I didn’t cry when the official divorce decree arrived in the mail.
The very first thing I did was call and order new luggage. A full set of colorful luggage with my original initials monogrammed on every piece. Then I purchased my first designer handbag and clipped my brightly colored leather initials to the bag so that they cascaded down the side.
Not only did I want my now ex-husband to see my bold new identity, I wanted to see it too.
My name at birth held power and now I wanted it back.
Giving it away had not been my idea.
As a new bride in the mid-eighties, I asked my mom what she thought about my keeping my maiden name which is short, simple and easy to pronounce. She looked at me as if I’d consulted her about the virtues of having an open marriage.
“Your new husband wants to see your commitment to him and that you’re dedicated to your marriage,” she assured me.
As newlyweds living in a basement apartment without a washer and dryer, we made weekly trips to the laundromat where we vigorously fought over whether the towels should be folded in quarters (his way) or in thirds (my way).
As we continued to fight about this week after week, I remember rushing outside to get fresh air from the morning sickness that left me light headed. We had discovered that we were going to be parents just a few months after getting married.
So to put a stop to the escalating arguments, I started folding the towels in quarters.
The next 20 years of marriage I continued to make more and more concessions to avoid the verbal onslaughts I endured from my emotionally abusive husband who demanded that his way was the right way.
When the divorce started, I began going to counseling to figure out what had become of my shattered sense of self and why even during our first year of marriage I had been willing to accept crumbs instead of an entire cake.
Adding parenthood into the mix so quickly had sent us into adapting traditional gender roles with me at home with a colicky newborn while he became a workaholic, trying to rise from the very bottom rungs of a highly competitive, corporate ladder, working both nights and weekends.
For so many years I had tried to smooth things over and focused on stability for our three kids as our respect for each other continued to erode. Silence and avoiding dealing with conflict became easier than trying to ‘win’ the next argument with my narcissistic husband.
The few times I dared to assert myself, my husband’s relentless insistence that he was right was so exhausting that I tried to avoid him as much as possible.
Once we started the divorce process, I had to learn how to emotionally detach from his frequent threats and relied on my attorney to take on the battle.
By the time our divorce was final, I began to examine how I had gotten to such a desolate and lonely place. I finally quit ignoring the pain deep within me that had been locked away in the vault that my heart had become.
Instead of always defining my life in terms of my roles as a wife and a mother, I learned about the significance of discovering and embracing my true self.
Who exactly was I now?
The very thought of putting myself first was both terrifying and exhilarating to me.
So I took back my name, monogrammed my luggage and I was on my way.