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Friday, December 2, 2011

A Mouthful of Names, Jessica Stilling

He had all these names. Everything hyphenated, generation after generation a cross he bore on his back, on the forms he filed for the IRS, the way his full signature never fit anywhere. His name rolled off my tongue when I licked it from his stomach. It tasted like sweat then and wildwood, but maybe, less romantically, like software design and computer processing. I had shed my ex-husband’s name in the divorce, freeing myself and taking what I had been born with. It was like running naked through the woods, with that one name, the name that was mine and only mine (and I refuse to go beyond my generation, to think sociologically that I had gotten my name from my father and him from his father all the way back to Germany well before World War One and Ellis Island). No, it was my name and I had it back in the divorce, it was most of what I took, and then he came along with all those hyphens, three middle names and a confirmation name, just to let on that he was Catholic, and it was like I was tumbling.

Sean Michael Frederick Alexander Francis Cutler-Harrington. Not only did he have all those names, but long names, names that got stuck on your tongue when they were their own singularities. Sean from his grandfather, Michael from his mother’s uncle, Frederick after his father’s best friend who had been killed in a car accident when he was seventeen, Alexander after his parents’ first child who had died in the womb at seven months, Francis because Sean swore he was his favorite saint, something about poverty and animals, Cutler for his mother, Harrington for his father.

I was standing in his kitchen. We’d been seeing each other for a couple of months and I could stand in his kitchen without that awkward feeling you get when you don’t know where to put your hands and you wonder if you should be checking on the wood trim or commenting on the intricacies of the tile. We were beyond that; headed further into a nether world and I had just reached into his refrigerator and pulled out a carton of yogurt. I didn’t live there, I was only visiting, but part of this place was mine. And I hadn’t had a place that was mine for almost a year, not since the divorce was finalized. He was in the living room, on the phone with someone from work. Something about a job tomorrow and having to budget time for the weekend. He was comfortable taking calls while I stood in his kitchen, my hand on the granite counter, eating a strawberry low-fat yogurt because I had not had much to eat at lunch.

It was like this before. These things seem to move in cycles and I remember when I met my ex-husband, before he was my ex-husband, or my husband, when he was just a guy. First a guy who sent butterflies down my stomach every time I saw his name on my phone, then a guy who took me to see Broadway shows after eating at restaurants neither of us could afford. He was the guy I lived with, the one who took me to meet his mother in West Hartford, Connecticut; the one I fell in love with, then the one I married.

I met Kyle at a bar, nothing so romantic as the skies parting, no halos fellupon our heads, it just was and he happened to know a friend of mine from work. We were sitting next to each other, our hard wooden stools clanging together as he sipped a rum and Coke and I had some green apple flavored girly drink that the friend immediately started making fun of.

“Really Carmen, apple flavored liquor? What’s next, strawberry flavored suppositories?” the friend had said, laughing as a soccer match played on a television mounted above the bar.

“Oh, come on now,” Kyle had said and I noted his neat brown hair and the way his hand firmly held his glass. “It’s just a drink.” He smiled then and gave me his name, before that I hadn’t known. We shook hands, talked about the soccer match going on above our heads. I pretended to know (and care about) what he was saying. Twenty minutes later he bought me another drink. Ten minutes after that he had my number.

First it was the butterflies. When I came home from the bar, not exactly drunk, just a little tipsy, my stomach was shaking, thinking he’d call that night. He called two nights later and promptly asked if I’d like to see him that Saturday. We made a date and he buzzed my apartment three minutes late, which didn’t matter that much because I had twenty minutes more to waste getting ready.

I liked him, what do they say, they call it a connection, and it moved from there. We had dinner together every weekend, then we started spending more time at my apartment. His place was small and he had three roommates and so my place became ours. We did Christmas in San Diego with my family and then a summer holiday in Maine with his father. He moved in. It did not move quite so fast, this took about a year and in that time I still had my job and he had his. Well, actually, he’d gone from one job to another and when he started making more money we started thinking about trading in our cramped one bedroom for one with a larger living area, maybe a bigger kitchen.

One night while we were at a party for one of our friends (and the friends had become ours, like we’d put them in a shaker and mixed them all up), he got down on one knee and asked me to marry him. It was an outdoor party, on someone’s roof. The stars were out, and the little white lights around the edges of the safety railings made it seem as if some of those stars had fallen to earth. A few of the friends, simply by virtue of the looks on their faces, seemed to know what was going on. He looked at me, he made a speech. I couldn’t even see the ring, I was too teary-eyed.

We planned a wedding. We got married. I got strung out about flower arrangements and he had a fight with his brothers over who was going to be best man. My family flew in from San Diego, his drove down from Maine and Connecticut and we tied the knot with a justice of the peace even though Kyle’s mother threw a fit when she learned we weren’t getting married in a church, with a priest, before God.

Things were good and I loved him. Like the time we went to Italy and got lost in Rome, wandering around the Via Veneto until a nice English speaking family gave us directions to our hotel or the time in Trestevere when we met an aging painter and spent the afternoon discussing art with him over strong espresso. We went to Greece, visited Paris, ran around Spain. And there were the nights in our apartment watching the rain, making love on the floor, on the kitchen table we’d just bought as if it needed to be broken in. They were all there, these things happened and we were happy.

BUT...Will they stay that way? Click here to find out!

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