It won’t make a difference, I thought–why bother to change my name back? It won’t undo anything that has happened. It will be a massive, expensive pain in my ass. I thought about it–repeatedly. Once in a while I’d see my old last name on something and wish I could undo everything. But I can’t go back.
I am sitting at a meeting with my women’s group when two other women going through divorces talk about changing their names back and how it feels like a step forward in their healing. One of them brings up mythic imagery. That’s my name, I think. My heart pounds. I don’t say anything. I blink back tears.
My heart is insistent, and my new name keeps coming up in my consciousness. My fear is oppressive; telling me it’s too difficult, that it’s pretentious, that my students and community have known me by the name I have for years. Still, I want it–a name chosen by me and not given to me by some man. Fuck the patriarchy, I fume, dashing off a message to my women’s group asking what they think. They encourage me to take the name I want. They tell me it suits me. They cheer me on. I cry a bit about it, frustrated and sad that I’ve kept my abuser’s name this long believing that it didn’t matter.
The next day I go to the county clerk. I am presented with a stack of legal documents. I’ll need fingerprints run and sent to the FBI, notarized affidavits of good character, and about $200. Fuck the patriarchy, I think. I march down to the Sherrif’s office for fingerprints.
“Is the address on your id current?”
I haven’t so much as registered to get mail at any place I’ve lived since leaving my abuser and I don’t plan on it. Every place I’ve lived has been the home of a friend. I used to answer the door with a spear concealed behind it. I explain the situation calmly at the bulletproof window, saying that since I can’t use a PO box on my id I’m unable to change it to my current address. My voice breaks as I admit, “I’m too afraid to register an address where I reside. There must be another way.” Unblinking, she hands me a sheet of paper with a Raleigh address and tells me they’ll do it as long as my id is current.
In March 2017 the Durham Sherrif took 8 days to serve my emergency order of protection where weapons were involved. After a few days I went to the police station cowering, checking over my shoulder. Standing in the noisy lobby, I made myself small and turned, standing before the officer on duty so no one could stand behind me. I told him frantically that I needed to know when the order would be served. He told me it was already in effect, what did it matter?
“But the guns,” I stammered. “He has guns.”
The officer was unmoved and I was too upset to demand to talk to his superior. I turned and walked away, shaking so hard I wanted to disappear. I walked to my car as quickly as I could, slid down into the seat and sobbed violently. I wasn’t important enough to protect. My fear didn’t matter. My life didn’t matter. I scanned behind me again before covering my face with my hands and screaming, and then I began to hyperventilate. It was my third panic attack of the day.
I’m not dealing with this bullshit.
“I have to go to Raleigh to get fingerprinted?” I ask and she nods. “And they won’t insist on my id being my current address?”
“Fine.” I turn away. My schedule is insane, but I make the time to drive to Raleigh. I used to shake and cringe on this drive. Now I go rapidly, and though I am uneasy and eager to be out of the car I get there. Officers with guns scan my purse and tell me where to go for fingerprinting. I keep my distance, warily eyeing the weapons on the men with short haircuts. I walk down a windowless hall to a windowless room where another woman sits behind another pane of bulletproof glass. This one prepares documents and then sends me to a technician. She holds my hands one at a time in her gloved ones and I watch my fingerprints emerge on a screen. When she’s done she prints cards. The whole process takes maybe ten minutes and then I’m on the road again back to Durham.
I purchase money orders, fill out forms, and mail my fingerprints to two separate government offices. The man helping me mail the documents asks me what they’re for. “I’m changing my name,” I tell him. He makes a joke about fake ids. I am silent.
I have to write my name on each document. There are postcards on the counter for my yoga retreat with my name on them. I give him my debit card with my name on it. Every time it chafes me, this visible symbol of how my abuser has been able to change my identity. My name includes the name of my abuser. I will jump through every cursed bureaucratic hoop to be rid of that name. I will not be identified with that person anymore, that person who hurt me.
I walk out onto the sunny sidewalk, into the buzz of downtown Durham and a small smile plays at my lips. I’m going to change my name. It will be mine alone. I am my own person.