The other day I was in the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to renew my driver’s license. And as anyone knows, going to the DMV is not that different from a trip to the dentist: it’s a long wait, a painful experience and when you leave, you feel numb and vow never to return.
As I was waiting in line, I couldn’t help but overhear a young girl behind me talking on her cell phone. She had just gotten married and was there to change her name on her driver’s license. Straight ahead of me, on the wall was a giant poster that read: ‘PROTECT YOURSELF, STOP IDENTITY THEFT BEFORE IT STARTS.’ I had to laugh out loud. Maybe I should turn around and warn that girl she’s about to participate in the very first form of identity theft: marriage!
Women have been giving up their identity since the first arranged marriage. Transferred like property, a maiden was sent from her father’s house to her husband’s house, the only real value being her dowry and her virginity. It seems women have worked so long and hard for independence and equal rights, only to throw it all away the second they say ‘I do.’
It got me thinking about my own driver’s license. I had changed my name after I got married, and remember seeing this strange new name attached to a familiar face. Now it was the face that was unfamiliar, not the name. Who was that young, thin girl in the picture with the long auburn hair and the carefree smile? It didn’t fit. And what about that ‘M’ next to the ‘D’ on my license – that once represented my Harley riding motorcycle days? Now it just stands for Mom. This was clearly a case of mistaken identity.
Why hadn’t I changed that picture? Or really, why had I changed my name? Like my driver’s license, my name was clean; no violations, no points. I traded it in for someone else’s identity. Little by little the maiden that was once me was being chipped away; and for the ‘me’ that was drowning, that picture seemed a lifeline to my past.
But was my present state so bad I needed a lifeline to my past? If I could change it all today would I really go back? Isn’t a maiden nothing more than a racehorse that has never won a race? I like who I am; my short blonde hair, the furrow between my brow. And although my smile isn’t as carefree, it is the smile of a woman with three wonderful kids and a great husband. These are the things I identify with now. Is identity just a state of mind, or perhaps an evolutionary process?
As I looked closely at my picture, I knew I had evolved. I wasn’t that girl and she wasn’t me. It felt good to catch up to the present, and to realize that who I am at this very moment is the one identity I can relate to – finally.
When it was my turn, and the gum-chewing clerk was done shuffling through my paperwork, he looked up at me and asked if I wanted a new picture. I took a deep breath, and said, ‘Yes, I think it’s time for a new one – it’s only taken me twenty years to figure it out.’