Identity Crisis....On Paper

Signature rehab. That is what I need, and I need it now.

By that strange statement I do not mean I need to go to an extra-fancy, personally-tailored rehab for some well-researched issue. I mean I need to seriously go to signature rehabilitation where I figure out how to properly sign my own name in a hurry...with style. After all, if I haven't worked out how to write my name nicely by 35 years of age, it's time to call in the professionals. Perhaps I need some tough-love boot camp where they make you do manual labor, take cold showers and eat nothing but stale grilled-cheese sandwiches until you straighten your cursive alphabet out.

Every time I sign my kids' agendas in the morning, I stare in horror at my handiwork, dreading what the teachers must be saying in the break room about how my kids can't get their mother to sign their agenda but have to enlist their little brother's help instead.

I'm so paranoid that I've asked my daughter Ana, "Has your teacher mentioned my signature? Does she know it's mine? What did she say?"

"Nothing, Mama...really. You're fine."

Yeah right.

I'd like to own my own signature, be proud of its "uniqueness", but as it is I really don't know who I am. I just can't figure out what it says. It could be my name - at least a couple letters from it (like the H and a...uh....hmmmmm) - or it could be some lost orc-speak from Middle Earth that could pull the whole world under the power of the one ring.

Scratch that. It's not pretty enough. Even an orc, twisted elves as they are, would be repulsed by it.

Every time I scrawl my X on the line of our tax forms or a check, my husband grunts in pure disgust. Each and every time. Yes, that is very ungallant of him, I agree, and you would think he had gotten used to its illegibility by now. I really can't call him on it, though, because "to love for beautiful cursive or for chicken scratch" wasn't in the vows. I probably shouldn't provoke him, either, because if he sees my signature too many more times, it could be bad.

I recently applied for a passport, and the forms asked for my "legal signature". I froze, started to sweat and stared blankly at the Postal Lady. Honestly I don't think my signature is real or "legal" in any language. Even if the US government accepts it, I could be dragged to the basements of foreign airports, detained by strange men with funny accents as they slam the table in front of me and shout ominously, "Our patience has run out! Now who are you really? Tell us what this says!" Covering my face with my hands and sobbing, "I don't know! I haven't known for years!" probably won't cut it.

If I'm to be brutally honest with myself, it's not just about the signature. My handwriting is atrocious in general. When I was in high school, I'm certain my teachers couldn't read my writing more than half the time and only gave me As because I did well on multiple choice tests.

As I persevered in writing a paper in my excruciatingly hideous scrawl one day in History, the pretty boy in the desk behind scolded me with, "Your handwriting looks like a man's!"

I didn't see what was so wrong with that at the time. It wasn't beautiful or feminine with soft curved letters or artistic curlicues, but what's wrong with writing like a man? Of course, judging by the tone in which he said it, what I think he meant to say was, "You write like a Neanderthal man, and not one who reproduced with modern humans!"

And that brings me to the love letters I wrote to my husband before we lived in the same state. He asked me to send them to his grandmother's address, because he was too embarrassed for his roommates to think he had an ape for a pen pal. His grandma opened a letter from me by mistake one day, and she apologized profusely. Matthew laughed and told her not to worry one bit. Then he held up the missive to show her.

"You wouldn't be able to read this anyway," he insisted.

She agreed, shaking her head and no doubt bemoaning the type of unruly girls her grandson insisted on courting.

But you have to give my man props for that. He spent a good deal of time deciphering each letter before he wrote back....or at least I assume so. Maybe that's why I received far fewer letters than I wrote; he couldn't quite make out my words or my feelings.

But at least I signed them.


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