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.
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?"
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.