The cut rose looks beautiful in a vase but why can’t we bear the sight of her roots?
I took his name because part of me wanted to believe marriage was an all-consuming fire that no one could bear in their unadulterated, premarital form. Marriage changed the life and its subjects. Name change seemed slight in comparison to the overall geist.
To be fair, the romance began much earlier than the wedding vows intended to seal it. The little girl who wanted to be Joan of Arc grew into the woman waving signs along the sidewalks of Boston, D.C., and Birmingham, her parched lips repeating again and again “NOT IN MY NAME.” She shouted until she grew hoarse and finally lost her voice. To that woman who wore black for all the innocent victims of war, her protest upheld the magic powers of a name– the dissident’s belief that words can change the world, the existentialist’s assumption that we embody our ethics with every choice and breath. She didn’t care if she marched with strangers or friends so long as she walked uphill, lifting her vocal chords for what the media called a losing battle but what sounded to her like the stained glass echo of a cathedral chorus.
Such a woman has no business taking a man’s name after having worked to hard to say her own.
But I took his name anyway.
I took his name because romance felt sexier than revolution.
But also because my name sounded like boiled cabbage and foreign accents and the contaminations of communist history. “Stefanescu” is a common name in Romania, but raised eyebrows never ceased to remind me how uncommon such a name sounded in native Alabama drawl. “Stefa-what?” being the question I’d learned to anticipate at gas stations, courthouses, and extracurricular sports.
So maybe I took his all-American name to reduce the mispronunciation of my own. Or perhaps I thought C. sounded less suspicious than Stefanescu. Alina C. could be a good mom. Alina Stefanescu, on the other hand, couldn’t sit still.
The woman who took his name flips through albums containing photos of her previous versions. She looks back and admires the awkward, half-smiling teenager with unmanicured, soil-friendly hands. The girl in the photos doesn’t consider being anyone else except a future heroine. The girl in the photos is still trying to grow into the discounted Guess jeans she could barely afford.
I took his name because I come from an immigrant family that went red-white-and-blue. During the first year of college, my parents divorced each other, severed ties with their Romanian love stories, and moved into large, accommodating, American marriages brewed with the tasteful banality of Pottery Barn pieces. Suddenly, my email account inbox featured family events hosted on the July 4th.
My husband’s parents didn’t need to divorce and remarry to become authentic Americans. They were born here. Their first wails echoed down the sterile hallways of US hospitals. They didn’t undergo the awkward process known as “naturalization.” They’d always held hooplas on the 4th of July.
So I took his name. Erased my name to become another C. in a ceaseless succession of C.’s because, of course, every C. wife since Christ walked the sea of Galilee took her husband’s name.
But the external change failed to fix the internal discrepancies. C.’s hated flag-burners while Alina valued free speech more than sacred fabrics. C.’s voted Republican while Alina couldn’t bring herself to vote. C.’s were “pro-life” while Alina wondered why so many people who were pro-life valued the gestating life of fetuses over the life of suffering human beings. C.’s valued consumer prosperity while Alina feared it like the plague– for its generous numbness, its splendid distraction, the danger of generalized, nonspecific good times.
As Alina C., I had a responsibility to fit the family heritage. Looking different was fine so long as I didn’t think too differently. The pregnancies prevented me from thinking too deeply about my failures as a C. Every family needs a black sheep. Some families need several. I’d find a way to fit in.
I took his name because my in-laws spent years in the belly of the marital-problem whale but stayed married anyway and maybe the name was a hedge against my own family’s legacy of divorce. The lucky talismans I’d been raised to revere weren’t much help from across the ocean. Not even the Carpathian mountain legends remained stable– unstable stories are hard to recall, harder still to re-tell.
My childhood came back to me in another language– a mystical, fragile, evocative language, a tongue difficult to translate. Going from Romanian to American is like moving from magic to meal-planning.
Finding no middle ground, I looked for clear and present signs of impending good fortune. I read surnames like self-help books or guides on how to walk through the minefield of entitled maskulinities.
The right name was a free ride to happy places– destinations like Disneyland commercials where everyone laughed and smiled. Stefanescus divorced but Coryells stayed married for life.
