I still have to write the story of the divorce hearing, which was a ceremonial leaving in the same way that the marriage was a ceremonial joining, and which did not, however, in any way complete the circle. But right now I have other things going on. One of the things is that so much of this process has been so excruciating that I have thought, and said on a few occasions, “I’d rather be date-raped.”

I am, perhaps, given to hyperbole. But I know, a little, whereof I speak, and I am not trying to make light of sexual assault. I have been date-raped twice, by the boyfriend before K. (after we broke up) and by a coworker in my salad days in New York. That’s not counting the sexual assault where the random dude from my roommate’s party broke into my bedroom (which was the only time I actually went to the police). And here’s the thing: being date-raped was not that bad. I mean, it sucked, and I had conflicted feelings about it, but in the scale of Shitty Experiences I Have Had, it is not that close to the top. Of course, my experiences were non-violent (and involved, in the earlier case, feeling unable to assert myself and drunkenness and, in the later case, being passed out asleep and having an obvious “misunderstanding” about what “you can crash here” means — last I checked, it doesn’t actually mean “You can wait until I pass out and then put your penis in my vagina.” But I can be naïve). And even though they were clearly nonconsensual, I felt some understanding of where the man in question was coming from. I don’t think either of those men was trying to rape me. I think they both, for reasons that are complex and have to do with the way male will and female autonomy are viewed in this culture, really thought it was okay, and that in a way, they too were victims. Which does not, let me be clear, make it okay to grab a woman and insert your penis in her like she’s a post box and you’re the Royal Fucking Mail. Both of the men in question had plenty of reasons to think it might not be okay, or at least not to be sure it was okay. They should have checked. Let this be a lesson to you, boys and men: if you intend to have sex with someone, make verbally sure that the other person is in agreement before you go there. It’s not hard. It can be part of your pillow talk. It might save you some jail time.

But, as we know, the vast majority of date rapists don’t do jail time. Neither of mine even realizes, I feel fairly sure, that it was not okay. And this is not because I tend to hang out with sociopathic losers (well, the jury’s out on that one. But still). This is because our society tells us that if you’ve had sex with a woman before it’s not rape, if she was flirting it’s not rape, if you’re both drunk it’s not rape, if she takes off an article of clothing it’s not rape, etc. Our society tells us this, and most of us believe it.

And most women don’t fight it all that hard. The reasons above are in play. More than that, though, is the fact that so many aspects of our society, so much a woman does in the world, is constantly challenged, questioned, shut down, and put down by Men In Authority. Yup. It’s true. We haven’t come so far that we don’t still think of god as That Great Big White Dude in the sky — and when we see other white dudes, sitting behind desks, pounding gavels, sitting on our front porches, it’s hard not to feel cowed. And not just cowed and shamed, but inferior and unworthy.

I am pretty sure that nobody who knows me would call me a shrinking violet. I’m pretty sure that, if asked, they would describe me as “brash,” “ballsy,” “sharp,” “aggressive,” and a host of other less complimentary adjectives. I am pretty sure that I know a bunch of men who are just a little bit intimidated, and probably a little bit titillated as well, by me. They see me as that woman. You know, the one with the mouth. The one who gives no quarter. The teacher who might make you feel stupid or unmanned. And I am.

But I am afraid. I have been afraid so many times throughout this whole process, and I have been very specifically afraid twice this week. Afraid of censure. Afraid of disapproval. Afraid of having my freedom taken away. Afraid of being overpowered, silenced, and disenfranchised (which is really one of the biggest effects of rape, right?), for no other reason than that I am acting in opposition to men and that, therefore, I am wrong, or unworthy, or bothersome, or stupid. Because I’m not one.

