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SaraKay Smullens Headshot

A Post 9/11 Lie

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My driver's license was cancelled. I had no clue why. Then I found out.

Have you ever told what you thought was an "I am innocent," or "self protective" lie? I told such untruth a couple months after Halloween in 1975. It was easy for me as I was no longer living in my hometown.

Here is what happened: Almost 35 years ago on the afternoon of Halloween, my husband packed his bags and left me to face ghosts, goblins, witches and devils with our two little girls. Hours after he left, as I divided pizza and candy for the three of us, I promised myself that though my husband said he would fight a divorce, somehow I would become free. I was determined to someday find a real marriage.

Divorce is never easy or painless. It constitutes the death of a dream, especially for children. And especially for them, when necessary, the process should be accomplished as quickly as possible. In Pennsylvania at that time, the state's laws were especially barbaric (i.e. no "no fault," no alimony, no equitable division of marital property), and I knew the road ahead would be a long, dreadful one.

I had been extremely close to my mother in law. I did not want to hurt her or to lose her. However, when she learned of my determination to make a new life, I realized I had failed on both counts.

"You are tied down with two little children," she warned. "You have no money or devoted family. You will find men who want to sleep with you, but never one to marry you. After all, you are not getting any younger."

Shaking, I did what my grandmother, who I had lived with as a little girl, did many years before. I zapped three years off of my age. (Bubby may have zapped more.) So 35 at the time and zap: I was 32.

Somehow, someway, throughout my divorce, this lie brought me sense of comfort. I even told a bit of my story to the white haired guy who issued my first Pennsylvania driver's license. "Can you take three years off?" I asked. "Done!" was his fatherly response, and then kindly words that still make my eyes mist: "You look even younger."

For complete disclosure: As soon as my current husband of 30 years and I began to date, I told him the truth. He got it completely: The terror, the lie - by that time knee deep: Friends, doctors, lawyers, forms.

To update and fast forward: My husband and I are soon going away to celebrate our 30th anniversary. My passport, which of course indicates my true age, is crucial to this trip. During the holiday mail madness, an important insurance bill did not reach us. Our insurance agent (who has known me - but not my age - for over 25 years) called to say that even though we would pay immediately, the company insuring us required that my driver's license be checked for authenticity. And guess what I learned: Unknown to me, it had been revoked in 2008.

The print out accompanying this knowledge, almost two years after the fact, had words fit for a suspected terrorist: "indefinite cancel, indefinite recall and/or prison release requirement" -- (ALL IN CAPS). Lordy, I had never even gotten a traffic ticket.

In a follow-up phone call to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (Penndot), I learned that my social security card (not just my number) would be necessary for my situation to be reviewed. Now, I have every voter's registration card I have ever received. I have every passport. I have every insurance card. But though I could clearly picture the little bugger, and know I will find it someday, for the life of me, though I pulled apart after drawer, it was no where to be seen. And here was the rub: to get a new one, I was told that it was necessary to leave my passport with the social security office. It would be returned with the new card. However, in my case, I would not have it by the time my husband and I left for our trip.

Now I could of course do nothing until our return. However, my personality make up would make it impossible for me to leave home with the loose ends of words like PRISON dangling in my correspondence.

So I rearranged my professional schedule, and bright and early the next morning, fortified with coffee, I was the 67th at my local social security office, where it was confirmed upon arrival that to get a new social security card, I would have to part with my passport.

But about an hour later, I lucked out. The woman who helped me, after hearing my story, returned my passport, and gave me a form that would allow Penndot to communicate with me. (I would receive another social security card in two weeks, while I was away.) She knew her stuff, that Ms. Spence. And she was as kind as she was knowledgeable. Bless her!

You probably have guessed what I eventually learned at Penndot. During a routine check someone had noticed there was a discrepancy between the age on my passport and the age on my driver's license. (Would someone please find this man or woman and move him/her on to Homeland Security!) I corrected the lie, and zap once again, the problem was solved, this time with truth.

My young docs are forever telling me that "for my age" I am and look quite healthy. I have some new news for them and everyone else. Next weekend, prior to our trip, friends are taking my husband and me out to celebrate our anniversary. Once I am fortified with wine, well you know...

My lessons: Bureaucrats are often kind and savvy, wanting to do their jobs and help. I wish I had never been terrified, turning to a lie for comfort. I know that in today's world such "comforts" are far more trouble than they are worth.

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