Yesterday I went postal. I made such a big scene that I’m sure the story is already making its way around the Tiny Kingdom. In recognition of this fact, and in order to ensure that the tale is at least circulated correctly, I guess I better go ahead and describe exactly what happened. If nothing else, it serves as evidence that:
1) my mother’s death has left me emotionally raw; and
2) the post office can be a dangerous place.
I knew the day was going to start out a little on the heavy side, but I was prepared for that. Early yesterday I went to see a gynecologist/oncologist to talk about what precautions I should be taking in light of my mom’s ovarian cancer. Going to the office was hard– it’s the same office where my whole family went together the day before my mom’s surgery to talk about her treatment. At that time, we were concerned, but optimistic, and ready to work together to fight her disease with every ounce of our beings. We never got the chance. That office was the last place we were together as a family. Just entering the waiting room made me teary.
The meeting itself was very informative. My mom was an only child, and so was her mom, so we don’t have a huge family history to draw upon. That means my sisters and I have to be especially vigilant about screening for ovarian cancer. The doctor recommended that I get ultrasounds every six months, and start getting the CA-125 test every six months once I turn forty. He also advised that taking birth control pills would further lower my risk.
I know all too well that you can never eliminate all risks, but I felt better once I had a plan for managing this new invader in my life. Of course, I must admit that I am a little bitter at having to face another medical issue right now. I only recently declared victory over my liver, and I’m just now thinking about shaking my booty a little more in Jazzercise; my last spine surgery inhibited my butt-waggling abilities. It doesn’t seem fair that I have to think about another potential health problem just yet.
At any rate, I had decided that to make up for the expected downer morning, I would act like Isak Dinesen that afternoon and dream of traveling through Africa. For real. My parents had a trip to Africa planned in March. My dad still wants to go, and wants me to go with him. Obviously, I’ve never been, so I jumped at the chance, but there is a lot to do in a short period of time, and the most pressing is to get a new passport.
After I left the doctor’s office, I had two passport photos taken. I took the photos and the forms I had downloaded to my dad’s travel agent, hoping that I could get the passport issues resolved. The agent uses a visa service to handle the passports, and she called and talked to them while I was in the office. At the end of it all I had explicit instructions: I was to take the forms to the post office where the postal worker would sign them, collect my money, and put all the forms in an envelope that would then be sealed, not to be opened until it reached the State Department for the issuance of the passport.
The travel agent even gave me a check list of the items I’d need to make sure got in the packet: the application, the photos, proof of my name change (my old passport was under my maiden name), a permission form allowing the State Department to send the passport to the visa agency instead of directly to me, and a printed itinerary (to document the fact that the passport needed to be expedited so the visas could be obtained).
“Make sure it all gets in the sealed envelope, then bring it back to me and I’ll send it off for you,” she said cheerily. “They do this for us all the time.”
I love organization and checklists, so I braved the wall-to-wall traffic that plagues the roads between the villages in the Tiny Kingdom this time of year as I headed to the particular post office that is empowered to perform the stamping and sealing duties I required.
I arrived at the post office, and in what I now know to be a stunning piece of bad luck, got in Ms. B’s line. Ms. B surveyed all my documents, had me sign my passport photos, (which look like mug shots), collected a large amount of money from me, then selected some of my documents and put them into an official looking envelope. She got ready to seal it up.
“Wait– I think these three papers need to be included also,” I said, handing them to her.
“No, this is all I send,” she said brusquely, not glancing at the papers.
“Are you sure?” I asked. “I have a list of the items I need in the envelope and these are on the list. My name has changed since I got my last passport, and –”
“I never send anything but these,” Ms. B said. She sealed the envelope, stamped the flap three times with red seals, then put blue and white stickers over the parts of the flap that weren’t stamped. On the front she wrote “TO BE OPENED BY PASSPORT AGENT ONLY.”
I took the envelope and drove back to the travel agency. I reasoned that perhaps the agency would just add the itinerary, the permission form and the name change documents to the packet and send the whole thing off.
I was mistaken. The travel agent was quite dismayed when I returned with my mission only partially completed.
“This won’t do at all,” she said. “I can’t understand this. All those papers must be in there. It’s very straightforward. This will get you the passport, but not the visas.”
She called up the visa service again and verified that the other documents did have to be inside the sealed packet, and could not merely accompany it.
“You’re going to have to go back and ask her to make you a new envelope and add these documents,” the agent told me.
“I tell you what,” I said. “Ms. B was not rude, but she wasn’t Miss Merry Sunshine, either. She’s not going to like this, so why don’t we call her and let her know what we need so we can put her on the phone with the visa service or someone to straighten it out before I go back up there. I can just tell she’s not going to like being asked to do it a different way, no matter how polite I am.”
