I went to the DMV yesterday.
Yes, feel sorry for me now.
One of the sisters in my community had cheerfully told me that she went to renew her license at the DMV by our house recently and NO ONE was there. She zipped right through in ten minutes. I hoped against hope that this would be true, but I should have known that this strange, alternate universe that she described did not really exist, at least for me.
So, I pull up to the DMV and there is a line of people winding out the door. In 90 degree heat. Sweating arms clutch water bottles. A tangle of negativity hangs heavily over the defeated group. The stuffy air feels like a cotton ball in my throat. The people at the head of the line begin to eye me wildly when they notice me confidently heading to the front to open the door.
By way of explanation I ask, “Do we have to wait here if we have an appointment?”
Before I try to reformulate the phrase in Spanish I notice a police officer standing inside the cool DMV, which is now starting to look like a heavenly refuge.
I open the door, “Do I need to wait in this line if I have an appointment?”
The police officer grimly nods his head.
Defeated, I make my way to the end of the line.
A few minutes later I hear a beautiful, angelic voice ring out, “Does anyone have an appointment?”
I rush to the front of the line beaming, my Norwegian skin already starting to soften and turn red in the heat, “Yes, yes, I do!”
I make it inside the doors, the cool air is blowing, no one is smiling. It turns out I don’t have the proper identification. The web site I consulted was, unsurprisingly, incorrect. I go home, get what I need and make my way back with heavy resignation. Twice I turn back, thinking I will try another day. But finally I muster enough gumption.
This time I am met with a loud cry the moment I enter the door, “Sister!”
José tells me with a grin that he knows me from morning Mass. I don’t recognize him. He looks surprised but then quickly looks over my documents. “Looks good sister!” he says with a huge smile. My bad attitude begins to melt until I am ushered over to the next DMV employee who looks like I just insulted her mother, even when she smiles. She seems on the brink of sending me home for more documentation throughout our entire exchange. I hold my breath, furrow my brows and generally look like a mean nun.
I hate when I do this. I mean, I get anxious, irritable and grumpy just like the rest of us, perhaps more so. But it’s unfortunate for others that I have to do it in a habit. It’s likely that some people will only see one real nun in their lifetime. I always worry it will be me—with a frown on my face.
Then I sit in the waiting room, doing what people do at the DMV, I wait. I observe José as he ushers appointments over. Most of them are like me, cordial but tense, not really speaking to José but to their worries and their rushed schedule. Others are much nicer, like a pretty young woman who just got married. José congratulates her and she beams, I can almost see a bounce in her walk as she heads to the next room. Another young guy needs to get a license. His sister brought him but José tells her they need parental consent. The sister sighs loudly and tells José that she has custody of her brother. José sees everything that one needs to see in that situation and in that moment. He does not say anything special but he treats them with a certain softness as he hands them the form they need to bring back.
My wait is finally over. I clutch what looks like a fake ID compared to my California license and I walk toward the door. All eyes are on the nun, as they usually are when I am in public. I smile in relief at the police officer defending the door, then burst into the roaring furnace of afternoon.
I take a deep breath in and breathe out. I get into the car and head home, leaving behind the deafening sadness and anxiety of the DMV.
The only thing I leave behind with a tinge of unease is José.
But then again he seems to be doing just fine.