Friday, April 6, 2018

Hyphenate This

The information simply didn't compute for my husband's friend. Let's call him Bill.

"What, did you lose a fight with Cait?"

No, he didn't lose a fight with me.

"Do you just not like your last name or something?"

No, my husband is perfectly fine with his last name. Well, half of his last name, now.

Mark and I came to the decision to hyphenate our respective names separately, which is unusual for us. He and I tend to talk about everything-- in a good way. In such a way that when he had to go to India for two weeks on a work trip, I would come home to our empty house at loose ends, brimming with those dumb little nothings that happen in my day and not having anywhere to put them. The cats, suffice to say, aren't great listeners.

My not asking Mark about hyphenating springs from an unfortunate, though rapidly waning, tendency I have: sometimes I assume that Mark will respond to certain cues in the way that other people have typically responded in my life. Even though Mark has unequivocally proven that he is nothing like anybody I've ever met before (including and especially the guys I've dated before), it's like a muscle memory to unconsciously project those less than stellar expectations. I'm trying to break the habit, because it's wildly unfair to him and just plain inaccurate.

Speaking specifically, I spent a very regrettable (literally-- I regret it a lot) portion of my twenties if not apologizing for being a feminist, then certainly not leading with it. I outgrew that habit in graduate school for two reasons: first, a feminist methodologies class changed my thesis and my life, and second, I got really tired of pretending to be anything other than who I am, even if that meant being alone. And based on that pesky previous experience, being precisely who I am would mean I would be going it alone.

My best friend, who never lost faith, told me once that all the things about me that scared all the boys away would be the things my man would love the most. She was right: that I was a scotch-drinking, pixie-haired, Doctor Who-watching feminist put off almost every guy I met on any dating site. And really, truly, thank God for that, because when Mark came across me and all of those characteristics, it was like the universe yelled, "YAHTZEE!"

Mark himself is an amazing feminist. Injustice of any variety-- including gender injustice-- makes him viscerally furious. He believes that all people are people and that no one gets the right to force their stupidity or prejudices on anybody else (also: amen).

So that I was nervous about asking this man, my then future husband, if he'd be willing to hyphenate, says a lot more about me and my baggage than it does about him.

The subject came up while we were out to dinner with some friends at a speak-easy type restaurant in Back Bay. One half of our dinner pair was one of my oldest college friends, who had changed her name when they got married. Carrie casually asked in the course of conversation if I would hyphenate, change my name, or none of the above.

"I think I'll hyphenate," I answered. I had already planned on doing so.

"Yeah, me too," Mark chimed in from my other side.

There was a nearly audible clonk as my jaw hit the table. I proceeded to make a series of high pitched, aborted squeaky noises before I managed to say, "You will?"

He shrugged like it was the most obvious thing in the world and said, "Well yeah. We're a unit. We're a family."

I remember the moment with such astounding clarity, right down to the fact that I was inexplicably eating an appetizer portion of bone marrow (it was lovely, but sort of beside the point).

Mark had said it like it was the most obvious thing in the world, possibly-- and importantly-- because, in fact, it was the most obvious thing in the world. One of my favorite bits of vestigial trivia from my days as an avid student of Latin is the derivation of the word "obvious." It comes from two roots: the preposition "ob," which more or less means "up against" or "immediately before." The second root is the noun "via," meaning way or street. So, literally, "obvious" means "right up against your way," or more colloquially, "this thing is so very much right there in front of you that you're going to trip on it and fall on your ass."

So here are my husband's kindness, his fair mindedness, his feminism, his general belief in the importance of not being crappy to people, and his mind-bending, paradigm-shifting, and still butterfly-inducing love for me-- and I trip over them in their obviousness and fall directly onto my ass. And never have I been more glad to be sitting there in the middle of the metaphorical road, looking up in bemused amazement at the best noun-- person, place, or thing-- that has ever happened to me.

Mark is also pretty accustomed by now to my periodically falling on both my actual and metaphorical ass, and is in both cases always ready to pick me back up.

To bring it full circle, it's worth noting that the aforementioned Bill-- who was so appalled that Mark would change his name of his own volition-- is not one of the most enlightened or discerning people I've ever met. But you know what? I didn't marry him. I married Mark. Because no matter how many stupid people there are in the world, no matter how many of them I may have dated, Mark isn't any of them. Mark isn't anybody but himself, and who he is is the most remarkable human being I've ever met; he's also my husband, my unit, my family, my home.

