We returned to the States on July 8, after a year in France. We’re going through a long re-entry process. Here are steps you may have missed so far:
Step 1: getting cell phones
Step 2: becoming Betz
Step 3: setting up house
It is Friday. We are hot. Our hands smell of grease and oil. My bangs are turning into a frizzy mess, covering my left eye. I am nearly crying. “I’m so happy to have a last name again,” I say as I let my sticky back rest against the hot truck seat.
“You always had a last name,” Joe is quick to remind me. I can tell my exasperation & tears throughout the day have taken their toll.
Watching the corn fields go by as we drive back to my hometown for the second time, I’m not sure how to explain. This year between marriage & our more permanent life has left me in an identity limbo–an unofficially hyphenated name at times; a pause each time someone asked for my name. Which do I use? Which do I feel like I am, really?
Growing up, I never thought I would change my last name. With my uncle moving away and my dad having just us two (lovely, talented & humble) daughters, I wanted to keep our Veit name going. That is, unless I met a man with a last name starting in G; I wanted my initials to spell my nickname, M.E.G. I would monogram everything.
When I met Joe, my feelings on the matter changed. I was okay with being M.E.B. and continuing the Betz family, wherever we may take up residence. We’re a small but mighty family, and believe me, I’m still Veit through-and-through.
After spending Thursday rooting through my boxes of belongings stored in various places around my parents’ address, asking for the help of Joe & my sister, then fearing that I shredded our marriage license, I found it–tucked away in our locked, fireproof box, right where any responsible couple would store it. I checked the Social Security Office’s hours; I double-checked my requirements. I filled out the form early on Friday morning, and we were on our way.
Then, on arrival, we were promptly told that our marriage license was only a “certificate” that happened to be signed by the judge, notarized and stamped with the probate’s seal. We had to return to the court house, in Wapak, for the piece of paper that had been torn from the piece of paper that was NOT our marriage license. This, the torn bit, was the true license, the only legal document that the plump S.S. Office employee could accept. I tore my license from his hand and left the office. Behind me, I heard Joe wishing the security guard a good day.
There was caution tape dangling from the construction fence around my town’s courthouse. The fence was open; the tape was down; I saw no construction workers. I assumed that this meant we were entering the acceptable entrance of the court house.
We were not. There was nothing inside–no wallpaper, no furniture, no security guard, no files. No probate court. Just a construction worker confused by our arrival, asking us if we had seen the sign on the gate (the gate that was open, meaning to read it you already had to step into the construction zone). No. We had not seen the sign. We read the sign, which directed us to the Administration Building a block away.
We walked to the Administration Building, found the temporary probate office and requested our marriage license. I took three dollars from my wallet.
“We haven’t received it yet. They mail it to us, but we haven’t received it yet,” the clerk said.
“Well, when will you? We were married a year ago.” I am not crying. I am not crying. I am not turning a shade of red-purple. I am staying calm.
“Oops! Wrong file. Here we go.” We print our marriage license.
We are again on our way. It has turned 2 p.m. We are stopping to look at a bike on the road leading out of town, toward the Federal Office in the next county. The bike is black and a bargain, and we are loading it into the truck bed.
The truck bed does not close. For ten minutes, it continues to not close. Our recent business partner, who graciously accepted his payment in roles of quarters, walks down his gravel driveway to the garage and returns with a can of WD-40. He proceeds to drown the tailgate’s hinges. The tailgate proceeds to fall open each time we lift it up.
I am not crying. I am calm. Okay, I am not calm. I am panicking. I am calling my dad & telling Joe that he says it’s fine for us to drive around with an open tailgate. We are putting away the tools, the WD-4o and ourselves, back into the truck. We say our “Thank you, no really thank you.”
Thirty minutes later, I am again walking out of the Social Security Office. I am Mrs. Megan Betz. Legally. With an hour before the office closes. Mission complete.