The Municipal Archives of Besançon
French Military Uniforms

The Identity Wars - Part Six



University was a blast. It was Berkeley in the Seventies. Peoples' Park was still a clear memory. Local characters such as The Naked Guy, The Bubble Lady (who is still there, I read!), Karate Man, Mad Andy, the Guy in a Skirt, the Guy Selling Moon Acreage, gave the town a carnival atmosphere. There was a saying at the time: 

"If you tipped the country, all the loose marbles would roll to California, and if you tipped California, all the loose marbles would roll to Berkeley."

It was supposed to be an insult, but we were proud of it, proud of our tolerance, proud of the fact that, when the state shut many mental institutions to save money and put a host of helpless mad people on the streets, Berkeley was perhaps the only town that did not run them out, and even went so far as to set up a clinic for them. This kindness was not only on the part of students. The gentlest arrest I ever saw was when two policemen tried to get a poor loony who had broken windows to understand what photo ID was. When they had to arrest him and he struggled violently, they lifted him and placed him in the back of their car with astounding caution, taking care lest he bump his head. Many years, countries and continents later, I can now say that there is probably no place on earth as tolerant of humanity's madnesses, weaknesses, sillinesses, eccentricities and follies as Berkeley then was. How I miss that tolerance!

The atmosphere on the campus was brainy, free and friendly. I wanted to take every course in the catalogue: Milosz teaching Dostoyevsky, Karlinsky teaching Tolstoy, classes on Milton, Shakespeare, Roman Wall Painting! Every course looked interesting, every teacher an international authority (or so it seemed). I would have been happy to stay there, studying forever.

I met a nice young man, a poor undergraduate who was terrifyingly brilliant. He supported himself by writing other people's masters' theses on a range of subjects from pure mathematics to philosophy and behavioural psychology. We married, twice; first, impulsively in one state and again, with more preparation and pomp, in another. In both states, my new California identity card and my name were accepted unquestioningly. 

So, it was a shock when, on my application in Berkeley for a new passport, it was not. The genius new husband and I had graduated from university and he had a scholarship to do a master's of philosophy in London. We were set to conquer the world, until the lady in the bright yellow bouffant, sitting behind a window with a grille in the passport office brought me to a halt.

"Not another one," she rolled her eyes and nearly yawned. I had handed her my old passport and new identity card. "You can't just change your name on your passport like that."

"But I have my state ID card. See?" I pointed at it.

"Doesn't matter," she snapped. "That's just a state document. We're talking about a federal document here. Not so easy to change." She pushed my application form back under the grille at me.

I was of an age and temperament when my blood boiled easily. I was known to reach a rage that would have me throwing things at people and shouting vicious and deeply wounding tirades. I am not at all proud of this phase of my life. (Genealogy has revealed to me that this insane fury is possibly inherited. I have found accounts going back 200 years of ancestors going ballistic and attacking people with hatchets or trying to gouge out their eyes. They showed up in court pretty often.) This dumpling in a canary-coloured postiche had dared to thwart me and I could barely see or hear for the boiling blood pounding in my temples. Yet, I was somehow aware that trying to throttle her through the grille would not lead to my getting a new passport. My rage deflated and in despair, I asked her:

"What do I have to do?"

"You have to prove that it is your identity now. You have to have been living under this name and be able to show that it is a true AKA."

"Isn't that a gun?" I was honestly confused but she took it as sarcasm and was annoyed.

"Also known as. If you cannot prove that you have been living as Morddel, you cannot change your name on your passport." 

Curious, I asked:

"What if I renewed my passport in my old name and kept my state identity in my new name? Would I have two legal identities?" I rather liked this idea.

"No. The federal government passport takes priority over any state document. What is on that is what would be your legal name, whatever the state does." This was the first I had heard of a passport being a more authoritative identity source than a state driver's license or identity card, not that I had ever considered it before. So, I was determined to have the federal government accept my new name as well.

"I'll be back with all the documents," I said. That got her first smile, more of a smirk, really.

"Good luck," she said, not meaning it at all. The following week, I returned with all of my documents: Social Security card, chequebook, university records, the rental agreement to my apartment, both marriage certificates. "Not bad," she said after checking over it all. She listed every one of them on the application, took my money, and told me to come back in a month for my new passport. I was very, very pleased when it came through as I wished, certifying that now, the State Department also accepted me as Anne Morddel.

Thinking the issue over and done with, I packed my bags and moved with my husband to London.

©2010 Anne Morddel