You seriously don’t have a passport?
Incredulous travelers everywhere
Okay, so I don’t right now, but I will.
I did have a passport once before, over twenty years ago. I took part in a Spanish language immersion trip through my high school. We traveled throughout Mexico, and before we left, the faculty made it clear: We were expected to have a passport. This was in an era when passports were not legally required to travel throughout the North American countries; my school was just uptight. As I had never been off the continent, I had no reason to already own a passport – a lack that seems, in hindsight, awfully foolish. Anyway, I learned about this passport requirement not long before the trip, and my father had to pay several hundred dollars and a kidney to rush-process my application.
I was 17 years old. In the years that followed, I moved approximately 15,923 times across nearly the entirety of the United States. My passport was lost before it expired, and I simply never replaced it. Sure, I wanted to, but I never really got around to it. Late last year, though, my mother made a simple request: For her next birthday, she wanted the family to go on an Alaskan cruise. It would either leave or return through Vancouver, B.C., Canada. By July 2018, I would need a passport. Twenty-one years after receiving my first passport, I found myself on a dreary Friday afternoon, waiting in line at a local post office with my birth certificate and photo identification.
I did not expect the application – full of very straight-forward questions – to be at all meaningful to me.
Mother’s name before marriage, father’s name, birthdates, birthplaces.
How many applicants, I wondered, have parents who never got to travel? I thought of my own parents, born in a working-class area of a blue-collar city, and how they certainly did not apply for a passport until later in their lives. Foreign travel is not in the immediate scope of a young couple, finding their way in the world, working to support a newborn (who would one day require hundreds of dollars and one of their kidneys to go study Spanish in Mexico).
I thought of how easily I made this application appointment, how the $150 or so it would cost would not hurt my pocketbook or throw off my monthly budget – not even a smidge. How many applicants, I thought, have parents who scrimped and saved to make things better for their children? I have a post-graduate degree, I am financially secure, and I have the opportunity to see places far beyond my front door. I owe that to my parents; their hard work got me into the good school district as a teen and offered me a solid university education. How many applicants have not yet had the chance to stand in this line?
The application asked me if I had ever been married.
What does this have to do with anything? I wondered, feeling a small seed of resentment in my belly. I never changed my last name; what does a former marriage have to do with proving my identity or citizenship? And as that small seed settled a bit, I thought of the happy, hopeful couples filling out their passport applications together, planning their European honeymoon, their first anniversary trip to Japan, their romantic getaway to Bali, Turks and Caicos, Belize.
Life is unpredictable and difficult. Life is often disappointing and sometimes sad. I wrote my ex-husband’s name, birthdate, and birthplace on the application. The resentment faded. I remembered that my moments of blinding joy get me through the times I slowly roll downhill, and the hope for brighter moments pushes me back up out of dimly lit valleys. All of us are like that. That’s life.
The postal worker took me into the postmaster’s office, where a white backdrop was hanging from the wall. She positioned me in front of it and helped me smooth my hair. “I keep saying we need a wind machine,” she joked. “We could do glamor shots.” I laughed, then quickly resumed what I felt was an appropriately official, somber expression.
“Girl,” she said, “if you don’t smile, I’mma put your picture up on the wall near the counter up front. You see that when you came in? That’s my ‘most wanted’ wall for people who don’t smile in their passport photos.”
I smiled, close-mouthed, exactly the way I did for my high school passport photo. The postal worker squealed with delight. “It turned out beautiful,” she said. “You’re gonna love it.”
I don’t exactly love it, but I love where it will take me. I had to chuckle. Girl, I said to myself, it makes sense that a document that’ll take you places would make you reflect on where you’ve already been.
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