Sunday, October 27, 2013

Defending s-E-n.


The problem with blogging about real life is that you don't get to edit the story. 

It is this aspect of unedited, juicy/dirty/raw non-fiction that makes this blog readable and gives it life. It's addictive, for you and for me, too. With each post I experience a cathartic high that can't be beat. There is a buzz that comes with unloading the Truth that I cannot get when writing fiction. There is a reason why Brand New Sour Milk gets a lot more love than For Topical Use Only.

See, the aspect of Truth in a personal blog means that to you I cannot lie. 

I've waited over 72 hours, holding in a story that I am trying to hold until next month. I'm trying to let the dust settle, to let things pass, to allow things to go back to normal, but I just can't. I need that fix – that familiar jolt of relief – that comes from getting personal on the Internet. Try as I might, I can't keep it in. I wake up in the middle of the night, just as I have done now, and this story is stuck in my mouth like the taste of last night's dinner. 

So. Let's do this.

My 33rd Birthday. 

It was the best of birthdays, it was the worst of birthdays. The very worst. This birthday was one for the books. It's late, so I'm just gonna cut right to the chase on this one. 


On my 33rd birthday this week, I was expecting to get engaged. Bethrothed. Fiancéd. Hitched. Taken. And, I did not get engaged at all. Not one bit.

A three-month – no, more like a 12-months on top of two years – dance, of turning, twisting, and bending of emotions and hopes and expectations. Breakups and give-ups, false starts and let-downs, late nights and long talks led me up to this moment on October 23, 2013 when I was so sure it was my time, a long time coming.

Note: One thing that is important to me in writing about my personal life is that I am careful with the other people involved. If you somehow make it into my life story, I want to make you look as good as possible without damaging any relationships or reputations. That said, it is tough to blog about real life without getting your loved ones nervous. Not a month goes by without me hearing from my mother at least once or twice, "Now, don't go write about this in your blog."

It's fair. If I ever have kids, god help me if they choose to write memoirs. Some of the best non-fiction writers – Jeannette Walls, David Sedaris and Augusten Burroughs – tell tales of the cringes and groans from family members when it comes to their tell-all writing involving brothers and sisters and moms and dads. 

But my goal is not to expose the surely raw nerve endings of the Other in this story. This story is about my side, my experience. I am just going to lay out the facts and get it out there. I need to lay my wet guts out in the sun and get them nice and cooking so they will eventually dry up, like crispy beef jerky.

The first thing I want to talk about is my left ring finger. 
For months now, the ring finger on my left hand has had a phantom itch that I cannot ignore. I look at the engagement and wedding rings on other people's fingers and my left ring finger pulsates with an urge to be part of the club. When I've gone to try on engagement rings, it has been hard to give the ring back before leaving the store. 

Then there is the issue of my last name.
My last name – Andersen – has caused me a lifelong struggle. No one wants to spell it right. It has gotten worse since moving to Chicago where Norwegians are not as prevalent as in Minnesota. There actually is a Susan AndersOn at work and she always gets my emails. Ironically, the problem has been particularly bad this week. But, in true Susan AndersEn fashion, I've made the best of it; befriending Susan AndersOn who cheerfully forwards me my emails and was even nice enough to come to my floor and give me my business cards that had mistakenly sat at her desk for over a month. 

Still, I wear my common-last-name-with-the-uncommon-spelling like a crooked nose. I am always apologizing for it. 

At my last job, due to an HR mistake, my last name was spelled wrong across the board – my email, my business cards, my 401k – everything had my last name spelled as s-O-n. The funny thing is that I acted like it was my fault. "Oh no, it's OK, everybody gets it wrong," I would say. Until, one day, a coworker pointed out how ridiculous that was and told me I should demand my last name get spelled right. 

I tried my best to fix it, but in this day and age where you are immortalized in 1s and 0s inside multiple computer systems, it is actually kind of hard to undo a spelling error. I think IT had to basically delete me from the system – essentially terminate my existence from the company – and then reinstate me with the proper spelling. Needless to say, when I've switched jobs and received a new box of business cards, all of the fun has been sucked out of it when opening the box because I am so scared that I am going to see the infamous s-O-n and then lament over when to ask for it to be fixed.

One time I told a person over the phone that my name was spelled "s-E-n" and, to my delight and horror, I received something in the mail with my first named spelled Susen.

