For a long time, I didn’t exist. I did not have a job (outside our home), did not pay or receive social security, did not have a local checking account, did not conduct any business in my name, did not pay any utility bills or rent, did not have a mortgage or a car payment. Even the library card I used had my partner’s name on it, because it had the same last name as our sons’ cards did (which I took them to get), and that just kept things simple. By most modern standards, once I moved in with my partner and became her wife in every way but legally, I effectively disappeared. Quite accidentally, I was suddenly living almost entirely off the grid. I was a ghost.
For years, I paid our bills by signing my partner’s name to her checks. This was way before you could pay everything online, and it was just too much trouble to wait for her to come home from work every time I needed to pay a bill. Back then, I often had to rob Peter to pay Paul (where Peter might be the electric company and Paul, the water department) so there was a certain level of urgency involved if (i.e. when) the payments were late. Sometimes I needed to get a check in the mail right now or we’d be eating dinner in the dark and bathing at the lake. So I became a forger.
And since I’m a lousy forger, my signature did not look anything like hers. But no one seemed to care, so I did this for years. Then one day, the bank actually rejected a check that my partner had endorsed herself (for her ex-husband to deposit). They said the signature didn’t look right (i.e. it didn’t look like mine). I thought it was hilarious. B said that it seemed like she was the one who was disappearing. Not so much, I said. Because I have to pretend to be you to get anything done. I’m an imposter.
For years, I had to do all the shopping with a debit card with her name on it. I never had trouble at places I visited regularly, like our grocery store where the cashiers called me by my partner’s name (Mrs. H) and always ran the card. But at other places, where they did not know me and were not yet set up for debit cards (and so had to run it like a credit card), they would ask me for identification. This inevitably led to an embarrassing scene.
I would have to try to explain that this was my partner’s card and that it was our account even though the credit union wouldn’t allow her to add my name to it. But, I would assure the cashier, she knows I have the card just like she knows I have her children – these 2 little cherubs fighting over who gets to sit in the cart (and here I pause to scoop up the littlest one and prop him on my hip before his brother can clock him one). At this point, the laughing cashier would usually nod sympathetically and run the card. And I would be grateful.
But sometimes they wouldn’t. A clerk at a large-discount-store-that-you’ve-all-heard-of once refused to let me buy a cart full of supplies I had just spent an hour gathering with a grumpy toddler and an autistic preschooler in tow. Another time, a cashier at a sporting goods chain, refused to let me buy a pair of running shoes for our oldest son two days before Christmas. I really hated these instances. I’m not sure why, but I always felt so embarrassed. Maybe because I was put in the position of explaining the details of my personal life to some teenaged register-jockey only to have the little snot practically call me a liar and criminal and turn me away. Yeah, that was probably it.
Then one day, a couple of years ago, somebody at the bank had finally decided that my partner could put me on her account if I lived with her. Provided we could prove it. And that’s where the problem came in. Because I didn’t exist. Nothing had my name on it – not a utility bill, not the mortgage. But, thanks to the advice of the real estate agent who helped us buy our house (who was also gay), I was on the deed as “joint tenant with right of survivorship” which basically means that by state law, if one of us dies, the other gets the house. It was the only document on the bank’s list that we could provide to prove that I lived in my own home. The bank lady did not feel it was sufficient.
“Just because you’re on the deed doesn’t mean you live with her,” she said and pursed her lips, peering at us over reading glasses perched on the end of her nose. This was no teenaged cashier afraid to break the rules. This was a grown woman who was trying to find a way not to follow the new rule because her manner made it quite apparent that she didn’t “approve” of me and B.
“Are you kidding?” I said softly. My partner tensed, because she knew what was coming. She hates when I unleash my Irish-Italian temper, but dammit, I had waited 12 years. I had ceased to exist. People called me Mrs. fill-in-her-ex-husband’s-last-name-here. So I let forth with all the righteous indignation an ex-Catholic can muster and had her scurrying from her cubicle only to reappear a few moments later with the forms for us to sign.
So now I have my own debit card with my very own name on it and nobody calls me Mrs. H anymore. I saved the first check that had both our names on it, because it was the first piece of semi-official paper that implied that B and me are more than “joint tenants with right of survivorship.” She has a partner, I exist, and we have the checks to prove it. And two years later, we still have a whole box of them because as it turns out, they’re pretty much obsolete, and I started paying everything online just after that.