It was the Christmas tree that did it. Or maybe it was the last name. "Sarah Singer makes me sound like a porn star," I told him when he announced that he would want me to take his last name. Would only marry me if I took his last name.
"No, it's beautiful." He said. We'd been dating for about four years, living together for two. We were going to get married. Without ever talking about it, we both knew.
"Why would I take your last name?" I asked. "I have a perfectly good one of my own. Two in fact." My mother had stuck her last name into my middle name on my birth certificate, and then forgot all about it. At twelve I saw my "real" name and that it wasn't actually Sarah Louise Brown, but actually Sarah Louise Goldman Brown. My name had already changed once in my life. It wasn't going to change again.
"So, what we're going to give our kids three last names?" He asked, arms crossed in front of his broad chest.
"Or, I could hyphenate- Brown Singer. In fact, we could both hyphenate. You take mine and I'll take yours." I teased him. He did not look amused.
"I'm not taking your last name." He growled.
"And I'm not taking yours. Glad we worked that one out." I could tell the subject matter had not been dropped. He would bring it up again. What I couldn't understand was why he thought I would ever agree to it. There are girls who take their husbands last names and there are girls who don't. I am the latter. It runs in the family. We have constant trouble with reservations. "Try Brown. No, not Brown? Okay, try Goldman." But that was just the way we did things. Sometimes telemarketers called and asked for Mr. Goldman and my dad would pretend to act angry and emasculated but really he never cared. I wondered if he would care if I surrendered his last name in order to take my husbands. Then my mom would definitely get the last laugh, I'd still be carrying her name.
I secretly decided to not get married until I was a published author, then I'd have some kind of excuse. "I can't change my name. I'm already branded."
Was it weeks later? Was it months? Does it matter? Somehow, when your with someone time just seems to blur. Did we go to that fancy Indian place for our second anniversary or my birthday? Was it this New Year's or last that we went to Kim's party? Does it matter? Every memory becomes shared. We were a We to our friends, and us to ourselves. The Us was the new me.
"Hey, let's go pick out our Christmas tree." He announced. We were driving back from our Saturday morning breakfast at our diner. Where the owner's son knew us and always said hi. He liked us because we once told him that we really liked the cooking that day and he told us there was a new chef in the kitchen and thanks because normally people don't say when something is good. They only complain if something's gone wrong.
"Our tree." He repeated. He glanced at me then looked back at the road. He always drove. Said I was a terrible driver. "Our… Hanukah bush tree?" He tried to soften the blow. He was hoping I would just go with it because he had already decided that we were getting a tree and it would be easier if I just went along quietly.
"Or, we could not?" I made my counteroffer. "I'm Jewish- we're Jewish." After we started dating he had decided to start clinging to the half- Jew-ish passed downed to him by his father.
"Jews don't have Christmas trees!"
"Okay, and some people sure. But we don't."
"Christmas trees aren't even Christian. It's just a tree, that's indoors, with shiny things on it. What's wrong with that? It's probably some bastardized pagan tradition."
"Yeah, but they have become a part of the 'Christian' tradition." And yes I made air quotes even though he was driving and hopefully not looking at my hands. "And Jews don't have them."
"We had one last year." The year before we had been living with his brother and his brother's girlfriend. The girlfriend was a Roman Catholic and much the way my boyfriend had chosen to be Jewish, the other brother had started going to Church.
"It was Christina's tree."
"So? You liked it! You were so into decorating it and stuff."
"Yes, Jews can enjoy decorating trees. It's not against our religion you know."
"So, let's get our own."
"I just told you why!" I was starting to feel like I was arguing with a three year old. I had a sudden image of having a toddler in the backseat wondering why we didn't have a tree and his father telling him, "Because your mother's a meanie face. And yes, she is your mother even though you have different last names."
"It's just a damn tree. I don't see what the big deal is if we have one."
"Do you want to be with me?" I asked.
"Do you want to be with me?" I repeated.
"Fine, we don't have to get the goddamn tree. Don't have to be such a bitch about it…"
"Yes, thank you. No tree. But no, it's not about the tree."
"So what the hell are you asking for? Of course I want to be with you. I love you." As if those three words could explain everything. He loved me so he wanted me to take his last name so everyone would know I was his. He loved me so he wanted us to have a Christmas tree together.
"Even if it means you can never have another Christmas tree?" I asked.
"Yes, even then." But I could see it in his face. The subject had not been dropped. It would come back again next year. And the year after that. Just like he would forever ask me to take his last name.
And that's when I knew. There could be no we. There would be no more us.