And now he's someone with the same last name as me, and someone whom I love so much that everything I start to write turns into a love letter, almost without my noticing.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Love, Space, Time, and my Grandpa Jack

The evening before my grandfather's funeral, my dad's side of the family gathered at my cousin's house in the Boston suburbs.  As I write this, in the midst of planning my wedding and writing Grandpa's marriage advice into my vows, I realize that in a weird way, that night was sort of the rehearsal dinner for the funeral, which sounds twisted but makes a certain amount of sense when you think about it.  I ended up sitting next to my grandmother in the living room.  She looked around, calm but not dazed, and said to me, "It's so funny.  He always knew where I was in a room."

My sister, who was pregnant at the time with Grandpa's namesake, said she saw it happen from across the room.  I got up, walked out the front door, sat down on the curb, and bawled: big, ugly, choking sobs.  My cousin's husband found me by accident and had to peel me off the asphalt. 

That moment with my grandmother has come back to me sometimes since then.  My grandfather, Jack, comes back to me more often than that, often several times a day: when I see a picture of my nephew, his namesake, with that roguish twinkle in his eye that Grandpa had; when I put an ice cube in my scotch (he always told me it opened up the flavor, even though I prefer neat); and most especially when I wish so desperately that he could've met the man I'm going to marry.

I know the first thing Jack would've commented on is my love's height.  We are not a large people on my dad's side (we got sarcasm, not height, from our Welsh heritage), but Mark stands at 6'4.  I can imaginewith such clarity and vividness that it's almost a memoryGrandpa sitting in his favorite chair and raising his eyes to travel up Mark's remarkable frame.  His eyebrows raise too, and he looks over to me and says simply, perfectly, "Holy smokes.  Couldn't find a taller one?"

Oh God, but he would've loved Mark: both aficionados of the elaborate, marvelously bad joke; both avid Scotch drinkers; both devoted to their families with a kind of fierce steadiness.  I imagine Mark sitting with Jack, discussing the relative merits of peat versus sherry casks, and my heart creaks with the strangest ache, which marks the spot of something wonderful that never had a chance to be.

Another thing that will never be is Grandpa's presence at our wedding.  I have one of those quiet, helpless jealousies that he gave the toast at my sister's rehearsal dinner, and he will not at mine.  He will not comment on the motorcycle boots I intend to wear down the aisle, and he will not use his soup spoon to ladle ice into the scotch toast.  He will not be sitting next to my grandmother, and now, having found my own human, I begin to have the tiniest, barest inkling of what that must mean, and the vastness of his loss seems almost insurmountable. 

To love someone, to live with them, to share the space of your whole being with them for more than half of your life... what happens when that person is gone?  In my early twenties, I theorized about love as a kind of miraculous relativity, and (surprisingly) I think I was right.  But if you follow that logic (realizing my knowledge of physics could fit into a teaspoon with ample room for sugar) then that loss must bring with it a fundamental shift of all the laws of the universe: gravities and bodies in space stuttering, swinging wildly out of orbit, or simply halting in their path, because that person who was always next to you simply isn't anymore. 

I have always been appalled that when I have lost someone I love, all of the atoms in the universe have not suddenly frozen in space, because something has gone horribly wrong with the physics of the world.  The more I think about it, maybe they haveit's just only a few who realize it.

Already I know that my own physics have been changed by loving and being loved by the man who will soon be my husband.  It's true every day on both a large and small scale: I move through space differently because of him.  That covers everything from sharing the mattress to walking through my day knowing that there is someone in another space in the world to whom I am ecstatically tethered.  It's like we have our own personal gravity, always irresistibly pulling us back to each other.  We are only truly at rest when we are together.

Over the weekend, Mark and I were at his parents' house as his dad prepared our taxes.  I was tense and irritable (funny how taxes do that to a person), and my love could smell it on me a mile away.  He has an uncanny ability to read my moods; he often has a sense of what I'm feeling even before I do. When we were alone in his dad's office, him sitting in the desk chair and me standing and radiating tension, he pushed his chair over to me and wrapped his arms around my waist.  When he's sitting like that, his head is at the perfect height for his temple to rest on my sternum.  I folded my arms around his neck, and we stayed like that for a few minutes, my blood pressure slowly returning to normal.

Alongside my mundane irritation, with that weird grace that sometimes comes with cognitive dissonance, I felt gravity achieve a perfect equilibrium, and I understood thatas much as I am still myselfI am also part of a new body, a new whole, moving through the universe.

I'm not sure what Einstein would've had to say about any of this, but I don't think he'd object to the general theoryhe did seem to have a grasp of the strange, wonderful nature of the universe, didn't he?  I like to imagine that he and Jack are toasting us from the great beyond. 

With scotch on the rocks, of course.