One time, at the DMV

Safety nets and the things we hold close

Years ago I spent a sunny July day waiting at the DMV to replace my driver’s license. I was there because I’d had my purse stolen, again, and I’d maxed out the number of times I could replace my license by mail.

In those days I was a repeat enabler for crimes of opportunity. One time, I shrugged my mini backpack off my shoulders at a festival because it was encumbering my dancing. Another night, I stowed a wristlet on a bar shelf behind me so I could be hands free for trivia night. And then there was the time I shoved my backpack under the seat and fell asleep on an overnight train.

I can’t remember which incident led to that particular day at the DMV, but I do remember whiling away the hours talking to a woman whom I’ll call L.

We sat on a grimy bench by the parking lot and swapped stories while we filled out our renewal forms.

She was there because she’d intentionally dropped her own license down a storm drain. She’d chosen to spend her day off and $20 she really couldn’t spare to prevent a man from knowing where she lived.

He was no good, she said.

She ticked the box for a state ID instead of a driver’s license because it was $5 cheaper. I checked both boxes as an insurance policy against my next lapse in judgment.

After our numbers were finally called and our forms accepted, she stashed her temporary paper license in her bra, where she also kept her phone, her keys, her lip gloss, and who knows what else.

I watched with jealous admiration as her personal effects vanished into her silhouette. I might not have been at the DMV that day—or any of those other days—if I had that kind of native storage solution.

We drove to a bar to celebrate our victory over bureaucracy and I wondered under what circumstances the contents of her secret bra-purse became vulnerable to the no-good man, and what set of options led her to choose safety by storm drain.

That was the one story she wouldn’t tell.

He was no good, she said.

My encounters with property loss had always been transactional, impersonal. A gaggle of prepubescent boys relieved me of cheap earrings at knifepoint and then vanished into the night. More than a few someones shoved my petty cash into their own pockets. It was not uncommon to come outside and find yet another window on my car smashed. Someone stole that 1995 Saturn with its shiny new windows. But I had never been doxxed; my doorstep never darkened.

The bartender rejected our temporary IDs, so L and I rerouted to a liquor store down the block. “I’ll teach you how to drink on the street,” she crowed, as we settled on another sidewalk bench with paper bags in hand. Rube that I was, I’d chosen a 40 that needed a bottle opener, so we passed her malt beverage back and forth while she amiably chatted up the very same unhoused people whom I’d spent the last four years studiously avoiding.

I dropped her off in a part of town I’d never seen before and retreated to a house sitting gig with an expansive bay view and a sophisticated security system.

The next morning, the 40 I’d ‘temporarily’ stashed in the freezer had exploded.

I don’t know what happened to L. I don’t know if she found freedom from that man who was no good. I don’t know if she met with consequences for driving with an ID instead of a license and if those consequences spiraled beyond reason and justice. I don’t know if she still tucks her belongings into the softness of her flesh.

I don’t know if she and her secrets are safe.


✊🏼 Giving my spare coins to Diasporans against SARS

🏆 Favorite read this week: going deep into the archives of White Pages. Also, this seems like a good time to resurface my favorite Twitter thread.

🎧 Listening

Entitled by Kate Manne ( ⬅️ CW x 100000000. I had to step away but I plan to come back.) Season 2 of Unfinished. An athlete who defies expectations. Red, wine, and blue (thanks Kristina!).

📚 Reading

Crushing hard on everything Anne Helen Petersen writes. Why facts don’t change our minds. Yes, Facebook is censoring you, too. Americans have lost sight of what fascism means. What the I in LGBTQIA+ means. The stories of women running for office in Texas. I’m not the only one rage screaming (thanks Jamie).

📺 Watching

On the Rocks is worth watching for Bill Murray’s character; the ending made me feel like I was being gaslit by the patriarchy, again. Hoping I’m misreading it and that Sofia Coppola is up to something I’m not sophisticated enough to understand.

Emily in Paris is gallingly cliché about Paris, the French, Instagram, and Millennials (or is it Gen Z?), and the absurdity of the outfits (nanny in sky-high heels? NANNY IN SKY-HIGH HEELS?) makes it deserving of SATC-era sartorial eye rolls. And yet. It is the perfect fizzy pretty nothing to fall asleep to right now.

😱 Say what now?

How free love led to … the Republican Party. Paying to do a thankless job. The surreal nightmare for these friends & family members. Women strip searched in Qatar to confirm they hadn’t given birth.

✌️ Thanks for reading. Now go vote!