Consider Me Lucky

A Self Known by God
Marie and P.S. Krøyer, ‘Double-portrait of Marie and P.S. Krøyer,’ 1890 (Wikimedia Commons)

On July 28, I’ll change my last name to Lucky, my soon-to-be husband’s surname. Cable company reps think he’s joking. New professors and bosses pronounce the name affectedly—“Looky” or “Lücky.” It can’t possibly be what it seems. Friends gift him Lucky Brand T-shirts and jeans, pajama pants patterned with shamrocks.

A list of institutions to notify: bank, insurance company, the DMV. Online accounts to update: Amazon, Gmail. Bylines to change. “Kate Lucky,” a name that sounds like a barmaid at a Western saloon, and whose unfortunate default username, “klucky,” connotes chickens.

Changing my name is traditional. It makes sense to our relatives, to hotels and schools, to the IRS. “Massinger-Lucky” is a mouthful anyway, and (luckily) I’m young enough to make the professional shift painlessly. And I want my children to bear a surname shared by both of us.

Jared is not one to force or control, but the name change does mean a great deal to him, particularly as an only child. I’m honored to become part of his lineage: a great-uncle’s name (Roland Lucky) on an El Paso electric company building, a grandfather (Tom Lucky) revered in the gas station cantina where we eat huevos rancheros on visits. Texas twang, Depression-era yarns, variegated desert, the history my children will have.

Meanwhile, I leave behind three solid German syllables, borne by a moralistic English dramatist and held by a clutch of people in Oregon who share my eyes, bone structure, references, a people accustomed to rain. Goodbye, Massinger. Nobody prepared me for the grief getting married would precipitate: or for how that grief would enhance the joy.

*

I wasn’t ready for this grief, this acknowledgment that I’m about to lose some of what I’ve always known; that I have been happy with life in this mode, and now the key is about to change.

From the day we got engaged, I was restless, cognizant of how much would change when I became a wife. I moved out of a small, Manhattan apartment I shared with a friend, said goodbye to our flowers and yogurt, a second closet of clothes to borrow from, and moved into the quieter Stamford apartment that Jared and I will share together. I will miss living with other women, friendship forged in routines. I go to the fridge for sundried tomatoes and find that I can’t get the lid off the jar; a man has screwed it on too tightly.

After ten months of engagement, I think differently about money. Indulgence or withholding affects another. Time, too, has changed. When we live together, it will be courteous to let Jared know if I stay out late, or invite someone over. Kindness will require moderation, and I’ll miss the freedom to slip through the world on my own schedule, with my own cache of resources.

It’s not just me. Jared just had a cardiology appointment, realizing that his inherited risk of heart disease will affect his wife. He’s donated old clothes and camping gear, knowing we now share a space. He speaks of the months-long canoeing trips he’d dreamed of taking in his twenties. Not impossible, now, but complicated by a life intertwined with mine.

Name-changing symbolizes all this upheaval. It marks leaving my parents and cleaving to another, that Genesis injunction. How does my membership in the Massinger family change when I am no longer Massinger? Where will we spend holidays? How often will we visit each home? Our parents grieve, too: for changed nuclear families, new demands on our time. It feels right to be agitated, consumed with prayers about how to love each clan rightly.

Then there’s the end of a personal history. My nicknames; my monogrammed notebooks; knowing where I fall in seating charts. Outdated diplomas and yearbooks, pictures and achievements captured with a name no longer mine. Kate Massinger did all this. Who will Kate Lucky be?

I was ready to be stressed about the wedding, and I was, sometimes. (The end is in sight!) I was ready to be rapturous, and I have been, often. But I wasn’t ready for this grief, this acknowledgment that I’m about to lose some of what I’ve always known; that I have been happy with life in this mode, and now the key is about to change.

