After 15 months of struggle, I finally have the "holy grail" in my grasp -- a certified copy of my birth certificate.
No big deal, you say? Your birth certificate is ensconced in a fireproof box along with the car titles of every car you ever owned, tax returns dating back to the 70s and your kid's report cards in chronological order?
Oh, yeah? Well, bite me. That's right...I...Jean Patricia Eckerson Jackson, in front of my kids, friends and everyone on the planet who knows that there was a time I would have never stooped to this kind of reaction, said, "Bite me."
First, you need to know (and most of you do) that I've been a little stressed lately. Not to put too fine a point on it, I've been a "little" stressed for the Past. Five. Years.
Now, really, I was a good sport about it for the first four years -- I understand that, at some point in our lives, God will test us. Go ahead, read about my last five years...it's pretty well documented here on Linguini. Between constant, impending unemployment and homelessness and losing a job I loved that I was in constant danger of losing because of my boss's malfeasance, I managed to maintain my composure and dignity. Wasn't I pithy and perky and the epitome of spunk and vinegar? Wasn't I patient and accepting? Seriously, WASN'T I A PARAGON OF FREAKIN' GRACE UNDER PRESSURE?
This last year, though, I have found myself down to that last nerve and right now the fact that I'm in the thralls of moving and job hunting again after spending a year at an exhausting, health-depleting job that was a Sisyphusean punishment has that particular nerve already stretched to its limit.
You need to know this, otherwise you will think me some kind of whiny, over-emotional menopausal crone who spins into a frenzy over the slightest obstacle and you might say something really stupid like, "Lady, I want your problems." I can't tell you how unwise that would be.
It all started back February of 2012 when I researched how to go about obtaining a West Virginia driver's license. My Virginia license wasn't set to expire until June, but I figured I'd get a jump on things.
Turns out that to get a WV license with my current address, I needed to present my birth certificate, marriage license and proof of residence, none of which I had (oh, give me a break -- I've moved three times in five years). New Jersey, where I was born, required me to present a driver's license with my current address.
Honestly, this conundrum only elicited a mild chortle at the time because, you know, I'm such a strong and patient person. I explained my dilemma to the lady in New Jersey and she told me that they needed the driver's license with a valid address so they know, when they mail the birth certificate, that the person who is on that certificate is the person receiving the mail. So, I figured, I'd wait, get my proof of residence and then sort this out. I mean, I was dealing with flesh and blood people who can reason and understand logic, right? I'm a decent, honest person and there is no reason this little snafu should be a problem.
And so the driver's license issue took a back burner to the 15-hour days, seven-day-a-week lifestyle common with running a family business and the whole foot pain thing and before you know it I'm checking out the cafe's order at Costco and they ask to see my driver's license...
...which had expired the previous week. That's right. I forgot. Excuuuuuuuuse me. I'd been a little...(See paragraph 6).
Meanwhile, Dirtman, who is a year older, has a valid Virginia driver's license that won't expire until sometime in the next millennium. He trots happily to Richmond and in ten minutes has a certified copy of both his birth certificate and our marriage license. They don't bother to look at the piles of documentation proving our address, because they're not mailing anything -- they're handing it to the flesh and blood person standing in front of them. This point will be important further in this story.
I have to admit, the whole issue was shelved because, frankly, I WAS A LITTLE BUSY. And I didn't drive since Dirtman and I were always, always...I can't tell you how very always...together.
I will say, though, not having a driver's license, having had one for 38 years, was uncomfortable. Between having neither a driver's license or birth certificate, it was as if I just wasn't there. Add that to the stress already whirling about me and it became one of those issues that strangle you at 3 o'clock in the morning and guarantee exhaustion the next day.
So now we're moving back to Virginia. I resigned myself to the fact that I was going to have to start from square one: take a written test, take an on-the-road test and a vision test. So we stop into DMV in Virginia to pick up a recent drivers' manual so I could study for the written exam. We tell the guy at the information desk (please note -- this is the name of the desk: INFORMATION. I don't think it's out of line to assume this person has the CORRECT information, do you? I think the adjective "correct" is a sort of given, right?) This is the information he is given: I have a Va. driver's license that expired almost a year ago and I need a license. We are moving back, but have not yet moved, to Virginia.
And he gives us --******GOOD NEWS!!!!!*******. If I came in to renew my license before my birthday (June 18 -- same day as Paul McCartney, but he didn't care about that), all I would need is two items showing our new address and my old Virginia license.
There was great rejoicing in Linguiniland! For a week I walked about thinking, "Finally! Finally the tide is turning! Things are going to be different and reign of bad juju is over! Over, do you hear me! OVER!!!! BWAHAHAHAHA!!!!" (That's right. I laugh maniacally in my head.)
We began gathering the proof of our new address: Opened a bank account, signed up for a library card. I practically skipped into the DMV on June 6, smiling as I presented my little packet to Mr. Information -- the same guy...did you catch that?..the same guy we'd spoken to the week before.
He looks over everything and chirps happily, "I'll need to see your birth certificate."
I sputter, "But...but..."
