shoes of discord

Townsends are a stubborn bunch, born and bred, and temperamentally frugal, to boot. There’s an old family yarn that illustrates our ingrained thrift, originally a lesson in good Yankee economy, trimmed over the years into a succinct truism more indicative of self-spite: “Eat the rotten apples first.”

The other evening I hopped the train downtown to meet Chris so we could attend an event at Columbia College. Since the waning day proved cooler than any we’d enjoyed for awhile in this summer’s arid swelter, we agreed to walk what seemed a manageable distance from City Hall to the event.

Four or five blocks in, my dogs, as they say, began to howl. This surprised me some. My footwear, while arguably selected more on the basis of appearance than utility, was a standby favorite pair of platform sandals in which I’d lasted entire workdays without blink or bellyache. My escalating degree of discomfort on this occasion was therefore unexpected. The farther we ventured down the city’s pavements, destination failing to appear, the crankier I grew.

Now, Reisers are for their part constitutional smart asses (Chris: “Would you prefer a dumb ass?”). My darling spouse’s typical response to my too-seriousness is rapidfire delivery of quirks and jocular jabs intended to provoke a bit of a laugh at whatever’s causing undue consternation. In this vein, he declared, “I’m throwing out those shoes when we get home.”

Regrettably, I fear I’m not always the ideal recipient of a bracing spiritual tonic. Another characteristic trait of Townsendism: stone cold denial. If we don’t like it, it doesn’t exist. My shoes were fine. I was fine. We were nearly there… weren’t we?

Another few blocks spent stewing over his autocratic announcement, and I had morphed into the prickliest of pincushions: “I’m going to start throwing out your shoes and see how you like it.”

The silence of a mutually aggrieved trainride home gave me sufficient time, off my feet, to reconsider the wisdom of my snappishness.

Upon arrival home, I plopped myself down on the floor of the front hallway and took a good hard look at the real perpetrators– and discovered that my shoes were cracked right through in several strategic arch-supporting places. In point of fact the things were falling apart under my feet. Well, hell, no wonder they hurt.

Townsend to the last, I’m afraid I denied Chris the opportunity to make good on his threat, instead walking straight into the kitchen myself and chucking the things in the bin. And then I went and gave him a big I’m-sorry kiss in somewhat compensation for the snarls.

If I’m very good to him, he says he might even consider buying me some new shoes.

Away and back again

several festering bugbites later, we’re back– returned from a honeyed moon like fat ham hung chilling in northern skies, radiant and happysweet. back we are from cool blueblond southern shore of that greatest lake, that lake superior, swallower of shipwrecks, tempestuous, deepy and chill dame of a lake.

back to city swelter, glass and steel upon brick and mortar, underlayment of concrete over wood over sand. the downtown morning haze glimpsed from lakeshore drive drapes heights of the civic fortress toward whose girdered and winding heart I ferry my one and only. lake michigan tosses bluegrey pony mane waves over my left shoulder as onward we funnel into streets darting with taxicabs, meticulously attired legs stepping heedless– equivalent superimposed vision: skating crowds of waterwalkers riveting liquid skin of the river, great-bodied deer leaping startled through long grass and alder saplings–here I brake to a stop before city hall and deposit him with a kiss and wish for fortitude and steer my craft onward through the stream of jittering motion.

yesterday we swam submerged and gazed upward at sun rays slanting through eyeball-freezing sweetocean water, burst to emergence shaking spray, rose up, walked out, lay down on grilling sand, sifting it, shifting its heat in ripples through fingers, baking our bodies along a shore lined with pungent pine needles, all roasting under that glorious sky-riding star that woke each day from the liquid tip of the eastern peninsula and bedded down in wet west of evening.

back am I for my part to train clatter, playground hollers, deciduous whispers of home– hauling armloads of green plant friends up a narrow back staircase (not granite, not lichen-grown) from apartment building courtyard where a neighbor has tended them, relining back deck with foliage and fragrance of herbs, city flag wafting in waves of rosemary and basil. I’ve returned to the wires and connections, to timetables and gameplans and resolve, am prompted by evidentiary beach snapshots to call a halt to ten days’ diet of snack foods and picnic fare, much as I disincline to rote gymnastic motion, as decided the determination to own my mainly capable body as fine for just what it is, glossy ladies’ mags and racketing media be damned, and shift a lifetime of staid one-piece costumes toward thrift store bikini top/jogging shorts combinations brimming with patchwork glee–still, I admit: time to lose weight– so heavy some days I would speak of it, british, in stones.

let’s call it midyear wedded resolution for best health and wellbeing– may I be so blessed with decades of dancing our temperamental tango in concert with this delicious mister. may we all be so blessed.

new us, new me

we’ve gone around and around about the question of marriage-related name change, chris and I. it’s kind of funny– it sort of felt like a non-issue until his family raised the question– and even then, at first, I was all “of course I’m not changing my name.”

more than anything it felt to me like just so much bureaucratic hassle– and for what? well, there are the identity and affiliation questions, obviously, which, I must admit, I was initially slow to grasp. there is, on some level, residue resentment of the one-sidedness of the naming tradition in our culture– all patrilineal representation with matrilineal influences disappearing into a palimpsest of occasional token middle, and to a certain extent so-called christian, names– the elizabeths and katharines in my family, the “one L” russels, my own holmes– but less substantive and resonant, ultimately less legal. hard to really do anything real about, given the long run of generations.

so I suppose I have, historically and somewhat by default, laid claim purposefully to my full given name, that sarah holmes townsend, as some type of enduring token of identity, wholly mine, unmoved by the shifting of emotional, psychic, and experiential influence. even willfully to spite the, koff koff, crappy monogram.

until now.

because I’ve changed my mind. that is, I’ve decided to change my name. to take on, with marriage to my fascinating and fitting partner, his name along with a commitment for the remainder of our lives. but I’ve also asked him to take on mine, as well– for us both to adopt townsend as middle and reiser as surname (thanks to tammy and by extention aleah for the suggestion).

now, I realize this tactic doesn’t touch the whole patrilineal/matrilineal naming convention question– and, ultimately, I suppose I’m throwing up my hands on that one as simply too big and deep and unmanageable to tackle (too further complicated by a heritage of multiple maternal lines through adoption). and despite how chris explained it to his dad yesterday, it’s not even so much about fairness in the final analysis for me as it is about doing it intentionally and together as a genuine gesture of our union– so that what results is a kind of townsend reiser team sans the unwieldy mouth-jumble of hyphenation.

I do understand that through use and in the course of things this townsend middle name will likely fade into something of a remnant, becoming less present and apparent over time– and I will probably become increasingly this new person myself, this sarah reiser, who currently feels like something of a stranger to me. I guess I’ve decided these things are just fine, too. I am become a neologism.

words, and all the more so names, are important to me. I tend not to use them lightly or effortlessly. I’m not so much a woman who bends easily with the groove of convention or external expectation– I resist and question and insist on finding my own right way, often taking my good time to do it. I kept my given name throughout the course of my first marriage without a second thought. I have a first cousin I’ve been closer to and distant from on and off over the years who at one time taught me something real about the resonances of renaming oneself, of laying claim to a matrix of familial and associative identities. I continue to decline to endorse any fixed right way— only the right way for each of us, felt in our bones and executed to the very tips of our nerve endings.