The trick is to keep from self-pity, which has been impossible outside of faith. Christianity has always felt true for me in that it allows for the bittersweet, a yoking of opposites. No promise of riches or health for God-followers; indeed you may be poor and sick, but blessed all the same. To gain the kingdom, you lose the world. A Promised Land means forty years lost. Sacrifice, exchanges, substitution. There is nothing simple about resurrection. And nothing simple about marriage, no matter how churches have glorified it as a cure-all. Indeed, Paul recommends singleness. Get married if you’d like (many of you will); it won’t be easy to serve God and another. Yet Church is bride and Christ is bridegroom; something in that union is holy.

Christianity creates paradox, and that paradox becomes a finger held to life’s pulse. It assures me: to feel grief does not mean getting married was mistaken. To become one in spite of personal cost means taking this seriously, honoring my parents, claiming my history and what God has done. To be a bride, I’m convinced, is not to be blissful. It is to be reckoning, roving, backwards-glancing, appropriately unsettled.

If God can know me, always, if He can never be far from me even with ranges and depths in the way, than something about me must be constant: intentional, elemental, unchangeable, even as I learn new things, change my mind, grow up, become someone’s wife.

At a bridal shower, I’m given things to create a home. A grandmother’s cookbook, ripped-out pages, pictures of housewives in pearls whipping cream. I feel her loss in my bones. Borrowed, blue, old, new: my mother-in-law sends me her garter, robin egg blue. Was it hard? I ask. Yes, say the women. I introduced myself the wrong way for months. I am the descendent of many teachers, who changed their names in the middles of school years. Jared’s mother, a nurse, traded in “Hamilton.” She assures me that “Lucky” comes with advantages; it always cheered her patients up to know that fortune incarnate was caring for them.

But in spite of that change, my mother-in-law and the rest of these women have always been entirely themselves to me, not new iterations or pastless people. Connected to their husbands, but also entirely themselves.

These pre-marriage rituals ease the transition. Relics, of course, from a time when wifehood was the feminine endgame, a teleological achievement. As a bride, I wear an engagement ring, signaling an intermediary period. I choose my dress with my mother, aunt, mother-in-law, and grandmother clustered on a couch. Bridesmaids write me letters to read in the days before the ceremony. I prepare to change my name. My female community is anticipatory. It acknowledges sanctity, understands burdens and mixed feelings.

Jared, I think, misses these traditions. Men don’t have preparatory fuss; they just show up. These months, he’s had no ring to signify the change. A bachelor party, but no meetings with older men, no sanctioned sharing of advice. He ordered his tuxedo alone. Our venue’s men’s changing room has a poker table and television. The women’s room has mirrors and space.

Jared is expected to be blithe. If his taciturn mood is any indication, he will not be. “My job,” he tells me, “is to let you write:” a breadwinning ethos designed for my flourishing and possibly requiring his sacrifice. His name stays the same, but his life changes too. What a reassurance that is.

*

Psalm 139, my favorite of the songs, describes God’s knowledge of each creation while she is yet in the womb—knitting skin, cataloguing hairs, fashioning limbs, laboring for a body to encapsulate a soul. Two weeks out, I close my eyes and focus on the small, still part at the center of me that is me. This part (I imagine it blurry-edged, luminous) knows what it was to grow up in my home and eat our family’s meals, play my father’s games, knows all the wishes and crushes and strange, lucid dreams I’ve ever had, has quiet jokes and embarrassing questions, words it still doesn’t know how to pronounce, smells, secrets and associations so deep my conscious mind doesn’t know them, could never be put in a memoir, could never be overtaken by another person, even the man I love. If God can know me, always, if He can never be far from me even with ranges and depths in the way, than something about me must be constant: intentional, elemental, unchangeable, even as I learn new things, change my mind, grow up, become someone’s wife. I imagine this self as quicksilver mass, swirling beneath conditions, entirely separate from the records of banks, my paper trail, my legal status, my yearbooks, anything that could and will happen.

These months have not always been blissful or sure. Faith, as I’ve noted, doesn’t promise either. But it has reassured me of a self known by God, and thus, a self that cannot be lonely. One week from marriage, I work out a new signature, try to get my “L” loops right, renaming this person inside of me, knowing that I’ll still recognize her on the other side.

Katherine Lucky is the Managing Editor at Commonweal. Follow her on Twitter @katherinejlucky.

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