So we opened the envelope and found out her name and the phone number of the post office. We called and called, but the line was busy. After a while, I decided to go back and take my chances.
Once again I dodged the achingly slow little old ladies in their big Cadillacs inching from one village to the other. I walked back in the post office and stood in line. Ms. B frowned when she saw me.
When it was my turn, I approached her and started to say something, but she said, “You opened that envelope. You are not supposed to open the envelope.” She sounded like I had done something very, very bad.
“I realize that,” I said. “I’ll be needing a new envelope. But I’m back because I went back to the travel agent and she talked to the visa service and I do need to have these other documents added to the envelope before it’s sealed. Could you do that for me?”
“I can’t do that,” she said.
“Look, I just need a little help with this,” I said. “You’ve never even looked to see what these other documents are. I believe there’s a good reason that they need to be in there.”
“I never put any papers in the envelope other than the ones I put in there.” She peered at me. “Why does this have to be expedited?” she asked.
That’s when I lost complete control of myself, there at the post office counter. I felt big tears forming in my eyes, and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t keep them from rolling down my face. I opened my mouth to explain, and a big sob escaped. The next thing I knew, I was laying my head on my arms on the counter, crying as hard as I could.
Eventually I choked out, “I wasn’t planning on needing this passport. I wasn’t supposed to be going on this trip. My mom was going to go, and she has a passport, but she just died, so now I’m going and I just need to get this settled and I guess I’m not in very good shape to be dealing with this now.”
Ms. B was unmoved.
“I have the number of the visa service,” I sniffed. “You can call them.”
“I’ll be calling the passport agency directly,” she said. She turned abruptly and went to the other side of the office and got on the phone, keeping her back to me the entire time.
I stood at the counter, alternating between being slightly composed and wracked with sobs, for fifteen minutes. The line behind me grew, as there was only one other worker in the office. She was shooting furtive looks at Ms. B and offered me several tissues, all of which I used.
Finally Ms. B returned. “I have talked with the agency and they do not need those documents,” she announced.
Her argument would have been more solid if she had ever looked at the documents to see what they were, but I wasn’t going to point that out.
“Look,” I said, “can’t we just get a new envelope and add the other papers in there? They really are necessary for the visas. You can write a note and say I made you put the stuff in the packet. ”
“No, I’m not losing my job over this,” she said.
“Then I guess I’ll have to take these somewhere else,” I said, and I reached down to pick up the papers.
Quickly, Ms. B grabbed the envelope and papers. “You can’t have these,” she declared. “They have my signature on them.”
I couldn’t help it. I started weeping again.
“I don’t care what you do,” I said. “Just give me the photos and the check and let me get out of here. I can’t stand it anymore. I’d rather cry at home.”
“No,” she said. She stood there a minute, then she grabbed all the documents and stuffed them in an envelope.
“Wait– I’m going to need those,” I protested.
She ignored me, and grabbed a bright pink sheet paper and wrote a long note on it and shoved that in the envelope, too. Then she sealed up the envelope, stamped the flap three times with red seals, then put blue and
white stickers over the parts of the flap that weren’t stamped. On the
front she wrote “TO BE OPENED BY PASSPORT AGENT ONLY.”
“What did you write on that pink note?” I asked. I could just see her writing: “Insane applicant– extra documents included under duress, please send FBI to investigate subject ASAP.”
“That is between me and the passport agency,” she said haughtily.
“Well, I would like to know what it said,” I persisted. Tears were still rolling down my face, and I wiped them away with a used tissue.
“It says that I put the papers in there because you insisted,” she said.
“Fine,” I said. “That is completely true. I’d have been happy to sign on there that I agreed with that statement if it would help you out.”
“I do not need your signature or your help,” she said stubbornly.
“Okay,” I said. “I was just making the point that I was willing to cooperate with you.”
She handed me the envelope. I was shaking as I grabbed it, and I was so overcome with anger and sadness I thought my legs were going to buckle. Without meaning to, I let another cry escape, and it sounded like the kind of yelp a hurt dog makes. I ran out of the building and climbed in my van and sat, heaving with sobs, until I could steady myself enough to drive. I dumped the envelope at the travel agency, then drove home, weeping and cursing Ms. B all the way.
Once I got home, I cried and cried some more. Then I just sat. I felt like I had run a million miles. My eyes were shriveled and red, and my head hurt. It’s the hardest I have cried since my mom died.
The post office at holiday season is a busy place, and several people witnessed my hysteria. I’ve already had a couple of calls from friends concerned about my well-being. News travels fast.
I always thought that only the people who work at the post office are at risk for going postal, but apparently it can happen to anyone, especially someone dealing with the potent combination of extreme grief and a passive-aggressive government employee.
Please learn from my experience and exercise caution while mailing your holiday packages.