It only takes a tiny effort to break any of the doors here off their hinges. – Franz Kafka, The Trial
It is an odd and curious thing to change your name. My preference, despite the evidence, for simplicity, helped sway the day years ago in a NYC courthouse. At the time, applying for a marriage license, I thought it was simply easier for everyone to have the same name. I had wanted to preserve my “maiden” name, but just in the form of a middle name. However, that idea was dismissed in an act of precedent-setting offended certitude. It took me many years to get used to the new name, and in truth there was some mourning involved. Years later, when I left, in an act of offended irony I was told to give it back.
‘It is not necessary to accept everything as true, one must only accept it as necessary.’ ‘A melancholy conclusion,’ said K. ‘It turns lying into a universal principle.’
After going back and forth on the issue and letting the most obvious day to make the change pass, I was unexpectedly consumed with conviction on the subject. The other morning, I was back in a court house.
What I find most interesting about The Trial, (speaking of the exquisite pain of bureaucratic Kafka-esque hell) is the fact that it was unfinished. Kafka hadn’t wanted it to be published unfinished, in fact he asked that his papers be burnt posthumously. I didn’t know that as I read it, a few years back, only after when I read the forward. But all during the book, the story felt uncombed. And yet, it somehow fits. It’s like you could never perfect the inanity because that’s part of it.
I downloaded, filled out, and left on the kitchen table, all of the required forms. It wasn’t until that moment of feeling naked as I put my belt back on in front of an audience of security guards at the metal detector, that I suddenly saw the forms in my head, innocently lying on the table. Sigh. I refilled out the forms in the hall and waited, reading a book as I leaned up against the beige scratched wall. One of my forms was a fee waiver because, with complete disregard for my nerves, the thing cost some hundred and a lot of dollars to achieve. But I would take it on the chin, file the form and hope for it to be waived – if I had to pay, that would be my punishment for being so stupid for not doing it before. Finally, oh sweet Jesus , finally I was called in to go through the forms, hold up my right hand, show my ID, so that I could then be released to the clerk’s office on the second floor.
A very nice woman in pink informed me that I hadn’t need to fill out any of the forms I had filled out. Twice. I only needed this one, and there is no fee, she told me as she handed me the new form. Suspicious, but with practiced expertise, I filled it out – except for the sign and print your name part- which name? I got up and waited a VERY long time for another woman to apply moisturizer to her arms and assiduously remove flakes of skin from her wrist. Finally she sauntered over. I asked her which name to write. She rudely cut me off and told me if I needed help filling out the form I would have to go back down to the first floor. Oh no, I told her right back, I just spent an hour down there and that nice lady in pink told me it was all for nothing. I furtively took the forms back and signed them. But I was too late, she was back to her desk applying lipstick. I closed my eyes for a moment of repose, successfully preventing an all out institutionally induced meltdown. Perhaps impressed by my calm, a peppy woman advanced to the window and, seemingly out of pity, asked me if I needed help. I do.
She pulled my file, had the clerk notarized it, all of five minutes later- plus a few days for a judge to approve me – done. Jessica Ryan.