My husband did not like his first name.
He maintained this name throughout his life: he used it, introduced himself with it, and had it printed on business cards.
But when I used his name, it made him angry. Most things made him angry, and most often his anger was large and unpredictable; a sudden and furious sinkhole in the middle of the room, tailor-made to swallow me whole.
This naming thing was always a sticky mess. In the heat of his anger, he would insist I not say it. So I wouldn’t.
When calmer, he would insist I try to call him “honey” or “baby”, or add an –y to the end of his name, softening it to a child’s name. This sounds sweet, but does not fit comfortably into conversation with an adult. Adding that –y to his name sounded so absurd when out in public. And it certainly does not come easily when feeling upset or frustrated.
He would regularly create a hubbub. I’d try to diffuse. But if I tried to address him using “Honey”, it sounded insincere. He was not being a Honey.
“Sweetie” sounds so condescending. If I said his given name, he was almost sure to flip out.
I came to a place where I couldn’t call him anything without creating a drama.
For a time, he considered changing his name, subscribing to magazines and publications with the name “Blue”. This never stuck. He didn’t bother to incorporate its use into his daily life. He never introduced himself as Blue, or ask others to call him this. It was a strange and special thing to him, but its lack of use caused it to die on the vine.
He has one friend and this man lives a great distance away. They’ve maintained contact through telephone conversations a few times each year. And once a year, as a family, we would take the very long drive and visit this grumpy man. These visits were never completely comfortable for the rest of the family. One reason was this friend did not like the company of women. He jokingly called my husband Snake River which was fitting, considering my husband excused his explosive anger with the phrase, “Snakes bite.”
If I called him nothing at all, the absence of an identifier felt like a hole. Like a skipped beat in the rhythm of my speech.
Over time, he took control of my use of language: how I talked, what I said, how I sounded when I said it.
Sometimes he’d throw his hands up to cover his ears when I spoke. My tone, my volume, my cadence upset him.
I was too harsh, too loud, too intense, too withdrawn, too dismissive, too whiny, too opinionated.
I came to speak less and less.
I’d started life with him thinking it was conversation. A natural give and take. A listening and sharing. In the end, I came to understand it was all monologue. He neither required nor invited input, thankyouverymuch.
He needed to hear the sound of his own voice only. Anything else was distraction and irritation.
I came to serve as a silent, seemingly agreeable audience.
I was a vague place-holding shape in the darkness.
That sinkhole grew wider and more familiar.
Eventually, I found myself choking on all I needed to say but knew would be twisted out of context and used as a weapon against me.
Ultimately I came to understand I needed to leave, or sink into obscurity forever.
Even now, 6 years gone, I have no name for him.
He’s not around to protest my use of his given name, but years of training have left me unable to say this comfortably.
I don’t ever engage in even jokingly, privately calling him derogatory names. That is mean-spirited, and mean is not my style. Mean is ugly.
Names like “ex” feel so murky; like I’m crossing him out with an X. This one is the only name I feel remotely safe to use in print, not because it fits but for lack of anything more. In print, “ex” is anonymous.
Identifying him as ‘dad’ or ‘father’ to my children leaves us all squirming.
So, I continue to call him nothing.
His name no longer fits inside my mouth.