The last two weeks have seen me doing some long avoided tasks. The reasons for the avoidance are complex, as dealing with these tasks would have made my life much easier. Three and a half years passed, the problems only increasing due to procrastination. They were now monsters of my own creation. Yesterday I vanquished my foes, smite the enemy and without putting too fine a point on it, I was triumphant. I did not get thanks from the powers that be for my bravery, they gave me resistance and obfuscation, they threw obstacles in my way but they did not take me down.
All of this sound a little over the top? It does to me but that’s how things build up in our lives when we don’t want to face them. In my case, the monsters were, the renewal of a long expired passport, getting a local driving license and challenging a bad decision. It sounds simple but two things hugely complicated this and both of them were psychological; one is that when I moved back to Canada, on some level I did not really want to be here. On the surface I did and had good reasons, so I dealt with it, tried to plant roots, made friends, created meaningful work, yada, yada, yada. All just words. In my heart, I was not here and resisted the move I chose. I let things slide a bit such as the renewal of a passport; I didn’t even really want one. Things became complicated because without the passport, I couldn’t get a provincial driving license. This had a big impact on my circumstances. I didn’t want to give up my British one, so proudly earned, and they will not let you have both. So stupid and as I said; only making my life harder. Add to this that my situation is not standard. This is the story.
I have been married three times, consequently I am familiar with that ‘look over your shoulder’ feeling when someone calls your name. After husband two left his post, I had already changed surname twice from birth….enough was enough. Although I was living with my ‘would one day be number three,’ I decided to change my name and nothing would alter that. I did not want to revert to the ‘maiden’ surname as it was long past and no longer felt like mine, and quite frankly, I was vastly not a maiden. I had some fun for a while considering options, listening to outrageous suggestions from friends, leafing through a Latin dictionary for inspiration but I just could not wear it. I tried to imagine picking a name for something I hold dear, like say, ‘freedom,’ or ‘integrity,’ but all I could hear when I said these out loud with my given name was ‘crazy as f—-.” So, Stephanie Libertas would not be born from this but I realised the answer was in front of me. I already had a name, surplus to requirements and it was mine - my middle name. I opted to take my middle name and adopt it to become my surname. In Scotland this is a simple matter, an old law makes the passage of this change smooth. I didn’t have to do anything legal but to be sure, I took out a statutory declaration and had it notarised. Here’s how it goes, “I was born this, then I married him and was this, then divorced and remarried him and became this and now I want to be this.” That’s it. A lawyer writes it up, notarises it and charges you for the pleasure.
Why am I telling you all this? It’s relevant to the story because by Canadian standards, it’s so far out of the box; the box is in another solar system. Canadian officialdom is not outside the box, its box is small, with impenetrable sides and it rejects and punishes anything that is outside of it. I did have some intensely frustrating conversations with the paper pushers. Eventually lugging a small filing cabinet of paperwork with me, I told my story and someone accepted it – I got the passport. They simply couldn’t understand though, why I didn’t go the way of the Maple Leaf, do it through Canadian channels and in the Canadian manner. I thought explanation would help (divest yourself of this idea when dealing with bureaucracy) and explained that I didn’t do it the Canadian way BECAUSE I DIDN’T RESIDE IN CANADA!!! Now this was a tricky sticking point for some reason. Then, I made the mistake of explaining how you can change your name legally in Scotland….you simply do it. The statutory declaration was not needed. In writing you notify, your bank, various companies you deal with, inform the ‘authorities’, and Bob’s your Uncle. Honestly, this is true. It was like I’d said, “…and then you strip naked in the public square, paint your new name all over your body in marmalade and whisky and sing Scotland the Brave backwards three times.” The look I got! Then what I’d heard so many times, “Well that’s not how we do it in Canada.” There was a stage when I could see, despite all the judgmental comments that the passport official was going to do it and the relief was immense. I cracked a little joke (never do this either) and said, “I suppose it might have been less confusing if I’d taken a new name like Purple Goddess or something…” Well, you could hear one symbolic leaf drop, the expression was beige and not a smile crossed the governmental face. When I walked out the door, I was practically floating because I knew; now I could get the driving license.
