Makers and Mystic's Podcast
On Loss and Living

Social Security Administration 12/19/17

I’m writing from a chair in the waiting room of the Social Security offices in Mission Viejo, CA. Its the kind of space that brings laundromats and ferry rides to mind. Wide windows and white walls separate us from the outside world: a parking lot and an efficiently landscaped planter. Except for the visitors who are still standing, we are packed into rows of four seats each, knee to knee—trying not to pay too much attention to each other. But the collective energy of the room makes me think we all have some heightened sense of curiously about why the others are here…as well as what we are about to find out about our own status. The clerks behind the windows are the messengers, the tiding-bearers of the great government oracle. My ticket number is A41.

I remember this feeling in myself, this feeling in the air. This place, and so many like it, are layered in my memories. Like anyone else, I only visit government agencies when there is a identification problem I need to fix. If you are in a government office, you are looking for change or at least an important signature. You are possibly at a stressful crossroads in your life and checking the boxes on official forms feels like life or death mistakes can be made…or perhaps something important has been overlooked till now. Regardless, you’ll soon find out where you stand…and whether there is a deeper paper-trail to journey down.

My mind goes to other waiting rooms in the past and the memories that come with them—the various life-changes we were in the midst of. Sometimes it seems my life is an ever-folding piece of origami paper, it’s shape redefined with every crease, every big event or decision, folded in or away from the last one, never the same animal for long.

The lights on the board at the front of the room now say ticket A36 is up.

There were those days, weeks, months in the past focused on immigration. Did I fill out the right forms, get the timing right? The months of pouring over expat forums, making sure we jumped through the correct hoops. A visit to the USCIS office in Los Angeles that would validate my spousal visa. The stress of the timing when our marriage license didn’t arrive before we moved. Waiting 6 months to work; the waiting that focused on his coming home to me at the end of the day.

Later, there were those entire days planned around the American Embassy in London: my Settlement status, and all the testing that went with that. I learned so much about the history and social makeup of the UK, and then forgot most of the information immediately afterwards. After Justine was born, we took her to the Embassy to register her as a citizen of two countries. But the biggest ordeal was when we decided to move the family to the US. The application process for Green Cards took ten months. Ten months of worrying about paperwork, making London appointments by train and by mail, visiting the embassy, getting shots, shaking in our boots.Though we’d done nothing wrong…there was still a feeling that it would all fall apart due to something we hadn’t done right. The pressure of that time stings my mind now.

They are calling A39.

And then we were back here. This is probably the fifth time I’ve visited this office in the past five years.

From ordering social security cards for the kids to applying for Medi-Care for Vernon. I suppose that’s what I was doing the last time I was here. The memories come like a film in my mind. I sit with the agent and explain our situation, why my foreigner husband should be allowed on to my Social Security in order to get better medical care. At the time, I was focusing on my eligibility as if it was the real reason he was allowed to have it. But the provisions run ahead of me like subtitles on this film:

You may also be eligible for Medicare Part B enrollment before 65 if you have end-stage renal disease or ALS.

Thinking on it now, another reality hits me. Where I pictured myself a sort of hero of the day, the reason he was allowed to tap into my Social Security was only partly because I was his wife. The main reason is this; on paper, he was dying, and through my desperation (or was it hope?) I couldn’t see it. END-STAGE is the loudest word in the statement. A death sentence in a sentence. Of course they give Medi-Care to people with End Stage kidney failure…they need expensive dialysis or an organ transplant in order to live a few extra years, but rest assured, they won’t be on the system for long.

How strange to realize this now. I had no idea when I was last sitting at a cubby-holed desk in this very building that the reason I was able to apply on his behalf would be his actual cause of death. I saw it as a chance for him to get better or at least get better care. But already there have been too many stacking memories to process in one sitting.

The sign is blinking: A40. I re-check that my papers are all in one place. I gather my coat and purse. I’m next.

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Makers and Mystic's Podcast
On Loss and Living