The hard plastic chairs are the same blue as the tile. They are all in neat rows–the chairs were made to interlock, to force themselves straight, despite the various asses that plant themselves on them throughout the day. I am at the DMV, step number 2 in the process of changing my name.
Last week, I sat in the uncomfortable interlocking chairs of the Social Security Administration office in San Bernardino. It was significantly less pleasant. Here there is no screaming baby whose mother threatens to kick her ass if she throws that bottle filled with juice on the floor one more time. No chest tattoos that read “R.I.P. Lil’ Goofy-something-or-other” who was born in 1982, but whose year of death I cannot determine. There was a 30-second period in which I sincerely believed violence would break out. There were armed officers who locked the door at 3 and yelled if we stepped outside, there was no coming back. I avoided eye contact and sweated quietly in my seat until my number was called.
I always regretted changing my name. When we lived in New York, I even went downtown to get the forms and instructions to change it back, but I was always so busy and it never seemed urgent. But now I am getting divorced. It feels urgent now. I want my beautiful last name back, even if it comes with the part of it I always hated, my middle name Pearl. It doesn’t get much more old lady than Pearl. It was my grandmother’s name, my mother’s mother, whom I hardly knew. My father says she was crazy, which may or may not be true. She’s dead now. I do remember thin, penciled eyebrows, a dyed red perm, wild eyes. But I don’t even trust that memory. In any case, I don’t mind the attachment to my mother’s mother much anymore, even if she was crazy. Even if I barely knew either one of them.
There is always one fly in these places. It is heavy, dull, on the brink of death, and it keeps landing on my arm. Before taking my seat, I argued lightly with the stereotypically disgruntled employee. She told me to leave and come back after the divorce went through. I told her I didn’t want to wait, and that I didn’t need to. I showed her their website, the page with the name change instructions. I told her I had my birth certificate, my new Social Security card. I had the forms. I had a plan. The Social Security Office first, then the DMV, then work, then bank, then student loans, then credit cards, then utility, cable, and phone bills. Then online stores. My friend at work told me it has been 9 years and people still get it wrong, but I am optimistic.
I asked to speak to a supervisor. I was given my number.
The name change feels important and exciting, even if the process is tedious. I move from one state or federal office to the next. I complete the forms. I read the instructions. I don’t like crowds of strangers, but I sit shoulder to shoulder with them, all of us facing forward, all of us finding it impossible to get comfortable in these chairs. There are signs posted that instruct us in all caps but no punctuation not to seat our children on the counter, not to use our cell phones, to get in this line, not that one. Everything is a different shade of industrial gray or blue, and all of the employees appear to be barely capable of tolerating us. We wait because we have business to do and there is no other way.
I wait because it is worth it. The divorce is in progress. My name is coming back to me. I am moving forward even though it looks like I’m just sitting here, waiting.