I've fantasized for years about getting a different last name. Sometimes I've tried out my signature with the last names of different boyfriends, carefully adding looping cursive flair with different colored pens. Other times, I've simply made up new last names of my own. There was a time when I thought that the alliteration of two 's' names sounded super classy, like:

Susan Summers
Susan Sachs
Susan Sands
Susan Silverstein
etc.

But then a woman named Susan Smith tragically murdered her children and the whole 's - s' thing completely lost its luster.

In her amazing ability to be my confidant, my savior, my rock and my best friend, the day after my birthday, my mom helped start the healing process when she told me a story about my name. 

"We named you Susan so that you could be whomever you wanted to become." she said. "A doctor, a lawyer or a Hollywood actress, we knew that Susan would be a fitting name for you." And then, she told me, "And we gave you your middle name – Marie – because it was my name in French and I wanted to always be right next to you."  

And, done. That was all it took to give me the confidence to like my name again and stop fantasizing about knocking out the middle name, sliding my last name over and adding the new last name of a nonexistent husband. That one little thing my mom told me about my middle name made it seem instantly special and encouraged me to keep holding on.

Now, back to the story, let's talk about the problem of talking about getting engaged.

One of the worst parts of this experience – not getting engaged when I was so certain I was getting engaged – is that I blabbed to multiple people that I thought I was getting engaged. 

On the fateful night of my birthday, after not getting engaged, I tried to delete my Facebook account. It seemed like the only solution to such an embarrassing mess, but then, I paused and considered two things.


  1. Deleting my Facebook account would only be punishing myself.
  2. Why the fuck would I delete my Facebook account? What good would that do? I have an entire BLOG about the embarrassing goings on of my life. There would be no erasing this. I knew even then that I would probably have to blog about this.

So, once I considered those two things, I decided to keep my Facebook account. 

But, alas, if I could give the ladies some advice: Don't talk about getting engaged before you actually get engaged. Because, if you don't get engaged, you will end up feeling like a complete ass.

And, finally, let's address those watch batteries. And dish towels.
Watch batteries and dish towels?! Yeah, so here is the one part of the story when my Other is going to have to look the other way. Because, years from now, I do not want to forget this precious detail. 

So, after dinner on my birthday, it was time for me to receive my presents (for those of you still following along, this was the part when I was expecting that sparkly ring). 

The presents came out, one by one, with the instructions to "close your eyes..." When I saw the first watch, I was glad to see it like an old friend. I have a nice collection of watches which have all gone dead. So this was a nice gift, to have my watch batteries restored. But four times with eyes closed, and four watches later, I was beginning to wonder what was next.

Which was when I got the dish towels. The back story here is that I had co-owned these nice, new dish towels at our condo back in Minneapolis, but  the only dish towels I took when I moved to Chicago were these ratty, stained ones. Even when I wash them in the laundry, they still look dirty. So, new dish towels was actually kind of a nice present for my 33rd Birthday.

The problem was, there were no more presents after that. I found myself wanting to close my eyes again and wait for the next present, but there was no present to get. Because there was no ring. 

Hidden under the layers of anger, humiliation and pain, I found sympathy for this bit of news. For as ready as I was to get married, he wasn't, and I can only imagine the pain and uncertainty of not knowing what you want in life. 


So, I've decided to become OK with myself being by myself, and I am just going to give this single life a go. 

I can do this with my head held high. No more jokes about spinsterhood, no more apologizing for my last name. I live in a big city now, and people won't even bat an eye at the sight of a single, powerful woman. It's time for me to feel complete just as me, myself and I. I am determined to start defending my last name. Instead of cowering to IT when my name gets spelled wrong, I am going to confidentially say, "Please, next time, spell it right."

Ok, so, here I go...

Walking out into the world as a confident, single thirty-something woman.

(To be honest, I am not feeling as confident as I sound. But I am going to give it a go anyway.)

Wish me luck...

No more feeling incomplete...

By myself, I am still whole.

Deeeep breath...

Stand up straight.

Confidence, confidence, power, power.

Ok, so, like I said, for the dozenth time.

It's s-E-n, bitch

Remember that. 

And next time, spell it right.





1 comment:

  1. We have friends,the Petersen's, that live in the Twin Cities. Back in the day when teachers communicated by notes and letters, this particular teacher would write Peterson. Our friend would reply by crossing out the "son" and printing "sen". Finally she had had enough and wrote, "It's sen, not son". The very next communication the teacher sent a note to the Peterson's and in the note referred to their son as "Sen" more than once.
    R. Jensen

    ReplyDelete