Operation Caffeination

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Making something of myself

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My dad’s mom grew up in a log cabin in the Appalachian mountains. She was sexually abused by relatives and married her boyfriend when she was fifteen as a way to escape her family life. She divorced twice and had a child by one of her ex-husbands before settling down with my grandfather. They had three kids together, and my grandfather abused them all pretty horribly. The two girls in the family had completely ended contact with him long before he passed away. My own father is weirdly loyal to his dad and defends his memory valiantly against the completely non-existent attacks he worries someone out there may be leveling against his character. It is impossible to convince my dad that, outside of his own little world, no one else knows or cares about his father. Even now as a grandfather himself, he can’t disconnect from his abuser fully enough to put his experiences into perspective and recognize that his dad was human, fallible, limited. The mind control continues to this day.

I have nothing good to say about that side of my family. Alcoholism, anger management issues, racism, homophobia…you hate it, I’m sure we’ve got it in spades. My grandma claims to be a prophetess now. She. has a whole walk-in closer devoted to the storage of ancient, dusty cassette tapes that contain recordings of her “divinely-inspired prophecies,” which are all, conveniently enough, uttered in tongues. I’ve been told that you have to have the gift of interpretation to understand the tapes, which, fortunately, my dad totally has! Listening to the two of them in prayer together is like wasting an hour on the most entertaining online fortune cookie generator ever. It would be awesome except that they will lay hands on you to cast the demons out of you if you don’t join in and try your best to look really super constipated until grandma gets tired of uttering holy gibberish.

The rest of my grandmother’s home, naturally enough, houses her collection of more than 8,000 dolls, most of them porcelain collectors editions. My personal favorites, though, are the 4′ tall, completely life-like looking dolls tucked away in a closet in a spare room that is stacked to the ceiling with boxes of dolls. I ran across the closet full of grinning, unblinking, kid-sized dolls one day while trying to blaze a trail from the door to the window for fire safety reasons. I still have nightmares about those dolls. There must have been a dozen of them stacked in there, dusty but still smiling, staring blankly into my face. I am not one for big dramatic displays of emotion, but those dolls got a good scream out of me. Grandma may not have been crazy when she moved into that house, but clearly anyone sharing a living space with a basketball team of demonic midget dolls isn’t going to stay sane for very long.

All this to say, I have zero positive associations with my maiden name and would have gladly traded it in for a nice last name like Skocdopole or Bhatnagar. So when my now-husband proposed, my first thought (after “FINALLY!”) was, “AWESOME. New last name, here we come!”

I never actually did get around to changing my name legally, though. I go by his last name, but the paperwork…well…initially I blamed my foot-dragging on the hassle involved, but over the years (we’re approaching our fifth anniversary this June) I realized that I don’t like his name too much. It’s a weird German name and it’s a mouthful to say and you always have to spell and then re-spell it for people and it doesn’t suit me particularly well. It doesn’t have any connection to me, it’s just the name of a guy I married and have kids with. I feel completely comfortable calling my kids by my husband’s last name, but I’ve finally realized that I never got around to actually making the switch because I don’t want to. I want something completely different, in fact.

I want to change my name completely.

I want to take my mother’s maiden name, change my first name and drop my middle name entirely. Maybe replace it with something androgynous and weirdly awesome, like Kirby or Wallis, I don’t know. I feel like you can have more fun with middle names…but I digress.

I’ve talked to a few close friends and family members about my desire to change my name and other than one very dear friend who has known me since infancy, they have all tried to discourage me from taking the plunge. They are worried that I’ll experience some sort of weird personality crisis if I start going by a new name, or that this is a symptom of some sort of identity crisis.

Honestly, I’m pretty concerned that people will always think I’m unstable once I make this change, but it is something I need to do. My given name drips with conservative Christian values and no one else ever calls me by my name. It is humorous to observe the verbal gymnastics people go through to avoid calling me by my name. I have wanted to change my name since fourth grade and have never personally identified myself by my given name, so I don’t expect the change will seriously warp my personality. And let’s be honest…it was a little off to start with, anyway.

Now the question left to answer is how to establish my new name in other people’s minds, how to actually make the change real and stop myself from caving to the well-meaning but suffocating pressure placed on me by family and friends. I’ve been waiting for something concrete to come along to make this all feel real, to give me the little kick I need to actually do this, and I think it came today when my son pointed to a letter on a sign and said, “Look, Mommy, that’s the letter M like Margot! That’s your name!”

And…wow. Like it or not, there is no going back now because I don’t care if the rest of the world sees me as unstable but I will be a rock for my kids if it kills me. He knows my name, the name I love to hear, and he’s never going to have to know me as the conflicted formerly-religious person I was before. He’ll know me as I want to be: fierce, dynamic, countercultural. He’ll know me as I’ve always been, beyond the conflict and guilt and shame imposed on me by religion.

So here’s the plan: I’m putting money aside out of each paycheck, and when I’ve saved up $200 (by the end of July at the latest) I’m going to legally change my name. I’ll post the picture of the name change documents on Facebook once complete, along with a 3-5 paragraph long blog post about why I’ve decided to change my name and acknowledging that people will struggle to accept the change, and that will be that. I’ll change all of my documents to my real name and I will have it. Maybe no one will call me by my name properly, maybe it’ll never catch on but I will know. I will sign my checks and get my diploma all with the proper name written on them.

And my son will know. That is really all that matters.

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Written by GRSeim

May 19, 2012 at 6:58 am

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