Thursday, March 6, 2014

$32.50 Per Letter, or: How to Spend Your Birthday in Court and Enjoy the Outcome

"I've put this off for far too long."
-- Bilbo Baggins

I was born Adrien Mikel Dooley.

Not a lot of people know that, because I never used to talk much about my family history. I always felt as if it was some big, shameful secret that no one was supposed to talk about.

But the fact is, I was adopted by my maternal grandparents, the Rushes, when I was somewhere around 13 months old. They almost renamed me Christopher Andrew Rush, but they decided to keep my given names and just give me their surname.

They adopted me because my birth mother was incapable of raising a child. She had some serious emotional demons that she fought her entire life, and they made her a frightening person to be around. She was in and out of psych wards all the time I was growing up. She lost her nursing license because she was caught stealing prescription drugs from the nursing home she worked at. She was violent and abusive toward everybody, including me. Suffice it to say that some of my earliest childhood memories are painful ones, in both a physical and emotional sense.

When I was a child, I watched her slit her own wrists with a razor blade. If I hadn't run downstairs to tell my by-then adoptive parents what I'd just seen, she probably would have bled to death.

She finally died when I was in my late 20s. She choked to death in her sleep, on her own vomit, following an overdose of pills.

She lived a very sad and tormented life. And she left a lot of pain and heartache in her wake.

When I was a young guy, probably around 12 years old, I declared my first real act of rebellion against her by changing the spelling of my name. It was my way of distancing myself from her. But I also genuinely hated the spelling of my first and middle names.

She told me that Adrien was the French spelling of my name. That was true, but my French heritage is minimal, and the few Adrians I knew of spelled their name like that -- Adrian. There was Adrian Zmed, the actor; Adrian Dantley, the basketball player; and Adrian Belew, the musician. That's the Adrian I wanted to be. (I wasn't so big into going against the grain back then, I guess.)

But my middle name was what really made me cringe. My bio-mom told me once that she spelled it Mikel to spite my birth father, whose first name was Michael.

So how was I supposed to live with that? She admitted to mangling my middle name to try to settle some ridiculous score she had with my bio-dad. It was no wonder my dad, Michael Dooley, divorced her and took off very early in my life. Knowing how my bio-mom was, I never once blamed him for leaving, and I told him that the one time I got to meet him. Sadly, he was kind of a disappointment, too, never showing any interest in meeting me again after my repeated attempts to reach him.

Anyway, I've used my own spelling of my name for about the past 30 years. Everyone who knows me, personally and professionally, knows me as Adrian, not Adrien. But I never got around to changing the spelling legally, and I hate seeing "Adrien Mikel" every time I look at my driver license, passport, and Social Security card.

So I finally decided to do something about it.

When Lori asked me what I wanted for my birthday this year, I told her I wanted to legally change the spelling of my first and middle name. And so that's what I did. I filled out the paperwork online, took it to district court, and got myself on the afternoon docket.

When I came back at 1:15, after getting shifted from one courtroom to an adjoining one and waiting my turn, the woman at the front of the courtroom -- was she the judge? A stenographer? -- finally called my name.

"The judge has approved your name change," she said. "Go out front to the clerk's window to collect your documents."

Wow, that was easy! I didn't even have to see the judge. She just signed off on the change and submitted the paperwork to the clerk.

Why did I wait 43 years to do this?

When the clerk handed me the official document, showing the legal change of my spelling, I couldn't help breaking into a smile. Not only had I made my personal name change legal, but I also finally made an important emotional break from my birth mother.

It might seem silly, but adding four little letters -- "a" in place of "e" in my first name, and "cha" in place of "k" in my middle name -- lifted a huge emotional burden off my shoulders. The name I chose was officially mine now.

Total cost: $130. Not exactly cheap, but worth every penny.

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