November 7, 2001
Ever Rafter

The sweet little old lady at the polling place last night seemed befuddled.

"Is Pollen your maiden name, dear?" she asked, squinting through bifocals at her list of registered voters. "Or is it your married name?"

I explained once again -- patiently, because she reminded me of my Grandma, and because I feared and adored my Grandma, and because one simply does not get testy with one's Grandma, especially when both of you are there simply doing your civic duty like good Americans -- that it was neither. 

"I'm probably still registered as Polen," I said, taking great care to pronounce my former last name correctly. ("POH-lin" -- rhymes with strollin' or bowlin' or rock-and-rollin'.) "But I got married last summer, and my new last name is Rafter." And I leaned over the table and made a big show of pointing to my name and address in her book ... making sure to use my wedding ring hand to point with.

See? says the wedding ring. I'm all respectable and married and stuff, Grandma. None of this living-in-sin business.

"You really should have changed your voter registration as soon as you got married," she scolded.

I hung my head. "I know," I said meekly. "I guess I just forgot."

And it's true. I thought I'd changed everything that needed changing, right after the wedding  --  my I.D. and Social Security card, my bank account stuff and credit cards, my membership in the Matt Lauer Appreciation Society  --  but obviously gaps still remain in the formal Rafterizing process. Some of the 'gaps' share the other half of the bed with me, as a matter of fact. David was visibly startled this morning when an e-mail landed in our mailbox addressed to "Terri Rafter." He sat there looking at the computer monitor and saying the name out loud, a couple of times ... Terri Rafter, Terri Rafter ... as though it was the first time he was hearing it. 

"There's never been a Terri Rafter in my life before," he explained. "I'm still getting used to it." 

I understand. We're both still 'getting used to it.' I still experience the occasional amnesia moment -- when the UPS guy is waiting for my signature, when the Customer Care Representative is asking me to spell my name, last name first, when I'm ego-surfing on the Internet -- when I have to stop and think about it for a moment. (What's my name again?) But that's OK. I find the whole thing more amusing than annoying. It's part of the whole process of settling into a new marriage, like figuring out where you're going to store the new bath towels. (And the good news is that I really LIKE my new last name ... mainly because it's virtually impossible to mispronounce. No more "Terri Pollen," which always sounded like the name of a bacterial strain or a tropical disease to my ear.)

Other things I love about being married, in no particular order:

  • I love knowing that a dispute -- we don't have fights, we have disputes -- isn't going to be a marriage-ender. It may mean that one of us sleeps on the sofa for a night while the other one of us lays awake in bed, wondering what he did wrong. It may generate a heart-wrenching journal entry or two. But it doesn't mean the marriage is over.

  • I love being part of a big messy extended family ... his and mine and ours, all mixed-up together.

  • I LOVE being in love with my husband. This is something brand-new for me, and it is indescribably lovely. The best that my ex-husband and I could ever manage was a sort of default affection ... when we weren't busy throwing plates of spaghetti and lit pumpkins at each other, I mean. (The irony is that I feel more genuine fondness for my ex today than I ever did in the entire sixteen years of our marriage. But that's another story for another day.) I love looking at David, as he's pushing the shopping cart down the produce aisle, and thinking That's my husband ... and feeling GLAD about it. 

  • I love the feeling that I don't have to shoulder life's little burdens alone: that I am partnered with someone in everything from sobriety to sex, from taxes to termites, from laundry to leg cramps.

  • I love the fact that I am married to someone who is constantly encouraging me to be better than I am ... even if it means getting up out of my nice comfy chair, after a long day at The Dirt Company, and strapping into my uncomfortable shoes and finding my glasses and walking down the street in the cold dark night air to the polling place, twenty minutes before it closes, so I can do my civic duty and vote on the local school bond measure.

After I'd finished casting my vote last night, I returned to the registration desk to turn in my ballot.

The Grandma Lady smiled at me sweetly.

"Here you go, dear," she said, handing me a little red white & blue "I Voted!" sticker ... plus a blank Voter Registration Form. She showed me exactly where to fill in the name-change information -- "Now you make sure you take care of this right away!" she said -- and she gave me a twinkly, vaguely menacing look that said I'm going to know if you don't.

"Yes, ma'am," I meekly replied. 

I stuck the "I Voted!" sticker to the lapel of my sweater, and I carefully tucked the Registration form into my purse. Am I going to get busy and fill it out and mail it in as soon as possible? Damn straight I am.

The Grandma Lady knows my name ... AND she knows where I live.

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