Thursday, October 28, 2004

Passports and Hearts

It was a fresh wound. Not to be confused with a ‘flesh’ wound. No, this one was seriously close to being fatal. Gushing from the gaping hole in my heart were hope, confidence, peace and faith. Surely I could not survive long with all my life blood draining away. Feeling faint, my breathing was shallow and my hands were shaking. I doubted I’d have the strength to fill out the form.
The form.
The one that the schools’ send home every September for updating. The one where personal information is indifferently requested. And usually supplied without a second thought.
But it was 1999.
And I had to write down, “Separated” next to marital status on the boys’ school record sheets. Under “lives with” I printed the word “Mother”. For ‘second parent’, I had to record Mark’s new address.
After months of hoping for a miracle and daring to dream of reconciliation, I had to face the reality that I was a single mom and my kids now come from a broken home.

Anger at Mark was one of my emotions, but the stronger feeling was one of shame. My husband left me. For someone else. Someone better.
Every time I had to fill out a form that requested my marital status I felt like an invisible rubber stamp was hammering down on the page, with the words “LOSER” in red ink added across my handwriting.

In 2000, I amended the school forms to acknowledge I was legally separated.
In 2002, and every year since, I’ve been ‘divorced with custody’.

I don’t have an emotional melt-down any more when those green forms arrive via backpack. In fact, this September, I was congratulating myself on being so matter-of-fact about it all.

I spent the better part of today in the heart of Whalley at a government office applying for a passport. Max and I both need one for our trip to Europe, and rather than waiting til the last minute, I thought I’d apply now, while I have the time, because any day now, I’m sure I’ll get a job, and won’t have a spare minute for anything.
It has taken me weeks to complete the application forms. Weeks. I never got past the “weight” box the first time I attempted. I finally compromised and recorded my anticipated weight on Mar 11 if I stopped eating immediately and permanently.

My next hurdle was figuring out who I should ask to be my guarantor. That someone would have to look at my passport photo. Weeks went by again.

Then there was the confusing section regarding my last name. I needed to have proof of my ‘name at birth’… a birth certificate.
Plus, I needed paperwork regarding my current last name. So I’d have to bring in my marriage certificate.
They aren’t interested in my divorce. Only my marriage. Oh the sweet irony.
I sucked it up. Dealt with my insecurities and got it done.

I assumed Max’s application would be a piece of cake. A walk in the park. A night at the races.
“Who does child live with? Specify: _______”
That’s easy. I don’t even cry anymore when I fill in the word “mother” or “divorce”.
At the bottom of his form, both parents’ needed to sign consent.
Which we did.
Poster parents on how to be divorced civilly.

I unearthed our divorce agreement, got it photocopied and added it to my growing pile of passport papers. For my application I needed my marriage papers. For Max’s, I had to have the divorce papers.

All photos, forms and photocopies were filed into an envelope, waiting for the day I could waste a few hours at the passport office.

Today was the day.
The ‘biggies’ have all been completed. I’ve been carrying them around like a snug, yet well-fitted, 40 pound knapsack for a month. I accepted three biggies at the same time; leadership responsibilities for the current fundraiser; a calendar we sold advertising for. Plus a promise to read through, comment on, and story-edit a friend’s 400 + page novel. And of course, there was that photography class I took at night school.
All “challenges” were labours of love. They were joy-filled, demanding, growth experiences that ate up large chunks of time.
My last class was on Thursday.
I handed in my marked up copy of the manuscript on the weekend.
And I completed my responsibilities regarding the calendar today at 9 am.

So I took off for Surrey with my big fat envelope, the new Oprah magazine, my daily journal and a favourite pen.

After waiting in line for 20 minutes, the first clerk looks over my application.
“Date of marriage?” she asks.
“Um. I’m divorced.”
“When did you get married?” she asks again.
“I haven’t remarried. I’m still single.” I say again.
“In order to get divorced you had to have gotten married” she explains in a patient, government-worker type of voice.
“Oh. 1983.”

She makes red marks all over my application, no doubt some sort of code for all future form handlers to interpret. Probably says “LOSER” in government short-hand.
I am assigned a 4 digit number/letter combo and told to sit in the waiting area until it flashes on the screen.

“You are divorced?” I’m asked 45 minutes later by a middle-aged man named Mark.
“Uh huh.”
“This is your ex-husband’s signature?” he inquires regarding the “second parent” section on Max’s application.
“Uh huh.”
“He knows you’re applying for a passport for your child?”
“Uh huh.”
“I’ll have to phone him and check, you realize.”
“Are these his numbers?” he asks, pointing to Mark’s handwritten notation of his work and home phone numbers.
“Uh huh.”
“So, if I call him at work, he’ll answer?”
“One of the secretaries will answer. If he’s there and not tied up in a meeting, yes, he’ll be available to talk.”
Pleased with the answers his interrogation uncovered, he sets the form aside and picks up the divorce agreement.
“Is this the only one you’ve got?”
“Yes. It’s the only divorce I’ve had.”
“No other divorce papers?””Nope. This is it.”
“Nothing else?”
“How about a legal separation?”
“Do you have that with you?”
“No. I brought my divorce papers. The separation agreement was for the time period before the divorce.”
“Still. I’d like to see them.”
“The separation agreement?”
“Yes. Could you get me a copy?”
“You want me to come back?”
“Yes. With your separation papers. Custodial issues must’ve been dealt with on that document, yes?”
“Well, yeah, but..”
“Is it a longer document that this?” He holds up my 7 page divorce.
“Yeah. But it’s mostly financial. We had to untangle a few things. Custody of the kids has always been straightforward – I have custody. He has unlimited access. The separation is no different than the divorce.”

Listen to me. Talking impersonally about legal documents as if they are no reflection on my inability to keep a man married to me. No tears. No angst. No fear of judgement. Acting like my divorce and separation papers are as meaningless as my BC Medical care card.
“Yet, I need to see it. When can you be back?”
“One of these days.”
“Sooner would be better than later” he advises as I leave his counter.

I’m not bleeding anymore. Hearts do mend. I can breathe deeply. And spar with doltish government workers about my marital status with out crying or gnashing.
Bring ‘em on. I’m stronger now.
Send me forms.
Let me apply for things.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not proud of being divorced. I don’t wear the title like a badge of honor. It still is (and probably always will be) an aching source of shame for me.
But I don’t fall apart anymore. That wound has long since scabbed over and healed up.

Experts say it takes one year to heal for every four years of attachment. Being the “A” student I am, I was determined to be done with the whole process in 18 months.

Sometimes experts are experts because they know things.
They were right.
Despite my best intentions, all my book-reading on the subject and the sheer will to succeed – it took 4 ½ years.

Just like they said it would.

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