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I should’ve tested out of government in high school because I learned everything I needed to know about the government by the time I was five.
When I was born, my grandmother nearly had a meltdown. “My first grandchild is going to have 27 letters in her name?! That’s one more than the alphabet! She’ll be in middle school before she learns how to spell it! You ought to name her Heather Marie. A nice, sensible name,” reasoned the lady that gave her three daughters two-syllable first names, one-syllable middle names.
My father named me. Shannon Christine. My middle name is an apology; he tried to pacify my grandmother by gracing me with her middle name. He didn’t know she didn’t like hers, but I love mine & my grandmother; her opinion is about the only one on this planet that I take into consideration while making decisions. She’s my Jiminy Cricket.
I’m thankful my father named me; I went off to kindergarten where 3 of my classmates were all Heather Maries. Still, Grandma got her way — my 27 letters whittled down to 20 by the time I met the 3 Heathers. (For the record, I spelled my 27-lettered name perfectly before this happened; I’ve always been a bright, determined thing.) The government helped me shed seven letters, as many as my first name.
See, it works like this:
Two people fall in love, or at the very least are together for a little while. Life is hard, so they live together and share expenses. They get married for the tax break. When life is all work and bills and taxes, people forget that they were in love, even if only for a minute. They’d get a divorce if it wasn’t so damn expensive.
Instead they buy a pregnancy test and the results say positive. They pretend the best they can, but a year later they just have work and bills and taxes and a baby that uses up all their beer money. They decide maybe a divorce isn’t so expensive after all, since this has already cost them each their happiness.
They go to the courthouse and they aren’t married anymore. I end up with one house I live in with my mom & “Poppa” and I visit my dad whenever he has a girlfriend with kids of her own & doesn’t mind taking me too. I sit still on long car rides back & forth, listening. In one direction I hear complaints about how much it costs to raise a kid these days; the other direction can’t believe what a crock it is the fucking government wants to take money out of his goddamned paycheck. He’s just trying to earn a goddamned honest wage and they ought to try living with that mouthy bitch.
I used to cry when it was time to leave my house because I always got hurt when I was gone. I didn’t have to leave as often after that. Eventually, I didn’t have to leave at all.
One day my mom dressed me up all pretty and my poppa drove us into town. We went to the courthouse. My grandma and aunts were there. I met a judge; he wore a black robe, funny glasses & bow tie. I sat on his lap and people took pictures like he was Santa Claus. My mom & poppa took pictures with us too. Someone gave my mom flowers and I got a balloon. We all went to a fancy restaurant. I asked if it was somebody’s birthday. Mom said we were there because I got a new last name and I didn’t have to see Lee anymore. I ordered chocolate milk.
I went home and learned how to spell my new last name. It had four letters instead of eleven because I went to the courthouse and my grandma was there. She never liked my 27 letters. I was good at counting.
I had a mom and a dad again because of this trip to the courthouse— Poppa’s name changed then too, I decided. He became Dad so the government would quit taking money out of Lee’s goddamned honest wages. The government taxes, & levies, & changes our names. They make you sign lots of forms & wait in the hallway. If you’re good, they’ll take your picture. If you’re quiet, you might get a balloon.
I learned everything I needed to know about the government by the time I was five.