I took his name because it mattered to him– and I liked how much he wanted me. I kept this a secret from my Stefanescu self because she was the sort of feminist who wouldn’t approve. Maybe people were right about feminists. Maybe they were just bitter. Maybe they didn’t know how good it felt to let go and get lost. To become a well-coiffed woman.
I liked how he wanted me so much that he was willing to act like an amoeba and settle for nothing less than swallowing me whole. I took his name and gave our children his name and tried (so hard) to feel proud that we were all the same.
Instead, I discovered unspeakable shame. The shame of selling out.
Because I never became a C. and he married a Stefanescu and when a C. marries a Stefanescu what comes logically is Stefanescu-C. but somehow we become our inherited mutations and so Alina C.– this mutant concoction– acknowledges how marriage alters a woman while Husband Coryell stays unchanged.
My mother was a champion downhill skier, a physician who took flying lessons at age forty to overcome her fear of flying, and yet she married my father and permitted the mutation. She took his name.
I took his name. When friends asked why, I said “it’s complicated.” What I meant was wordless– a persistent malaise at denying my family history and heritage to assume a foreign identity that, for all external appearances, approximated the coveted “normal.”
Whatever my rationale for taking his name, the truth is simple: the name doesn’t suit me. Though I love my husband’s family, I don’t want to be a C.. I don’t want to use air fresheners after taking a shit and I don’t want to put down my protest signs and become an apologist for cultural Christianity or neo-imperialism. I don’t want gift pedicures or marble countertops. And it still makes me cry sometimes to think of how my government terrorizes innocent civilians in foreign countries.
I’m an idealist, a tree-hugger, a person who thinks courage involves crying. I don’t care if America looks exceptional. At this point, I’d rather we look humane and decent. And I will never ever ever so long as my name is Alina stop believing that love can save the world.
I lack a Protestant work ethic. I don’t have ambitions for a bigger house or to be the president of any association. I don’t want people to admire me, and I am humbly grateful for every friend and stranger who sees the best in me rather than the obvious worst.
I don’t want to be cool or coy or sexy. I like cool, coy, and sexy things but I don’t want to be a thing and I’m working on unliking the ways in which my mind objectifies others.
I’m a restless, homeschooling, wanderlusty dilettante who never needed to get married. When I agreed to do it with the only male that had been my equal partner in crime, I pretended the equality could persist if I signed onto the romantic myth of amoebal maskulinity. I was wrong.
I don’t want to smile stoically and tell young lovers that marriage is “hard work.” I will never tell anyone to stay married “for the children”– no child should carry such a burden or be tormented by the guilt of being the world’s navel. Marriage is not (and should never be) an agreement to be deformed but an agreement to be formed together, alongside another human being. When marriage deforms a person, divorce is the most honest, decent solution.
In this castle I’ve built with my husband, we shoot the moon more than we build. Often, we tear a wall down and watch to see what grows in its place. It feels more like wonder than work.
There’s no how-to manual for building the castle that you imagine. The risk doesn’t settle into the cushion comfort of stability. We admire our callouses and weave stories from scar tissue.
If I thought changing my name would secure my marriage, I didn’t bargain for the way in which it denatured me. So now I’m going through the ardorous and unbelievably exciting process of changing it back. Not because I don’t love his family but because I didn’t marry his family– I married him.
Honestly, I think my husband will be relieved to lose the striving Mrs. C., the worry-laden wife who felt guilty for not having a pimento cheese recipe or not giving a rat’s ass about Disneyland. I tried to care– honestly, I did. But it’s possible to love and enjoy life without visting the Epcot Center or chilling with Snow White. There are many ways to be happy– many different formulas for fun. I’ve grown to accept that my idea of fun isn’t popular or cool– and that taking his name didn’t make me a better person or mother or wife. Only a less certain woman.
If my marriage can’t accommodate Alina Stefanescu, then my marriage is not related to me. Because I am Alina Stefanescu, a wild concoction of vowels, a name that crawls through teeth only to emerge as a song of myself, a racuous, immigrant litany.