By Any Other Name
As my wedding day approached, what had seemed like a simple decision became a cathartic way for me to find closure with my past.
Almost two years ago, I called my parents to end our relationship. As a teenager, I had come forward to tell them that a family member was molesting me. I often think back to that day, how everything inside me was quaking so hard I could barely get the words out. But after I told them, I don’t remember any hugs. I don’t remember any questions about how I had survived the past six years of shaking myself awake to protect myself at night. I do remember my parents telling me I could ruin his life. “Do you know what will happen to him?” my father asked, outlining hypothetical prison scenarios. Their guilt, and subsequent refusal to talk about the issue, compounded my fear and frustration, and it began to make me doubt myself. It took more than a decade for me to realize that pretending everything was OK in my family was actually a dishonest way to live, and that’s when I cut them out of my life.
Before Patrick and I married, I went through painful therapy, where instead of pushing down the memories, I relived them. I faced the overwhelming fear of my younger self and accepted what she had endured. Slowly, instead of being disgusted with her secret, I grew protective of her, and I also found myself awed by this young, isolated version of me who had found a way to survive years of pain. With this new view of myself, I discovered I was no longer consumed by my anger toward men—specifically, toward men who share my name.
Near the end of my therapy, Patrick joined me for premarital counseling. The two of us sat on the same couch where I had wept for the shame I had carried with me for so long, and we talked about the typical pre-wedding topics—finances, sex, children. My therapist said things to Patrick like, “Kids are going to be complicated.” I told Patrick, yes, I was scared to have children, and I was scared he would leave me if we didn’t. Through it all Patrick kept his hand on mine. “I won’t leave you,” he said. “I love you.”
I could see then that he loved both of us, the woman in front of him and the lost and lonely girl I used to be. And I realized: This is what it feels like to be part of a family. I suddenly blurted out that maybe I did want to become a Doyle. I’m not sure which of us was more surprised.
Over the next few days, I debated my options while Patrick remained neutral and said simply that he would support my decision. Meanwhile, I started to talk about my choice more freely and was inundated with opinions. I was told my choice was political, that to keep my name was a vote for feminism. But then a friend, who is a mother, said she sometimes wishes she had changed hers so she could share a surname with her daughters. And in a welcoming gesture of celebration, Patrick’s family gave me a T-shirt with “Doyle” ironed on the front, complete with a shamrock and the date of our wedding. I immediately slept in it, happy to connect with my new family-to-be, and wondering—hoping—that becoming a Doyle might finally bring me closure with my past.
Before long, though, my joyous epiphany spun into another surge of confusion. Again I started to feel like I hadn’t found my truth, and I began to rebel against the change I’d so enthusiastically embraced just weeks earlier. I picked fights with Patrick and told him he didn’t understand what this decision was putting me through. As dysfunctional and in denial as my family had been, I couldn’t shake the guilt about leaving them behind. I would still be Jennie Dorris, at least for a few more weeks, but suddenly I felt more alone than ever.