Monday, February 20, 2006

Becoming Mrs. Misty Bell Stiers

Changing my name seemed like an endlessly complicated process, and by no means did I consider the paperwork. It was – it seemed – a sign of giving up a part of who I was, relinquishing my past and all it contained to start anew. And while some people may view that as a welcome event, I dreaded it. I fiercely hated the thought of it. Inside, I screamed against it.

I remember, in the Tysen’s house late one night – one of the first nights Sam and I hung out together, I got up to go to the bathroom. On the way back in, Nathan with pure orneriness in his voice asked Sam how he would feel if his wife wouldn’t take his name. I knew Nathan asked to cause a stir. Sam and I were dancing at the time, figuring each other out and Nathan had baited him. Nathan knew well my answer. He was seeing if Sam would have a good defense. And he did. He said he would prefer it, but not insist. I made my stand on never changing my name, ever – and we moved on,

Years later I found myself in a quandary – I was marrying Sam and as much as I knew he would never insist on it, would never even ask, he preferred it. And I did not. I would worry about it, I would wonder about it; about the reaction his family might have if I didn’t do it. If it would somehow seem like I didn’t love him enough, love them enough, like it would put a hole in our relationship somehow. That I had failed to commit in some meaningful way. That, somehow, it would mean I had failed us.

But, then, by changing my name it felt I was failing me. Like I was saying everything I had done as “Misty Bell” was no longer relevant, didn’t matter. I know that’s not true, I knew it then clear as day – but that’s how it felt. That I was somehow tossing aside the little girl who practiced football with her dad in the yard, the young second-grader who dreamed of being a painter, the 18 year old convinced that she could achieve anything she wanted if she just tried hard enough. The girl who went far away to school all on her lonesome and came back to some success. Who bought her own home and cared for it. Who sold that home to move on to bigger, harder, more challenging things – and overcame and thrived in them. It felt like that was being dismissed in some way. I can’t explain it properly; I couldn’t then and I’ll probably never be able to.

But I – who I am, who I saw myself as, was so closely tied to my name, that changing seemed kin to losing an arm. Overly dramatic, I know. But nonetheless. I argued with myself constantly over it, often putting myself in foul moods. I would stomp around the apartment, raging against the unfairness of it all. Mad at Sam that tradition protected his name, his history; that none of my relatives were just dropping his family name, erasing his past accomplishments. He would ask me what was wrong, and I would just sigh and insist it was nothing. And it was – nothing to anyone but me, really. I was fighting my own private equal rights movement in my head.

And then I considered hyphenating, using both names but just a space between, I even for a while thought the perfect solution was for us both to change our names. How perfect, we would suffer together! Sam of course would not even give that a thought. His reoccurring response whenever I brought it up was “You don’t have to do this if you don’t want.” And he wasn’t placating, he meant it. There was only one problem, part of me did want it.

Ha. Some independent dame I was turning out to be, part of me wanted to be Mrs. Sam Stiers. Part of me wanted to feel a true part of his large, kind, wonderful family. I wanted us to be a family, share a life, a name, a place in history in a way where we couldn’t be separated. Not even by the alphabet. I wanted to have the same name as our someday-children. I wanted his name, and all that it had come to mean to me through him.

I just didn’t want to lose me in the process. But one day, I realized that it was more than the arguments I was having in my head – it was more than just his name, his family, his life vs. mine. It was that now, suddenly, no longer a matter of "his life or mine." We were in this together. He would never dismiss my first thirty years, nor would he let anyone else do so. And I certainly wouldn’t allow it. It wouldn’t happen unless I gave permission for it to. And I know it sounds simple, but at the time it was quite the opposite.

This realization, this epiphany of sorts was big for me. I would travel alone, on a plane jumping up and down in the sky amidst crazy turbulence and I would think about how we had so much before us, we had plans, and I felt fear in my heart at a time when I never had before. I would get sick and instead of dismissing it, would want to go get checked, get better – because it wasn’t just my future anymore. I was – for the first time in my life (I am, for that matter) part of something greater than myself. Part of a life that was more than just mine.

I am different because I met this man, in a million ways. And what’s more I am different for being in this new world, sharing in this new life. And suddenly, changing my name to show people that was important to me. Changing my name to show him that was important to me.

Sure, the day I came home after standing in lines and filling out paperwork was just another day. When I opened my new social security card, it really was just another piece of paper. No one sees me differently; no one is affected by this small act. But I was. I am. It was almost as important to me as when I first said yes to him, or when I said my vows.

Yes, I love you. Yes, this is forever. Yes, I am ready to change my life and share it with you. To take who I am and become better, stronger, new. For us. Yes, this is different and scary and frightening, but I think it’s worth it. I want to take the leap. I believe we’ll fly instead of fall. I believe together we can build a better world – a better life than I ever could have alone.

I know it’s crazy and insane and ridiculous. But signing those papers was a truly big deal for me. But I know I made the right choice. I feel good about it. And I would do it again in a heartbeat. In a way it felt like a ritual I needed to go through to mark this passing of time in my life: this milestone.

And while really no one thought it the big deal I did, it felt good that when I told Sam’s dad I had done it he stood up immediately and gave me a big hug. It felt, for a moment, like a big deal. And I don’t think I’ll ever be able to put words to how special and grateful I was to him in that moment. Or how, in an instant, it took all my fears and worries and wiped them clean. It wasn’t about losing anything, it was about gaining so very much.

Sam’s continually had that affect on my life. It seems since meeting him it’s been one wonderful new experience after another. And standing in his house, surrounded by his family this past weekend it was just one more wonderful moment. Because this time, they were my wonderful family, too. And that felt truly amazing.

Of course, I'm still signing stuff with my old name - but I imagine eventually I'll get used to adding the "Stiers." That eventually I'll give it no thought at all, and I'm looking very much forward to that.


jamie said...

well put.

cgilch said...

all the cool kids have 2 last names :)

~m said...

Ha. What's funny is, I made Bell my middle name- I'm just being a bitch with everyone and insisting my WHOLE name is used. I was so mad on my driver's license when they used the initial!