Where everybody knows your name
"In education, in marriage, in religion, in everything, disappointment is the lot of women. It shall be the business of my life to deepen this disappointment in every woman's heart until she bows down to it no longer."
--Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Today's local paper included a story about a Vietnam veteran in Philadelphia who is looking for a Fort Worth woman he met in 1966, just before he shipped out for the war. Lenny Cohen had taken out an ad in the paper hoping for clues to her whereabouts using the information he had about her at the time.
I thought about all the things that can happen during a span of 40 years that obliterates the trail of a woman. We leave our parents' homes for college or work. We move to another town, state or country. We quit one job and take another. Sometimes...we die. There's at least a record of our death and moving geographically makes it difficult--but not impossible--to find us. It's only when we marry--and take the name of our husbands--that we rub out the last clue to our whereabouts.
If you've ever served on a high school reunion committee you'll have some idea of what I'm talking about. Ten, fifteen, twenty years after graduation, former classmates are using phone books and search engines to find us. You want to locate a guy? Look up his name. Get a friend in insurance to run a DMV check on a guy who is your age and who still has the name he graduated with.
You want to find a woman? Hmmm. What name do you look under? There's no guarantee she held onto her real name. The last time you saw her she was Genevieve Buckholtz and she was making out with Barry Urbach at graduation. Who is she now and what combination of words do you plug into Google to find her? What about the phone book? Even if she's married she's probably not mentioned in the listing. You'll be one lucky hunter if you can find her listed as Barry & Genevieve Urbach. Otherwise...you'll have to find the friend of a friend who still knows her and can offer up a phone number. Or wait until she finds you. Unless we have the presence of mind to hang onto our names, women drop like stones into the bottom of a silent, muddy lake.
In the interest of full disclosure I'll say here that I added Mr. Half's last name onto mine and I use both. Even though I never really got rid of my real name (I use both in my newspaper bylines), people assume that I did. Still...church, the PTA, people in the neighborhood just think I'm Stacy Half. I should have sent out announcements immediately after the wedding saying as much, because without any information or provocation, friends and well-intentioned family (both in-laws and outlaws) will bombard me with mail addressed to Mrs. Bryan Half (not his real last name...of course). EVEN ON MY BIRTHDAY....a day where, if nothing else, I should get to celebrate the identity I possessed when I came into this world. I mean...c'mon! The guy married me, he didn't adopt me. And no matter how many times I say it, few seem to remember.
When telemarketers call and ask for Mrs. Bryan Half I tell them that there is no woman named Bryan living in our home. You should hear the confusion that one statement causes. After witnessing years of watching me have an aneurysm each time someone referred to me in a manner indicating I was merely one of Bryan's appendages...rather than a person with a first name of my own, Mr. Half told me I should go down to the courthouse (for our 20th anniversary) and plunk down the necessary coinage to get my real name back LEGALLY!! (Imagine a country where one must pay to get a name back which was given to you at birth!)
I've given the matter considerable thought and my biggest reason for holding back was the idea that people would think we were divorcing after all this time. It's been hard enough spending the last two decades getting people to stop referring to me as Mrs. Bryan Half. Now I have to back up and tell friends and relatives that my real name (which they already knew) is the name by which they must call me. I should have had the foresight never to change it in the first place. It wouldn't have made us any less married or any less happy.
Any number of pointless observances, whether they be for religious reasons or societal, are still foisted on women today. Traditional apologists, including many religious leaders, claim that "it's the natural order of things" to abide by a patriarchal society. It's in keeping with "natural order" that cats cannot do trigonometry. There's nothing natural about one person changing her name in order to comply with the superior/subservient relationship it was meant to indicate when the practice first started.
But I wasn't thinking back in 1986. I was hard in love and anxious to move to another city with the man of my dreams. I held it together in the planning stages just enough to warn the minister that there would be no "giving away" of the bride, as though I was a prize heifer at the county fair. I was 27 years old and supporting myself. We used the term "presents the bride" though I guess semantics can't change what it means when one man hands a grown woman over to another man. Nor did Mr. Half ask my father for permission to marry me...nor for his blessing. What's the point of asking a question where the answer really won't change the outcome? I also told the minister there would be no mention of the word "obey" in any form or fashion. Homie wasn't playing that game either. So it wasn't until we turned to face the congregation after saying our vows and the minister introduced us as Mr. and Mrs. Bryan Half that I realized in one stunning moment what I had forgotten to take care of.
Yeah... I wince every time my birthday rolls around as I open my cards, even though our return address stamp on outgoing Christmas/birthday cards and all other correspondence bears my name (both last names) and Bryan's name on separate lines hoping someone will pay attention. Few do. So Lenny Cohen....I hope you find Sharon Johnson. I hope she recognizes herself from the description or that someone else who knew her has read the article and will try to find you. Because, dude, looking for her and actually finding her is going to be nearly impossible on a trail as cold as this one. Good luck to you. And Sharon J....wherever you are....I hope for your sake, for Lenny's, and a little bit for mine, that Johnson still your name.