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Taking back my last name was the secret to healing after my divorce

“And do you take this man to be your lawfully wedded husband?” Fifteen years later, I was undoing what we’d done and all I wanted back was my name. Yet, it wasn’t until I went on a “woohoogirl” trip with my sister that I truly realized what my name meant to me.

When I first got married, I hyphenated my name. On my driver’s license, it ran on. On other documents, it was truncated. Exasperated at this attempt to wear the nomenclature equivalent of a high heel and a Jordan sneaker, I decided to go with the heels and pick one last name. Level up! Suddenly, I was recognized as a member of the “married” tribe cross-generationally. My mother, an advocate for the one-name-one-family movement, was finally happy. “It just looks better, honey. And it’s better for the kids.”

Another friend asked, “Oh, so you finally accepted being his woman?” And that’s what stuck in my craw. His woman? I was his wife. I was my own woman. Why did this all have to be so damn hard? Why couldn’t I be his wife and my own woman if I took his name? What the hell was I committing too? Dentures on a night-stand, shuffle board and Metamucil? Push-presents? Earning my keep? The emotions flooded over me. Over the next 15 years, they drowned me. I was made from too stubborn a stock some said. What did I say? Not much. I was still sorting it out.

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Fifteen years later, I was a divorcee. My sister, always one to celebrate life to the max, corralled her hubby into sending us to Colombia for a much needed girl-cation. We needed it. And it turns out, Colombia needed us. We needed to splash in her fresh-water outdoor baths, rejuvenating in the crystal clear water skirting down the Sierra Madre. We needed to kiss the star-dusted skies sitting low on the horizon above Santa Marta. We needed to dance that Cumbia sway ‘til the sun broke free from the velvet night above beaches wrapped in the Caribbean Sea. We needed to be women. Not wives. Or ex-wives. Or mothers. Or sisters. We just wanted to be.

Yes, my surname was patrilineal and belonged to the males of my family. Yet, it also belonged to innocence, to my firsts. It belonged to barbecues, wheelies, SATs, high school proms, college graduation. To driver’s licenses, heartbreaks, to siblings born, to my lineage. To family in Bogalusa, Louisiana, where my name, Arnold, appears on a street. Why? My grandfather Earl Arnold’s contribution to his community. To my history of evolution from baby to woman. It encompassed my “me-ness.” No matter what happened, I was an Arnold. And that meant I belonged to a family that would always be mine and I would always be theirs.

More: More couples are deciding to live together after divorce

Four days later, we piled onto a flight from Santa Marta, Colombia, back to the Big Apple. We had lived. We were tired yet refreshed, tanned yet chilled. We tucked into vodka tonics, popped chicharrones and sighed our way toward New York.

“Boo?” I said to my sister.

“Yes babe?” she replied.

“That was it. My first trip. As me. My first international trip in my maiden name in 15 years.” She looked at me, took a sip and looked back at me. We both got a bit teary eyed. Then, we took a long swig.

“You did it babes,” she said, “You got you back.” And she was right. I leaned over, gave her a fist bump and said, “You damn right I did.” No matter who I love or marry later, I got me back. And I will never lose myself again.

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