“I think you’re right,” my spouse said to me.
“About what?” I asked, still transfixed by the expectant couple.
“I need to go through with this. Transition, I mean.”
I couldn’t understand why my heart was sinking, except that hearing those words made it real. I could almost reach out and grab them floating through the summer air and hold them in my hand like palpable, painful truths. My spouse had been in hiding for a lifetime. She was going to transition now. Our kids were going to be hit with another big adjustment, months after our daughter Alexis came out. Life as our family knew it was about to change — again.
I hurt for all of us, but especially for her. This wasn’t going to be easy, and I knew I didn’t have the strength to ride it out with her. I just didn’t know how to tell her that yet.
I had once read that you should wait six months after any significant changes in your life to make big decisions. Don’t move. Don’t change jobs. Don’t leave your partner. Just sit with it for a while, wait for the dust to settle and then see where you end up.
For some reason, amid all the floating clutter in my brain at the time, that piece of advice bobbed to the surface. Even if I felt like things were over — a statistical probability, according to the internet — now was not the time to make that decision. It wouldn’t hurt to give things half a year. Our emotions would settle. We could focus on building up a friendship, free of resentment and full of support — a far better relationship than the one we had now. We could do this amicably, giving the children time to adjust to their new normal and ourselves time to build new lives on this fresh pile of rubble. Most importantly, it would allow my partner to start her transition without having to begin life as a single parent at the same time. She deserved better than that.
“So if you’re transitioning, I guess you need a name,” I said, as we walked under a patch of trees. “Have any ideas?”
“Well, a few.” She smiled.
“Lay them on me,” I said. “I’m ready!”
“I was thinking of Suki,” she said.
I laughed. She didn’t.
“What?” I asked, “No. Seriously? You’re kidding me right now.”
“What’s wrong with Suki?” she countered.
“What isn’t wrong with Suki? It sounds like a fifteen-year-old’s name! Why is this your first choice?”
So much for being Non-Judgmental Amanda, here for you every step of the way. Apparently, I draw the line at names.
“There was a girl in my high school named—”
“Exactly my point!” This time, we both laughed. “I veto Suki.”
“Wait! You can veto my names?” she asked, a false look of shock crossing her face.
“I can. It was in our vows,” I said.
We came to a marshy area and stood watching jolly toddlers feed ducks.
“What about Michelle?” she asked.
“No, I can’t be married to a Michelle,” I said matter-of-factly.
“Why not? I could totally see myself as a Michelle.”
“Ninety percent of the Michelles I’ve known have been total bitches,” I explained.
“That can’t be true. There are statistically far too many Michelles for them all to be terrible people.”
“Not all,” I countered, rolling my eyes for dramatic effect. “Just most. Like the girl who used to punch me in high school. Or the one at the house I was living in on Gloucester — she used to eat all my cheese and deny it.”
“That’s only two!”
“Look, every time I say your name, I’m going to remember face-puncher Michelle or cheese-stealer Michelle and sneer a little. Is that what you want? Do you want me to sneer when I introduce you to people?”
“You should meet more Michelles,” she said. “You need some kind of exposure therapy.”
“That exposure should not begin at home.”
“Okay, picky one,” she said, making a grand theatrical gesture with her arms. “What do you think I should name myself?”
“Oh, I don’t really care,” I replied. She gave me the finger. “Okay, I do care, but not as much as you might think. Just not Suki or Michelle. Oh! And could you try to stay away from ‘A’ names? We already have Amanda, Aerik and Alexis. Poor Jackson will feel totally left out.”
“Finally, a legitimate veto.” She thought for a moment. “How about Zoë?”
“I love the name Zoë!” I said. The aunt of my childhood friend Emmy had that name. She lived out West and used to come visit from time to time. I was always taken by her style, attitude and sense of adventure. Unlike her sisters, who’d stayed local, she had gone off to build a life for herself on the other side of the country, and from my young vantage point, she always seemed to come back with more self-assuredness than she’d had the last time. Zoë was a perfect name to start anew.
“I like it too,” she replied. “And it’s the furthest thing from an ‘A’ name.” We high-fived. A few toddlers looked up at us.
“It suits you, Zoë,” I said, smiling.
We turned and made our way back to the car, just me and Zoë, and I reached for her hand. It surprised both of us, but it also felt . . . right. I had held this hand for over two decades. But with relationship changes on the horizon, this might be one of the last times. The conflicting feelings of rightness and wrongness created a tug-of-war in my chest.
I took a breath and focused on what was in front of me, what I knew for certain.
Zoë. I had a wife named Zoë.