Call me Ruthy

ImageI never thought I’d be one of those people who changed their name. But now I am one of those people. And this is how it happened.

About 70 years ago, minus a few months, my parents named me “Carol”—a popular name at that time—with the middle name of Ruth. As I got older, I grew less fond of being called “Carol,” but the idea of changing it never occurred to me.

I never thought about changing my life, either, although that wouldn’t have been a bad idea. Brought up by critical and unhappy parents, I arrived at adulthood with low self esteem, self destructive habits and no real direction.

Building a life around my core values was not something I knew how to do. So I pretty much lived according to others’ expectations. Of course I hit a lot of dead ends that way and had to find my real self and direction late in life—a messy, but exhilarating, process.

At age 62, I married again. To my surprise, my husband seemed fond of my middle name. “My Ruthy,” Warren would say, the warm light of love in his eyes.

“Ruthy” was what Warren’s been mostly calling me in recent years, the same time that I’ve been writing the childhood chapters of my memoir. I’ve been setting down dialogue like, “You know, Carol, you’re not as smart as you think you are,” or, “You know Carol, no one cares what you think.” My mother had a way of loading my name with terrible disdain.

The harder I worked to bring these scenes to life, the more I felt the pain of “Carol” being voiced so unlovingly.  And then there it was, my other name: Ruthy.

At first it just felt like a fun thing to say. “I’m changing my name to Ruthy.” Then one Sunday, Warren’s grown daughters came over for brunch. “Call her Ruthy for real now,” he told them.   For the next two hours, hearing these young women address me as “Ruthy” felt like second and third helpings of some exquisitely sweet dessert.

The next week, I emailed the Denver Branch of Pen Women—an unusually nice group of writers I belong to—and announced I was changing my name to Ruthy Wexler. (Denker is the name of my very patient, extremely nice, long-ago first husband.  It was time.)  Once that large group enthusiastically obliged, there was no turning back.

Except I turned out to be not so good at it.

When a friend from Philadelphia said, “I’m not sure I can call you Ruthy I’ve known you for so long as—”, I would say, “Oh you don’t have to.” Another friend gently pointed out, “It would be less confusing if your cell phone message didn’t still say, “Hi, this is Carol.’”

And it would be far less confusing if I changed my email, I realized. But a surge of resistance swamped me at the thought. This email address is what I’ve had forever! It would feel weird and strange to just drop it! And all that legal stuff, it feels so final—

Yup. I should have remembered. When you first change, there’s an empty space that feels uncomfortable.  Letting go of your past is a loss, no matter how you slice it.

I used to think that changing one’s name was a bit presumptuous, like you had no right to disturb the order of things.  That was before I understood how fully one could take charge of one’s life.

But I’m doing it.  Stay tuned. And please, send me a story about your own Late Life Journey.

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Making Connections These Days

PIECES OF PAPER

I’m always writing things down—important things—on little tiny pieces of paper. And then I lose them.

This morning, I became uncomfortably aware of how many I’d accumulated, in scattered places; my purse, on top of my dresser, in my coat pocket. Gathering them into one pile, then going through them at my desk, I saw that they all contained contact information for various persons I’d met and wanted to see again.

“I’ll email them all right now!” I thought, with a burst of resolution.

On the top piece, a corner of lined notepaper, some stranger had written “Joyce White.” I waited for my brain to make sense of it. Joyce White? I tried to recall recent excursions: a trip to Glenwood Springs, a weekend writers conference. Nothing.

Just a fluke, I thought, and proceeded to the next, brown magic marker on back of my business card. Fay Dunkin. It stirred a vague memory which refused to coalesce. Did I meet her at my local library, where I often start conversations? For the life of me, I couldn’t say.

I felt vastly encouraged when a name on the third piece of paper—Karen Frank—brought a face to mind. Together, we’d waited for the delayed train from Glenwood to Denver. I’d learned that she and her husband raised goats and missed San Francisco. I had liked her enormously.

But the next four names drew blanks, and now I had to face facts: the memory of why I’d written down six individuals’ names was gone. I felt disoriented, even a little depressed. And this was not me.

What I’m used to feeling is, age doesn’t matter, I can still do it. What I’m used to saying is, I’ll figure it out. I take Zumba; but stay for just half the class. Instead of working all day and night, like did with my first book, I now write in the morning. If I can’t nail a name or fact as easily as my younger self did, there is Google right there to help.

Except here, there was no help. I felt a loss that these potential connections would never happen.

But then I thought of a solution. After I emailed Karen Frank, I would write the others and say: “Hi, (Joyce/Barbara/ Fay/etc), I have your email right here and want to stay in touch. It was nice meeting you! How are you?”
Hopefully, the return email would give me a hint.

A few hours later, I got a message back from … Joyce White! “Thanks for writing! I really enjoyed talking to you at the Mystery Writer’s dinner … Hope to see you again and have more delicious conversation.”
Yes! The Mystery Writers Dinner two weeks ago! I’d sat next to Joyce, a delightful, fascinating woman.

The other responses weren’t as helpful. Fay wrote, “Thanks for asking! Life is good!” I still had no idea who she was, or “Langley,” who said, “Hi back. Too busy to write.”

I had to laugh. And then I had to think.

My older brain needs more structure than my younger brain did to connect the dots. But my older self—here’s the paradox—is better at making people connections. I’m finally comfortable in my own skin and thus, I’m more interested in others, more ready to feel real affection.

So I am really going to try—a belated New Year’s resolution—not to stuff little pieces of paper in my jeans and hope for the best. I’m going to carry a notebook in my purse, and when I meet someone I like, take a smidge more time to jot down some identifying data. I’ve learned: connections are precious.