Volume 33, Number 2

The Fire Takes Your Birth Certificate

Kathy McMullen

All you want is to renew your driver’s license. No biggie. You don’t have any outstanding fines. No arrest warrants.

Department of Licensing wants two IDs. Two docs to prove your identity. They need a utility bill with your name on it. But the fire took your birth certificate. Since the fire you’ve been living out of your car. You don’t have a utility bill.

You were born here, but you don’t have the certificate. It got burnt up in the fire.

You get nowhere with DOL.

You go to the old neighborhood. Those people will remember you. But those people are gone. The neighborhood is gone. Glass high rises have sprung up over the garden-style walkups.

Next, you try the high school.

“Didn’t you have an accent?” the people at the high school ask. “You were in the ESL classes?”

You’re driving on expired tabs with an expired license. You’re looking over your shoulder. You’re tanking up at the AM/PM. You need to drive out past the No Parking 2 AM to 5 AM signs. You need gas to get to work. You need gas to find somewhere to sleep beyond the No Parking signs. Get towed for parking in the No Park zone or get pulled over for the expired tabs: Pick one.

The officer who pulls you over wants ID. He wants current, not expired. You are suspiciously brown. He detects an accent. He doesn’t like the lay of your eyebrows or your handlebar mustache.

You’re in the cargo hold of a windowless van. Your hands are cuffed behind your back. You’re lucky. They didn’t put a mask over your eyes or mufflers over your ears. You can breathe. The van circles slowly down the cloverleaf exit ramp, you’re toppling into warm bodies. You’re pushed out of the van, nose-to-nose with weeds growing up through the asphalt, penned in by cyclone fencing, dead ahead is a bunker-like building.

They take you in for processing. There’s just enough time to note that the license plates aren’t from your state.

“Everything burned up in the fire!”

“Right,” they say as they expedite you through.

“Look! I don’t even speak that other language!” you say as they shove you into a cell.

“Now you’re lying under oath,” they say. “Because obviously you do speak it. How do you explain the fat eyebrows and the handlebar mustache?”

They dump you at the border and push you over to the other side with your expired ID and a plastic goodie bag. Your SWAG includes a pair of socks and a travel-size toothpaste.

Good luck.