Suitcase and Social Security

by | Jul 22, 2010 | 0 comments

It’s 10:30. I am completely drained.

This morning someone from the funeral home came to pick me up at 7:30 am to go to the social security office, report Dan’s death, and apply for benefits. I got Audrey dressed quickly and brought her down to a neighbor’s until my parents could come watch her.
I sat on the curb waiting for this woman I don’t know to come pick me up. I noticed the weather- not quite as hot, and kind of nice. I noticed a few dead leaves blowing on the parking lot pavement, blowing on the earth.
A couple in their 40’s came walking towards the building. They looked like they’d just gone for an early morning run and then to get coffee across the street.
“Don’t you look excited to start the day?” said the guy smiling to me.
“I have a very unexciting task ahead.” I replied.
Cathy, the woman from the funeral home, pulled up in a dark van. She had 1010 wins blaring on the radio and apologized for being five minutes late. She said she wanted to hear the weather because Saturday’s supposed to be a scorcher. I eyed Dan’s suitcase in the back of the van. They had picked it up at the airport. I felt sick.
She handed me the itemized bill for the funeral and I slowly got out my check book while she drove. She called someone on her cell phone while driving in the traffic which made me nervous. “I’m just pickin up Mrs. Cho now. I have to go over to Hackensack to social security,” in a NJ accent. She had the air conditioning on and the window open and the 1010 wins with the typing in the background still blaring. It felt unbearable.
I kept thinking- “Dan, look at this. Look what I’m going through. Look what has happened.”
When we got to Hackensack she didn’t know where the building was. I was disappointed thinking she was there to help. I myself did recognize it. She pulled into a spot and told me she’d wait in the car. It was 8 am and there was already a line outside the door.
In a moment, the security guard opened the door and we went in to get our numbers. The office doesn’t open until 9 am. There’s a screen you touch to say what you’re there for and the security guard stood staring at me. “What do you want me to tell you?” I asked. “What you’re here for.” “My husband just died.” He pushed a number on the screen and I was now S15. I sat down and began to cry.
The reason I’d recognized the building is because about one year ago, Dan, audrey, and I had come here. At Audrey’s birth they’d spelled her Korean middle name wrong. So we’d had to get a new birth certificate, but then her social security card came and it still had the incorrect name. So…I was trying to stay on top of things and get it fixed before she turned one.
Today it felt like yesterday that Dan and I were in this same office together with Audrey. We got our number and waited. Same deep red vinyl seats attached to each other with black metal. Same security guard. Same picture of President Obama in a cheap frame behind the security guard’s little desk. And there was the last window where we all went together with the paperwork.
It was freezing in there today and it had been that day too. So Dan had pushed 8 or 9 month old Audrey in and out of the office. But it was hot outside too. He was looking in at her in the car seat/stroller talking to her, playing with her. He brought her over when my number got called. We hoped the paperwork would go smoother and the worker there be kinder if she saw our cute baby. And she was nice, and Dan and I remarked about it afterwards, because we always tried to be nice, but usually people in offices like this were not so nice – especially to people like us- trying to be nice.
So, I waited today- sitting in the same seat- crying and not caring who saw. The room filled up quickly- mostly with minorities. One guy carrying around a small oxygen tank. An Indian couple who looked confused. A large African American woman in a bright green shirt with a large gold cross.
s15- they called me to the window.
“My husband just died.”
Then I had to go back and sit and wait for someone to call me inside the office.
Again, inside the office,
“They didn’t tell you?” I said.
“Huh, no I just got your number,” she snapped back rudely.
Later as i was handing her the proper paperwork: “Marriage certificate,” “Birth Certificate”, “Death Certificate,” I broke down completely. She said I didn’t have to do this right now.
“I’ve waited already a long time. I just want to get it done,” I replied.
She punched each key as she typed in all the required information. It was so loud and so irritating, and then I realized she couldn’t type. She was literally punching each key.
After a while, she made copies and printed out the application for me to look over.
“Date Marriage Ended”: 7/6/10 I saw.
My marriage apparently has ended without my consent.
I went back out to the van where Cathy was still waiting and hour and a half later. We drove home, and unloaded Dan’s suitcase. I asked one of the men in the building to wheel it upstairs to my apartment. I closed the door and went to caress the suitcase- touching the handle and the zippers. The ones he touched. How strange to have that suitcase here now and no sign of him.
It is sitting in the corner now. I will wait for a friend to come before I dare open it.
I just kept thinking in the social security office how everything appeared the same. How places remain relatively the same but time- invisible- takes us away.
I don’t understand any of this.


July 22, 2010


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