The first time I was afraid was last Friday. I have been considering the children’s names — longtime readers know that Thing One has my last name as a middle name and K.’s as a last name, while Thing Two has my last name as her last name and K.’s as a middle name. This seemed to make sense in the context of our nuclear family; it does not make sense to me any more. All the studies indicate that children “generally prefer,” as the court puts it, to have the last name of their residential parent and siblings. I have already experienced inconvenience dealing with Thing One’s last name as different from mine and Thing Two’s. And in this situation, where I am the parent who lives with the children, who enrolls them in and participates in their school, who takes them on trips, who is their head of household, I do not see why Thing One should have K.’s last name. It’s a hassle; it doesn’t identify him as being part of a family unit with me and Thing Two, and it creates administrative confusion.

So I decided to change the order of his names, so that he, like his sister, would have K.’s last name as a middle name and my last name as the last name.

If that bugs you at all, I invite you to think about whether there is any reason, other than some latent (and sexist; sorry, but facts is facts) belief that a man’s interest in having his child bear his surname trumps a woman’s. And I invite you to consider how, in a situation where the father spends a minimal amount of time with the children and the mother provides the primary home, income, nurturing, and parenting, you would justify having the one child keep the name of the non-residential parent.

So I talked to K. about it on Friday. I let his grandparents and parents know that I intend to do it, and we discussed it. We had discussed it before. He had acknowledged that it “would probably be easier” for Thing One to have my name but that “it’s not about him; it’s about me. I NEED HIM TO HAVE  MY NAME.”

On Friday, he said much the same. I asked him not to contest it. I explained the laws, which seem to strongly support my case. I said that there did not need to be more strife between us and that this was a parenting decision, that it was important to me that both children remain connected to both sides of their heritage, and that I believed this was the best thing for Thing One. He said he would contest it. He said, “what about in a few years when they’re living with me [too]” (he says that someday he’ll be more of a parent to them, but at the same time he insists now that he doesn’t have time for more parenting and that “work has to be my first priority”).  He told me — ordered me, really — not to do it. Then he told me, “If you do this I WILL NEVER FORGIVE YOU,” implying strongly that I would somehow pay, and the conversation ended.

Here’s the thing: being told K. will “never forgive” me should be laughable, right? This is the man who betrayed me and our marriage, who abandoned his kids, who’s repeatedly denied my requests to spend more time with them, who just last week skipped the chance to spend his regular, agreed-upon day with them because he had made dinner plans with friends instead.

(Here was that conversation:

“I choose not to this week.”

“What are you telling them by doing that? They expect to see you!”

“That nothing is guaranteed.”

“So it’s more important for you to have dinner with S. and C. this week than it is for you to parent your kids?”

“Yes.”)

Regardless of what he says about some brighter future where he’s more involved, he isn’t now and won’t be the foreseeable future; more to the point, he chooses, when he has a choice, to NOT see his kids and NOT maintain their security (because apparently teaching a three-year-old and a one-year-old that nothing is certain, including his presence and involvement, is a valuable lesson?).

So my friends say, and I tend to agree with them, that K.’s threats of not forgiving me should inspire nothing but the desire to laugh in his face. And they’re right. But here’s the thing: I don’t want to make him angry. I do want him to see the kids. I’m not out to get him. And when he told me that, I wasn’t just worried. I was scared. Because somehow, somewhere, I internalized the idea that his gender makes him more powerful or formidable or worthy or valid than me. Despite myself. And because I also internalized the idea that It Is Not Okay for a Woman to Piss Off a Man You Dumb Bitch.

And I continue to be scared. Scared of his ire. Scared he’ll take it out on me or, worse, the kids (well, he probably will take it out on me by absenting himself more, at least during times when it’s less essential, like after bedtime on Weds. when he’s supposed to let me go out and do some “night parenting time”). Scared that he’ll do this and get away with it. Scared that somehow, despite the laws and my sole legal custody and all of his lateness and excuses and declining to come and not seeing that the kids should be his first priority, the judge might side with him.

Because he’s a man. And I’m not. And that means there are still a lot of people in this world who think his word is worth more than mine.

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