Friday, April 18, 2014

Near Mrs.

As a little girl, I never dreamed of my wedding day. As a hardcore Barbie addict, I often dreamed of my wedding dress -- the puffed sleeves, the satin bows, the beaded bodice straining against my huge full-grown-lady boobs -- but never about the groom or the heartfelt vows or, as it turned out, my drunk wedding guests screaming "Go have sex" at my husband and me as we turned in for the night. I had a thing for sweetheart necklines; everything else felt like a necessary evil.

Even as a middle schooler, I recoiled at the thought of becoming Mrs. somebody else. I'd come to really enjoy my percussive Sicilian last name -- Rapisarda. It's not an easy name exactly, but it's got rhythm. My last name sounds like jazz hands and chorus line high kicks. My last name feels like one glass too many of jug wine. But most importantly, it's my last name.

When Shelby proposed in 2010, I told him matter-of-factly that he'd have to take me for richer, for poorer, and for Rapisarda-er. My last name would stay.

He asked only once: "But don't you like the sound of Dr. and Mrs. Shelby Highsmith?"

Hmm, did I like being referred to by my husband's name? It's a great name. I love his name; it sounds like the love child of Steel Magnolias and The Sound and the Fury. But it's not my name. And I'm not his livestock. So, no, I did not like the sound of it, I replied, totally calmly, I swear.

And Shelby left it at that. He literally gave a shrug and said, "Okay." He had bigger fish to fry, I suppose, like living with my hair-trigger feminism for the rest of his life.

For richer, for poor, in sickness, and in mental health

Certain family members, however, were baffled.

When I explained to my dad that I would be keeping my last name, he asked, "Can you do that? I mean, can you do that and still get married in a church?"

"Yes," I responded, "I can do that. And still get married in a church." I added that women can also vote and even own property. But my dad was unimpressed.

"What does Shelby think about all this?"

"Well, Dad, Shelby is fine with all this. Not that I need Shelby's permission to keep my own damn name."

"I don't know, Jess. What are people gonna think?"

"Which people, Dad?"

"You know what I'm talking about."

At that point, I just changed the subject, because there is no good outcome once a conversation with my father turns to the mysterious, ever-present "people who think things."

My mother-in-law was much more politic about her response. She's poised and impossibly stylish and exudes decorum. When Shelby explained that I wouldn't be taking his name, he said that she was quiet a moment and then piped, "How modern!"

Our families are wonderful. They are fun and funny and deeply caring. But they are also traditionalists, and my rumpus of a last name perhaps threw that tradition into a bit of chaos.

But here's the thing: I don't need my husband's last name to feel married to him. I don't need his last name to feel like we're a family. We are a team. We're Team Shelbicca or Team Jesselby, which is like Team Brangelina but with less money and thinner lips.

At our wedding reception, after a tender slow dance, the music took a sudden turn toward something more energetic. My brand-new husband plucked up the DJ's microphone. Then, in front of our parents, our siblings, elderly great-aunts and distant cousins, Shelby serenaded me with that classic love anthem, "Baby Got Back."

And because I love Shelby and didn't want to ruin the touching moment by literally dying of embarrassment, I delicately twerked across the dance floor until I ripped the bustle on my wedding gown.

See? Teamwork!

A few days ago, Shelby and I were loading Pork Chop into his car seat for a trip to the grocery store.

"Aw damn it," I said, "his face is still covered in peanut butter."

"If anyone gives us a dirty look," Shelby instructed, "I'll just say, 'Like your kid's never been covered in dog shit before.'"

"Boom! And I can add, 'What? Everyone knows that dogs' buttholes are cleaner than ours.'"

Then we high-fived and went to the store, because, well, teamwork!

And even last night, when Shelby was miserably sick, shivering through a fever of 103, he had my back. He lay under a pile of blankets in the bedroom, his face turned toward the humidifier. I knelt next to the tub in the adjacent bathroom, scrubbing mac and cheese from Pork Chop's scalp.

"No, wait! No, no, no, no, no! Don't move. Dear god, don't move!" Then, maniacal baby laughter. That's all my husband heard.

And despite his sore throat and aching head, despite the cough syrup delirium, Shelby croaked, "Poop in the tub?"

"Yes! Help!"

And he came stumbling and hacking out of the bedroom, searching for a poo retrieval device as I held our soaking kid under the armpits above the murky waters.

That, my friends, is some beautiful damn teamwork!

So, no, my husband and I do not share a name. But we do share the same dubious taste in music. We do share the same love of a good poop joke. We share a child, and all of the disgusting wonder that comes with being a parent. We inevitably share every virus brewed in the bowels of daycare. And sometimes we get to share a quiet hour at the end of the day, a little time to linger over a strong drink, to wonder how we got here, and to lean against each other like we always do.


  1. What a beautiful love story! Even with the poop.

    1. Sometimes you need a little poop in your life to appreciate all of the wonderful non-poop blessings.

  2. You are the shit Chip! Love ya, mean it. Sarah :-)

    1. He is the shit. He picks up the shit. And he puts up with the shit.

  3. Ahhh, a rose by any name ????? I forget the know what I mean. You are the bomb, niece!!! Love you, Aunt Judy
    (PS..My daughter did the same. No problem....the grandchildren have 2 last names. Hmmmmm, what will the GREATgrandchildren. This could get complicated. )

    1. Yeah, we decided to spare our kid a hyphenated last name. The combo of Rapisarda and Highsmith seemed like an awfully big burden for a little boy. Not that he will ever truly escape being a Rapisarda. Genetics are a really bitch like that.

  4. God, I hope I was trying to sound like a douchebag on purpose when I said that Dr and Mrs bit.

    1. You never have to try to sound like a douchebag, baby.

  5. ^ HAHAHAHAHA! No one has to label you the same thing to know that you two go together like peas and carrots. (I'll let you guess which one of you is Forrest Gump, Shelby.)

  6. Love is not love without a little poop. Of this, I'm certain. As always, great writing, great story!