The last good memory Margie had of her step-father was Spring of 2011. They were standing in line together at the Social Security Office, because, for what seemed like the twelfth time in two years, she had “lost” her identification; credit cards, check book – or whatever credential that, as fate would have it, Margie would need to secure an unemployment check. It became routine. Lose license, unemployment password expires or she forgot it, need license to fax to unemployment office in order to get a new password.
This time, however, it was her social security card. She had changed her name, after divorcing, to a hyphenated version of her first and second husband’s last names. A decision she highly regretted, and now was tempted to drop all last names and just live out her days as a Cher, or a Madonna, or as a symbol. As expected, the unemployment office viewed her newly updated license that she had faxed the week prior, and now wanted other proof of name change. Because having to prove who you are to the state run DMV was not enough for a federal office, of course.
It takes 6-12 weeks to get a social security card. She’d had several conversations with the unemployment office representative, to convince her that she couldn’t wait that long for a check. She, one of the she’s she had been in touch with, anyway; finally relented.
The only Social Security office that was open that day happened to be in a pretty rough neighborhood. Margie’s dad and her lined up among folks that were probably going through the exact same thing: bureaucracy at its red tapiest.
They stood there for what seemed like forever, listening to the complaints, the curses, the tales, the general dissatisfaction of the day, and it dawned on her…a sort of understanding. She got it. She was seeing right then and there, what socially cursed peoples had to live with on a daily basis. She was living it, too, but thankful she had a roof over her head – her parent’s roof. At the still tender age of forty-five, mind you.
Her step-dad only saw ‘the blacks’, I’m sure. After being a cop for thirty-five years, he had no love for minorities. Perhaps he was justified. But perhaps he was also in the wrong career for thirty-five years.
Margie remembered feeling his arm tighten around her as the crowd creeped closer to the entrance. She felt strangely safe, yet …exploited, expectant, exonerated…all at once. She wondered what could possibly happen that required him to act so possessively.
She would find out later.
Once her number was called, she walked over to the cubicle and sat down. A very industrious looking Asian fellow asked her several questions. For the final question, he swung his computer screen around and asked her to verify if her birth certificate was correct.
NO. she thought, looking at it. Her mother wasn’t a “Brodsky” when she was born. She married a “Brodsky” AFTER she had her, and then gave birth to Margie’s sister with him. Her father’s name was correct, but her birth name was changed – someone made a mistake.
But she NEEDED that check.
“Yes. I believe so,” she answered. …No.
He asked again.
“Yes.” she answered, thinking it would be nice to buy her own groceries.
She remembered picking up the receipt and walking out of that office thinking something was wrong, besides the birth certificate debacle. Not really able to put her finger on it, but there was something…
Margie’s whole life just seemed…wrong, in fact. Ever since college. She walked around knowing this, walked around knowing there were people who knew her, but not really understanding why. She walked around knowing there were people that didn’t want her around, but not really understanding why.
Margie walked out of the building and saw her step-father and uncle waiting for her in the car. She thanked them, and they were happy to help. She thought they liked that they felt useful.
Later she would find out that it would be possible to change her birth certificate, but difficult. For example, under adoption or parental rights waving type circumstances. None of which were the case, in her case.
She knew about the error because she’d been carefully carrying her birth certificate and all of her name change papers around with her for decades. It’s what happens when your mother marries twice, and then you marry twice, and now you have this hyphenated name.
But without physical proof…
She no longer had it. Because, for whatever reason after leaving her girlfriend, Vee, to go on a short vacation, she found all of her personal effects had been rifled through and were either damaged or missing when she got back.
Margie had went to Burning Man, and had the time of her life. Vee could have been jealous.
Margie was silent as she drove them all back to the house, thinking about everything that happened in the year between her break up, and her ending up back at her step-dad’s house, at forty-five.
Her dad must’ve been reading her mind, because he asked the strangest question:
“Margie, I’ve been wanting to ask you – are you going to be dating girls now? I mean…that’s not what I mean,” he stumbled, “I guess, I just wondered if my behavior…the abuse…had anything to do with you no longer wanting relationships with men.”
Margie was dumbfounded. She glanced in the rear view mirror briefly, taking in her uncle’s silence,(he knew?) and responded, letting him off the hook.
“No dad, I’m not going to date ‘just girls’ from now on. To be honest, I’m taking a break from dating anyone. A nice, long break.”
“Well…that’s not very healthy either.”
She laughed and shot him a side glance. “I can’t believe you’re saying that to me – you know what I’ve been through.”
Still, her step-father’s death the next year did come as a shock. She knew he’d been struggling with a prescription meds addiction again. Still unable to find steady work, she’d landed a live-in “Personal Assistant” position with a local Internet Entrepreneur. He was in the middle of a divorce, and it was her job to keep him focused. (It ended up lasting only two weeks, as she realized keeping him “focused” meant dissuading him from getting drunk, and high and negotiating for a gaggle of Ukranian girls to come over and move in to begin a “start up” with him.)
Margie thought he was absolutely off his rocker, so she left without warning.
In the middle of all of this, her son had left a message to call him as soon as possible. When she did, he relayed the information that her step dad, Walter, had passed away. The details were still a bit sketchy.
Margie was surprised at her own emotional reaction. Breaking down on the phone with Callum, and then several times during the next week.
Her step-mother’s speech was both poignant and informative. She called him a “tough guy” and a real “stand up guy.” Words that people use in the movies for, well, tough guys.
In fact, when Margie poured over all of the pictures on display – at the family gatherings and events – she slowly started making connections. The names displayed were of some prominent people in the community, both in the police department and in local business.
Across the country, these names were synonymous with organized crime.
Finally. Some things about her childhood were starting to make sense.
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