He interrupts, "Oh, don't worry! If you were born after 1965, I can call it up on the computer! Where in Virginia were you born?"
I'm so upset that it even escapes me that he thought I am eight years younger than I actually am. "I wasn't born in Virginia." I'm just. Starting. To. Lose. It.
Dirtman knows this; hears it in my voice. He explains about our previous visit and what he told us. Mr. Information taps into his computer, shakes his head and says, "She's no longer in the system."
Okay, I sort of blank out at this point. But by the time Dirtman installs me in the car and we are driving away, I'm screaming.
Now, read this carefully: I. Don't. Scream. EVER. I may internalize; I may get sarcastic; I may beat myself up; I may even weep; ultimately, I eat. But, I repeat, I never, EVER scream.
After all, I've driven in this state for thirty years, without incident, I might add. I'm an honest person who always behaves herself. And I'VE PAID TAXES IN THIS STATE FOR 30 YEARS. Did that little tidbit come up in his computer? If DMV doesn't acknowledge my existence, I can guarantee the treasury department can somehow manage to hold onto this data. Eleven months is nothing to the treasury department; they'll hold onto a nine-cent discrepancy from eight years ago and hound you with it from state to state, publishing it every year in the paper.
So I'm crying and screaming and having an over-all (yet cathartic) meltdown and Dirtman is frantically dialing John Boy and arranging a trip to New Jersey to obtain my birth certificate. Then he gave me ice cream.
Let me explain the preparation and reason for the New Jersey trip. If I want to renew my license without taking the written or on-the-road test, I need my birth certificate by June 17. So we couldn't do it by mail. Besides, we don't have a move in date yet, so I don't know where to tell them to mail it. Plus, all I have to prove I exist is my marriage license (which lists all the information that is on my birth certificate) and an expired Virginia driver's license. I figure, it's got my photo on it -- I'm obviously the person written on the thing. That is why I had to pick it up in person -- so the New Jersey person could see I am the person connected to that name on the driver's license and the marriage license.
Ah! But wait! I had more! I have an older brother -- John Boy -- who could attest to the fact that my parents are his parents and none of us has any intention of overthrowing the government. Plus...plus...he has a passport, which is even better than a birth certificate because you need a birth certificate to get a passport and the passport has a photo on it too!
So John Boy and I took off for New Jersey yesterday with an air of optimism -- even the unrelenting, driving rain did not dampen our spirits; the fact that I'd had to lose a day of packing to this stupid task did not dampen our spirits; the fact that John Boy, because I did not have a valid driver's license, had to drive the entire 11-hour round trip by himself did not dampen our spirits.
We figured 10 minutes at the Red Bank Office of Vital Statistics, lunch, visit our old stomping grounds for a bit of nostalgia and then home.
Sigh. You know where this is going.
[cue guitar background from Alice's Restaurant]
We walked in, sat down, the clerk came and looked at the Virginia marriage certificate with my maiden name, married name, place of birth and parents' names and the expired Virginia driver's license with my picture on it and a line where it says my name, looked at me and said, "I need a bank statement or utility bill proving your address," which I didn't have...
(and didn't figure I needed since they weren't mailing it -- I was standing right there)
[resume guitar background from Alice's Restaurant]
She asked who John Boy was and I said my older brother. And John Boy stood up with his passport which he obtained by presenting his birth certificate and that contained a picture of himself as he is now and she said:
"Do you have your birth certificate?"
[pause guitar background from Alice's Restaurant]
And we came to the realization that it was a typical case of American blind justice and there wasn't nothing we could do about it, and the clerk wasn't going to look at the Virginia marriage certificate with my maiden name, married name, place of birth and parents' names and the expired Virginia driver's license with my picture on it and a line where it says my name or John Boy's passport which he obtained by presenting his birth certificate and that contained a picture of himself as he is now.
[resume guitar background from Alice's Restaurant]
So we had to call Dirtman, who drove into town and faxed to the office of Vital Statistics a copy of a bank statement and a utility bill with the wrong address on it -- both of which he could have generated himself using any word processing program out there (but he didn't) and I got my birth certificate.
And THAT, dear readers (if you're still with me) is the point. (Okay, stop the Alice's Restaurant music.) The obvious, common sense proof of my existence was not enough to obtain my birth certificate. The ONE THING that was required was the one thing most easily faked by any 8-year-old with a laptop.
I know my quest is not yet over though. Tomorrow I go back to the DMV where, if you recall, I was told I could just renew my expired license with no more than a vision test as long as I had (remember? All together now!) my expired license, my birth certificate and proof of new address.
So, why am I posting this now, before the problem is resolved?
Obvious: I entertain the possibility that the problem will NOT be resolved. I entertain the possibility that I will present my hard-won documentation and be told that, before a driver's license can be issued, I have to come up with a rhyme for the word "orange," and that, when I do, I will have to have the answered certified by a two-headed Do-do bird hatched in captivity.
And that is when the brain cells containing all the aforementioned information will come seeping out of my ear and form a puddle on the desk of Mr. Correct Information.
So before that happens, here it is, for posterity. When you see Dirtman leading a drooling, catatonic old lady around Walmart, you'll know where her mind went and why.