Here’s the proof. We have been married for 49 years as of today. Trouble is, the DMV won’t give me a Real ID because they don’t believe I’m really married.
Two weeks ago I arrived at our nearest DMV promptly when the office was supposed to open at 9am. I was eighth in line, standing in pouring rain carefully protecting all my important documents under my raincoat, for ten minutes before the door opened. Two hours later when finally called to window #9, I handed over my original social security card, birth certificate, marriage certificate, soon to expire driver’s license, two proofs that I still reside in the same house I moved into 49 years ago, and an expired passport. I waited with great patience while the clerk checked front and back of each document. She handed back the passport. “This is expired. We can’t use it.” She handed back everything but the marriage certificate. “These look good.” And then…
She flipped the yellowed marriage certificate a couple of times and held it up to the light as I watched a crinkled corner drop to her desk. I cringed when she did the unthinkable – she taped the corner back on the document with non-archivable tape. “This won’t work. It has no official stamp.”
“But, that’s the certificate I used when I got my passport,” I said.
She rolled her eyes. “Maybe they would have taken this but we can’t accept it. You’ll need to get a certified copy of your marriage license. Do you want a driver’s license without a real ID,” she asked. My next attempt to persuade her that the expired passport along with the marriage certificate that the US government had accepted as proof that I did indeed get married 49 years ago was futile. I walked out with a temporary driver’s license and an assurance that I could upgrade to a real ID once I obtained an official marriage license.
After a full day of searching twelve boxes of archived, photos, diplomas, grant deeds, 49 years of tax returns, insurance policies, and receipts for 49 years worth of purchases, I gave up. I contacted the county where we were married. No record. I contacted the county where we have lived for 49 years. No record. Maybe the preacher (Dad) never sent in the license. Since California does not observe common law marriages, what will I tell my illegitimate children?
You have made a lot of progress in the last few years. Remember that stack of journals when things first started to happen? But it goes back farther than that. What about that 5 year journal with scattered entries, the one with the tiny lock you kept in your nightstand during your early teens? Last time you looked at it you wondered what all the abbreviations meant. M.A.M. for one. It might have meant “mad at mom,” or perhaps “mad at Marilyn.” You did remember the first M stood for mad. Most of the entries were short sentences, “I finished my book report,” “We had a pajama party at Vickie’s,” “I babysat for the neighbors last night.” More a calendar of life with little emotion.
There was a break from journaling for a few years, the need to write fixed in letters to Carol. You have the ones she sent to you. Does she still have yours? Probably not but you have a dozen years of response to your letters to her, each one dropping a small clue as to what was going on. They begin with happy memories but evolve into “come and visit me so we can talk about it” messages.
The journal writing began again in the mid-seventies, after the boys were born. Reflections of being a mother, trying to make things work, a few essays mixed in from that advanced English class at DVC. Another break and then the Tarot phase journal, followed by an AA step journal. You scanned them all a couple of years ago and threw away the actual papers not wanting anyone to find them. At least you had the sense to keep them in digital format. Safely tucked away in case you ever wanted to write a memoir.
The time has arrived. It’s been a tedious process to put those missives in chronological order and make some sense of it. Reading through the work brings mostly tears but a few healthy bouts of laughter. How minor the problems were in the beginning. Remember how many times you packed your bags thinking you would head back to Michigan and life would be easier? Learning about Jason’s addiction? Dealing with your own drinking, trying to decide – am I an alcoholic? “Fake it until you make it,” they said in AA. They meant for you to fake your sobriety but you turned it around, deciding if you faked your drinking experience, the program would work, a twisted attempt at denial of the real problem.
But when you sat down to write the book, it seemed to be all about Jason. Then the focus shifted to Chris. And then there was Eric. And now JJ. You told their secrets. That’s okay, it was a shitty first draft. You’re supposed to write it all out and no one needs to read it. But this is a memoir. It’s about you. You are the narrator. You told their story and now it’s time to make it yours.
Remember when you said, there is no resolution? And then someone in your tribe suggested resolution may come with the writing. Or, it’s possible that there may be no resolution. How disappointing that felt. You wanted that lightning bolt to zap straight into the manuscript, erase the past and manifest into a miraculous new life, what you thought would be a normal life.
Sifting through those first 90,000 words the patterns began to emerge. When you began this re-write, you were at a turning point of sorts. You began to feel like the hub of a shredded wheel, picking up the pieces in the freeway of life, trying to glue it back together. Were you the common denominator, and therefore the source of everyone’s misery? Did you lay out those spikes of disaster? Or were you drawn to the center of all adversities, never having to look at yourself? You think: It’s not you. It’s them. Why write that?
Dig a little deeper. Keep digging. The answer will come. You are getting closer. So close the theme is right there, within your reach. Just a little more energy, one chapter at a time, you can do it. Listen to the sages in your life. Follow their path. Forget about the results for now. It’s not a marathon that will end at the finish line. Growth continues, published or not. Write for yourself. Give yourself permission to self-publish that first shitty draft – just for yourself. Hold it in your hand knowing how far you have travelled. Accept what was and turn it into something powerful. Put it out there to make a difference for someone who still struggles.
You’ve got this. Push that inner critic aside (that would be me, you know).