My passport expires this month. I got this passport when we were going through the process of adopting Maggie. It was issued May of 1996 even though we didn't travel to China until September of 1997. Odd to think of it this way, but getting a passport was one of those steps on the way to being a dad.
The next thing you know, eight years have gone by and it's time to renew. The process seems to have gotten a lot easier. You fill out a form on your computer, print it out, sign it, and send it in with a payment, a passport, and pictures.
Being the government, the two page form did require that I enter my name three or four times and my date of birth at least twice. The form could be shortened to a single page with fewer fields – but that wasn't a big deal.
Kim is the organized one so I went to the file drawer where she keeps our important documents and looked for "passport". It wasn't there. I've learned to take a moment to think like Kim or Maggie or Elena when I'm trying to figure out where they left something. It's surprisingly helpful. A moment's pause was all it took to find the passports under "B" for "Birth Certificates and Passports".
I tucked the passport and a check inside of the envelope along with the form and headed over to Dodd Camera to get my picture taken. I hadn't been in in a while and so while my passport pictures dried I caught up with Mike and a woman whose name I don't think I've ever known.
I've bought a couple of cameras from Mike and he was very nice when Maggie had some shots she'd taken printed. Some were very interesting. Abstract closeups of stuffed animals. Shots that were mostly sky because her subject had moved on. A lot of her pictures were like that. Shots that were about five seconds after the composition had decomposed. He talked to her about the pictures she had taken and was very encouraging. She promised to take more pictures and to bring them in to show him.
Elena used to like to sit on the stool in front of the screen they used to take passport pictures and pose for cameras that weren't pointed her way. She'd turn this way and smile. Flip her hair back like a caricature or a model and look back alluringly at an imaginary photographer and ask, as always, "how my look?" She'd bat her eyes at the make believe man behind the camera and catch me looking at her. She'd look over as if I'd said something ordinary. Something a model's dad would never say. "Oh, Daddy." She'd shake her head at what she thought I'd said and look at me like I was a hick who didn't understand.
The woman whose name I didn't know talked about her fiancee and how he had lived in Belgium. We are hoping to go there later this year, but I just don't know. She asked an innocent question about children and I froze. I didn't know how to answer. The polite thing might have been just to say something innocuous and move on. Some days that's what I do. But this felt different.
I'd been in the store so many times before over a number of years. I'd been there before I was married and after. Before I'd had children and after. We didn't know each other well but there's that connection you get when you shop in a locally owned place and not some big box store with an ever changing work force.
And so I told them about Elena dying in February. Yesterday was a day like that. The dentist had wanted to talk about it. The dental hygienist had asked questions during that morning's cleaning. And so I told the woman whose name I didn't know a bit about Elena. She stopped me and said "I have something if you'd like to see it."
And from behind the counter she pulled a large envelope that hadn't been picked up since February when it was dropped off. She told me that her teacher had left it and had been quite upset. I braced myself as she opened the oversized envelope. And then she pulled out a picture of an attractive thirty year old african american woman. "That's not her."
"Oh," she said looking down.
"That's, ok", I said.
"No, I've got it." And she layed out another oversized manilla envelope. I braced myself again and saw a big beautiful picture of Elena playing on the playground. It was sooooo Elena. She was playing and having fun but had always been aware of where the camera was and had turned to give it a big smile before the shutter opened and closed. So cute, so happy, just as I remember her.
Go figure. Renewing my passport was as much about being a dad as getting the original one had been.