This part was going to be easy because I had already spoken to the guy in charge of this months before, who after hearing the whole colourful tale, examining everything in the way of paperwork I produced including shopping list and pet vaccination records, told me if I got the passport he could approve the application. A British driving license in my province is okay to drive on for so long, and then you need only hand it into the driving authority, and they will replace it with the provincial one. No need to sit the test. If you drove here you would understand why, and don’t even get me started on that. I skipped up the steps and approached the first hurdle, the information desk. I explained that I wanted to speak to the Manager but the terrier at the desk insisted I would have to follow protocol and go through a ‘representative’ instead. I tried explaining that the ‘Manager’ had asked me to come through to him but she was having none of it. I bit my tongue and sat down and waited. When my number came up I felt not a little dread. I’ve become accustomed to the reaction my story gets and I wasn’t in the mood for ridicule or chastisement for being the anti Canadian. My number showed up on the screen and I approached the representative and began. I told her my story and it was obvious she wasn’t listening. I said I was born in Canada but had been living away for 22 years and she said, “I need to see your citizenship papers.” This was just the beginning. After explaining that I didn’t have citizenships papers because I was born here, I showed her my birth certificate and oh, it went back and forth quite painfully. I said that I had spoken to the Manager and she said, “We don’t have a Manager.” I looked around and pointed at the office I had sat in not months ago, the office of the Manager -“That’s the Supervisor’s office.” Maybe she really didn’t know what I meant when I said Manager, but I don’t think so. This was her little bit of power, her fiefdom and I was not doffing my cap in the prescribed manner. My husband had done this same exchange of the British license, so I knew that it was simply an administrative exercise and I wouldn’t have to sit a test….
The application was finally put before the Supervisor and he approved it, probably to her disgust. She returned and while confirming my contact details she took it upon herself to give me an informal driving test. This was a shock and I hadn’t so much as looked at the ‘Drivers Handbook,’ but when she said, “What do you do when you come upon a school bus and both lights on the back of it are flashing,” well the answer was obvious. I said, “I would stop and wait for it to pull out again.” She scowled just a bit and then asked me to confirm my phone number, and then quickly with another question, “Why are motorcycles more at risk on the roads?” I thought about it and said, “They offer less protection and are therefore more vulnerable and there is reduced visibility.” She jumped on that and said, “It’s actually the driver’s blind spot, that’s why they can’t be seen” and I said, “I think that’s covered with ‘reduced visibility.’ It was a battle of the wills and she continued to fire the questions at me for some minutes but in the end, she had to grant me the license. I had ticked two things off my list and nothing could stop me now.
The third thing wasn’t so painful, the compiling of a lot of paperwork and filling in a lengthy form, to lodge it with the court. This was also a much avoided task as it involved confrontation and stirring up a hornets nest of feelings. As it was a family matter, the court required me to attend a “Parenting After Separation,” three hour class. I was dreading this to be honest, and had no idea what to expect. It was more than surreal sitting in this roomful of sadness, people whose lives were recently swept away by a tsunami of change. There were several facilitators and we listened to a talk informing us of our rights, someone else talked about the emotions of separation, “the wonderful opportunity it provides,” and the last one spoke from the child’s perspective. We were encouraged to speak, contribute with our own thoughts. I had promised myself I would keep quiet, ten years after my separation, life looks quite different. I kept my jaded mouth shut for a while but eventually, I did speak. Philip Larkin’s words were in my head, “Man hands on misery to man, it deepens like a coastal shelf…” I tried to be helpful, told them it was certain that it would get easier. It was a jumping through hoops exercise and I jumped, with a certificate to show for my efforts. At the end, I was asked why I was there as it was clear I was in ‘another place.’ That’s me all over; I’m always in another place. As a foreigner to the Land of Box, I am delighted to have achieved a status that allows me to cross its borders. This week, I beat them at their own game and my monsters are no more.
© S. Marian, July 31, 2012