports section read Crane’s Clutch Jumper Gives Drexel OT Win Over Delaware, 60-58. Even the student section celebrated my last name with signs that read: Some people want their child brought by a stork, but we want ours brought by a CRANE.

When I was on the basketball court, I felt powerful, limitless. As long as I had the ball in my hand, the ball on a string, doing whatever I commanded of it, nothing could ever go wrong. With four seconds left on the clock, our team down one, I could receive an inbounds pass, jab right, drive left, and pull up for a jumper, feet leaving earth, suspended in mid-air for what felt like hours before the final shot, the ball falling through the cylinder and searing the net. As I listened to the crowd chant Crane, Crane, Crane, I could convince myself that I was flying, that flying was all that mattered.

My first name, though? Off the court, on the rare occasion anyone called me Marisa, I kept on walking, sure they weren’t talking to me. Marisa, the name my mother referred to as “beautiful for a girl,” the name that meant of the ocean, though I wanted to be of the sky, a winged god of my own making, transcendent and untouchable.

My mother called my dad by our last name, too. Whenever he sat with my brother, sister, and me on the basement couch watching the Sixers, my mom would call down the stairs: “Crane!” And we’d say, “Which one?” And she’d say, “The old one!” I always assumed the man I was supposed to want to marry one day would call me Crane, too, that this would be a small gift in what I otherwise considered a horrible and stifling arrangement.

But basketball ends for everyone eventually, no matter how long we delay the inevitable. For the first two years post-graduation, I coached at the collegiate and high school level; for a while, I was Coach Crane. But coaching wasn’t the same as playing—I didn’t get the same rush, the same high, the same reason for living. Wanting to recapture that sense of purpose off the court, I switched careers and became a mental and behavioral health worker. During the day, I supervised a caseload of young schoolchildren, and after hours, I helped teen boys express their emotions through basketball and poetry. I never wasn’t thinking about those kids; I loved the shit out of them. And good thing, because overnight, I went from Coach Crane to Miss Marisa. Everywhere I went, I heard, hey Marisa, hey Marisa, harsh like a threat, a daily reminder of who and where I wasn’t.

More than ever, I yearned for basketball the way I used to yearn for my teammates. For those brief moments of reprieve with a ball in my hand. On the court, I had been genderless; I could ignore the Go ladies, Let’s go, girls so long as my name could still predict flight, so long as it could still hold me when I inevitably fell back to earth. Off the court, though, I was too much: too much Marisa, too much woman, too much she she she.

In utero, I was temporarily named Mackenzie, but my parents changed their minds, worried people would call me Mac. Growing up, I always felt I’d been cheated out of something—a kindness, a gift, an I-see-you. Later, as an adult, I wrote an entire novel from the perspective of a basketball player with this name before I gave myself permission to ask for the same love. To create a new pattern of flight where the whole world is my court, and my shoes have nothing under them but air. To turn in joyful recognition whenever I hear my name: Mac Crane.

Mac Crane is a writer, basketball player, and sweatpants enthusiast. Their work has appeared or is forthcoming in Prairie Schooner, Passages North, Joyland, The Offing, TriQuarterly, The Sun, and elsewhere. An American Short Fiction Merit Fellow and Sewanee Writing Conference Fellow, they are the author of the debut novel, I Keep My Exoskeletons to Myself, which was a January Indie Next Pick and New York Times Editors’ Choice.

Artwork by Kah Yangni