By LINDA ANNETTE DAHLSTROM ANDERSON
After I got married, I started getting mail addressed to Mrs. Michael Anderson. I hadn’t actually changed my last name from my maiden name, Dahlstrom, but elderly relatives and companies offering credit cards or discount oil changes seemed to assume I had.
That Halloween, I contemplated dressing up as Mrs. Michael Anderson. I imagined her as my alter ego: She sounded like someone who would be an amazing cook who also enjoyed polishing silver, I thought. She’d be organised and proper. Maybe she’d wear pearls while she baked cookies that weren’t burned. In short, she was not me at all.
Linda, Mike and their son Phoenix.
At the time I got married, I felt that if I changed my name, I’d lose my identity. Linda Dahlstrom was the name I’d been known by my whole life and the name I’d written countless bylines under as a journalist. I didn’t want to take Mike’s name for the same reason he didn’t want to take mine — our names represent who we are. And we didn’t believe that we became different people because we were married.
We had our first child seven years later — a beautiful, sparkly, joyous little boy we named Phoenix Lind Anderson. Hyphenating our two long last names just seemed ridiculous, so we decided to give him my Swedish family’s matriarchal surname, Lind, as his middle name and Mike’s family name, Anderson, as his last name.
After he was born, we were lost in the delicious, maddening, all-consuming swirl of new babyhood. I spent hours cuddling him and drinking in his soft skin and hair and laughing with him as we blew raspberries at each other. Phoenix had mastered rolling over, much to his delight, and was on the brink of crawling when one July morning when he was 7 months and 4 days old, he woke with a fever. And then, within 12 hours, he was dead.
As the world fell away in those early days and weeks after he died of bacterial meningitis, a rare and deadly disease, I slept with his clothes. I sniffed his blankets. I greedily pressed to my cheek the silky lock of his hair the hospital had given us. I drank in any possible trace of him. I was raw and stripped down to my core — a creature operating almost purely on instinct.