identity

I feel it is important to keep my ID on me at all times, in case I am abducted. That way, after I am thrown in the back of a late model Buick, and later my mutilated body is dumped in low swampy weeds, and then children playing adventure biologist find my decomposing corpse I will be indentifiable because: I will have had my ID on me and my murderer, who will understand I am a planner, will surely duct tape it to my forehead.

But even my best laid plans can go astray. My driver’s license (aka ID) which was not so safely tucked in my back pocket, fell out while I was hiking last week and I did not realize it was gone until I had returned home and darkness has come.  I returned to the hiking trail, retracing my steps, but my ID was not to be found. Now I sit, and I wait, at the DMV while the digital “time until you are seen” screen moves from 52 minutes to 1 hour 3 minutes until a representative will be available to assist me.  A folder of identifying documentation rests in my bag, Common’s Questions runnin’ through my brain. — Why do you need I.D. to get I.D.? If I had I.D. I wouldn’t need I.D.  The folder I stashed the documents in normally just keeps copies of my military discharge paperwork filed away safely, but now the folder holds my social security card, passport, marriage license, divorce decree. Sitting in my bag is everything that is needed to become me. Yet not one of those items speaks for me.

I pull the folder of identity out of my bag to flip through all the documents – all the memories locked into the print of dates, locations, signatures, and official stamps. As I open the folder, I notice faded, forgotten penciled notes to a future that did not become mine. Phone number for an Army recruiter with notes about MOS (job number) 91W for healthcare specialist. Dates and station locations, a note that I would not have to repeat bootcamp and could retain E4 status. The girl who wrote those notes was not too far out of the Navy; feeling so completely lost as a civilian; wanting a clear line of command to guide her – though she had not been very good at following the line when she had the opportunity; now fearing every choice could be wrong, and still doing so many new things under a pretense of confidence. That girl, who declared she was ready to take on the world, was the poster child for “fake it til you make it” and was seriously considering re-enlisting because the civilian world made no sense to her. She was bursting with ideas and plans and desires, but all of those things were terrifying in the shadows of the silence of yet to be done. She was also dating a man who she loved for his inability to take risks … his desire not to draw attention to himself and just live a simple life felt so easy, balanced. At that point in life, she thought she needed balance, but didn’t know how to look within to find it so she did the next best thing: married someone who appeared to be balanced.

I picked up my divorce decree. A memory of the day, a couple months after marrying came to mind. I went to the Social Security office to complete the official paperwork to take my now wasband’s name. As I approached the counter, a clerk looked up with the enthusiasm of a sunbaked cat. I awkwardly announced that I was there because I’d recently married and needed to change my name. She took an obvious gander at my ring finger as if checking out the wedding ring bling was the highlight of her job and, noticing I wasn’t wearing my token of love, sneered, “Fill out this form, it’s in triplicate, press hard.”
Forms completed, questions answered, information input to database, she printed out a form, and sighed, “Sign here.”

“What? How?”

“Your name. With the pen.”

“Which one?,” I asked with honest confusion as she placed the pen in my hand.

“Your married name, sweetie. That’s your name now.”

In that moment of ink marking paper, I felt a betrayal toward my father who was a dad he never had to be. He gave me his name when I was a year old. In the seconds it took to mark my new name, years coursed through me. I was turning my back on the name got me into fights on the third grade playground. The name on articles I had published. The name that had taken me across the world. The name on my military uniforms. The name on my college degrees. The name that was my identity marker for longer that the memories of the childhood it was now linked to. But I was a girl who wanted things to “just make sense.” And for things to make sense, one must create order, which for me meant getting married and taking your husband’s name. I knew it my theory on life making sense was true because so many people did it and appeared happy, so it Had To Be True. With that faulty logic, I signed my new name — a name I had not even practiced signing before that moment. A name that took me through nearly a decade of marriage, has been shared with a child, and, though now divorced almost two years, it is the name that remains my legal moniker. It is now only part of my identity, and yet it is somehow not at all part of me.

I have experienced a long, sometimes arduous journey of life’s lost and found to arrive at the realization that no one has the ability to make sense of life for you. So many will influence, but no one will manifest your identity, but you. Each soul is responsible for the task of making sense of the journey it is gifted – encapsulated within these fragile life-suits. Each life will take us down paths that sometimes make sense and other times leave us feeling like we have wandered into a strange dimension, floating inside the in the head, of Kafka’s Gregor. We each grasp onto religions, relationships, communities, and rituals in attempt to make sense of all the world is and could be, isn’t and should be, was and will never be again. Throughout life, in an effort to understand our place in the world – to understand how we identify with ourselves and others – we grasp, let go, we change, lurch, grasp, grow and change once more. Sometimes, if we let go of our stubbornness to “have it all make sense,” life may reflect a glimmer of truth in the mirror of our mind. In the end, we must each live in a way that makes sense, and thereby holds truth, to us because ultimately that life-suit decomposes, and the soul carries forward even the memories time has faded.

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