By womantrek on May 18, 2014
The last good memory I have of my step-father wasn’t very long ago. It was Spring of 2011. We were standing in line together at the Social Security Office, because, for what seemed like the twelfth time in two years, I had “lost” my identification; credit cards, check book – or whatever credential that, as fate would have it, I would need to secure an unemployment check. It became routine. Lose license, unemployment password expires or I forget it, need license to fax to unemployment office in order to get a new password.
This time, however, it was my social security card. I had changed my name, you see, to a hyphenated version of my first and second husband’s last names. I can’t tell you how much I now regret this. (I am tempted to drop all last names and just live out my days as a Cher, or a Madonna, or as a symbol.) As expected, the unemployment office viewed my newly updated license that I had faxed the week prior, and now wanted other proof of my name change. Because having to prove who you are to the state-run DMV was not enough for a different state-run office, I guess.
It takes 6-12 weeks to get a social security card, by the way. I had several conversations with the unemployment office representative, to convince her that I couldn’t wait that long for a check. She, one of the she’s I had been in touch with, anyway; finally relented.
Anyhow, back to the memory.
The only Social Security office that was open that day happened to be in a pretty rough neighborhood. We lined up among folks that were probably going through the same thing I was: bureaucracy at its red tapiest.
I remember standing there listening to the complaints, the curses, the tales, the general dissatisfaction of the day, and understanding. I got it. I was seeing right then and there, what socially cursed peoples had to live with on a daily basis. I was living it, too, but thankful I had a roof over my head – my parent’s roof. At the still tender age of forty-five, mind you.
My step-dad only saw ‘the blacks’, I’m sure. After being a cop for thirty-five years, he had no love for minorities. Perhaps he was justified. But perhaps he was also in the wrong career for thirty-five years.
I remember feeling his arm tighten around me as the crowd creeped closer to the entrance. I felt strangely safe, yet …exploited, expectant, exonerated…at the same time. I wondered what could possibly happen that required him to act so possessively.
I would find out later.
Once my number was called I walked over to the cubicle and sat down. A very industrious looking Asian fellow asked me several questions. For the final question, he swung his computer screen around and asked me to verify if my birth certificate was correct.
NO. I thought to myself, looking at it. My mother wasn’t a “Brodsky” when she had me. She married a “Brodsky” AFTER she had me, and then gave birth to my sister with him. My father’s name was correct, but my birth name was changed – someone made a mistake.
But I NEEDED that check.
“Yes. I believe so,” I answered. …No.
He asked again.
“Yes.” I answered, thinking it would be nice to buy my own groceries.
I remember picking up the receipt and walking out of that office thinking something was wrong, besides the birth certificate debacle. I couldn’t really put my finger on it, but there was something…
My whole life just seemed…wrong, in fact. Ever since college. I walked around knowing this. I walked around knowing there were people who knew me, but not really understanding why. I walked around knowing there were people that didn’t want me around, but not really understanding why.
I walked out of the building and saw my step-father and my uncle waiting for me in the car. I thanked them, and they were happy to help. I think they liked that they felt useful.
Later I found out that it would be possible to change my birth certificate, but difficult. Like, under adoption or parental rights waving type circumstances. None of which were the case, in my case.
I knew about the error because I had been carefully carrying my birth certificate and all of my name change papers around with me for decades. It’s what happens when your mother marries twice, and you marry twice, and now you have this hyphenated name.
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