by Lisa

I went to the DMV today.  I got a new driver’s license, which I wanted because I don’t need glasses any more and I wanted to revert to my maiden name.  I ended up visiting the DMV a handful of times, with a handful courthouse trips to break up the afternoon, and I came home with a Bonus Feature.


A year and a few months ago, my divorce became final, over, in possession of an end point, legally.  The beginning of the end exists in a foggy place somewhere between “I need to become legally separated from you because you decided you never should have married me, like, two years ago, and didn’t tell me until I woke up this morning which is surprising but not” and “I have my own house”.  That span of time lasted for an eternity, so I have left it in the not-there-any-more haze, no further inspection necessary. I am divorced, which is sad, but life is better now.

All the while, between the beginning and the now, I’ve been thinking about my identity and my names.  I was just Me, a Hartlieb, then I was Theirs in name, with Hartlieb smushed in the middle, and then I was no longer Theirs, but their name was still my small person’s name so I carried it, not lightly.  Being Theirs and carrying their name made me proud, when they needed me.  After I left, I felt like a liar when I said my name out loud, except when in the company of the one of them I helped to produce.

Today, I decided, would be My Old Name Day.  How does one regain a name? Let’s ask a clerk!

At the courthouse, I learned that the orders had all gone into effect the same day, a year and a few months ago: divorce, custody, legal name change.  All I needed to do, the clerk cheerfully informed me, was present the full document to the DMV and my name would be exactly what I’d requested.  The deal was done.  The DMV would comply by issuing a new license for a mere five dollars. Hooray for certified, judge-approved legal documents!

The woman at the DMV wasn’t amused when I told her that her spelling of my old middle name was not quite right.  See, there? On that line? That’s my name..

Not quite. The name on the line was the only name she could assign to me, legal reasons, fraud, identity theft is a real problem, other Serious Things.  I took the license and left for the courthouse. A trip to the courthouse would surely clear things up for the DMV, right?

Not quite.

I’d filled out page after page of custody agreements at my former husband’s kitchen table a year and many months earlier while he pointedly expressed his poor opinion of me.  I’d written my small person’s name through tears dozens of times that night.  Her name starts with the same letter of my old middle name.  I wrote hers in place of mine where my maiden name belonged, crossed it out, and just wrote it exactly the same way again, in ALL CAPS.  Dear brain, sweet brain, thank you for some of the automatic responses I produced that night, but Autofill wasn’t one I’d meant to turn on.

An aside: my backpack contains so many forbidden pointy things, some of which I’d been looking for for rather a long time.  Thank you, courthouse security guard, for finding the tiny silver cake forks I bought from the scrap pile at work last month.  

My repeated metal-detector trials tells me something about assumptions of innocence associated with my appearance, because I would have escorted myself out after the second-t0-last attempt, when my makeup kit was put through the x-ray with what the gathering group of smiling men with guns laughingly called a Texas Toothpick. I call it  a flower knife. A tiny collapsible button-hook watch fob required much explanation, too.  

They let me in after four tries, even though I still set off the body alarm; I could have had anything on my person, even if my backpack was deemed point-less.  I was deemed pointless, which sort of suited the nameless nature of my situation. 

The same courthouse clerk who explained the simplicity of getting a new driver’s license with my judge-approved divorce papers explained where to go to learn about voluntary legal name changes.  Less simple, and more than five dollars. I thought I was opening up an option for change by writing on that line a year and many months ago, not laying down the law.   I was wrong, and now I have a new name that I’ve never had before.

My old license had been shredded the instant the freshly-minted one was in the DMV lady’s hand, before I left the office the first time.

Back at the DMV, the legal document in my hand made the production of a replica of the old an impossibility.

So, I went to the jeep to think about this turn of events and to see if the familiar awkward photo looking back at me might feel right and well with the new name I’d accidentally given myself a year and a few months ago.  The photo had changed dramatically, even though no one had taken my picture. My new name came attached to a face I owned seven years ago and a seven-year-old address.  (I just realized that if they’d gone back a few more years, the address would have been correct and I would have looked AMAZING for forty-three.)

Back inside, they couldn’t find an explanation for the old photo or the old address.  Was I sure that I currently live where I think I live?  Suddenly, I wasn’t so sure of much, and had proof of even less. Did I possess any valid identification with my current address?  No, you shredded that. Any utility bills, perhaps? The situation became very funny to me but not to anyone else.

I wanted to keep the oddball used-to-be-me license, but it, too, went to the shredder.  A new photo was snapped to match my current appearance and I can tell where I applied foundation this morning because the rest of my face is pink from laughing.  I signed my Not Quite Old Name carefully on the scanner pad, clumsily.  We all checked the address and the supervisor who’d gotten involved in my address plight explained that my FOID card and CCW are not invalid, but until I inform those official folks of their need to update my information, I won’t be able to buy ammunition or carry a gun out in the world.

I didn’t want to, anyway. So there.

Now that my name is my  Old Name with Bonus Feature, I’m going to live with it for a while.  If the Bonus Feature feels weird after a trial run, I’ll change it. I might like it, once the shock of its newness wears off.  Time will let me see how it fits.  See how it sounds.  My middle initial is the same, which feels good, and I have a little of my small person still attached to my official title by a happy judicial accident.

Those don’t happen often.