There’s a woman in my hometown with, basically, the same name as me.
A few consonants different in the first and one letter swap in the last have made us something like identity doppelgängers.
If my name is an alligator, hers is a crocodile.
I first discovered her about five years ago when I gave myself a credit check. I was applying for an apartment and needed to give the landlord my credit score.
The debt to my name was the shiny kind. Car and college, all being diligently paid off with a hand written check, same time each month, same scribbley smiley face in the About line.
So imagine my surprise when my credit score came back blistered in bright red marks and zeros on the wrong end of the gun.
How could this be, I panicked?
In horror, I flipped to the pages that detailed my every credit sin. Every unpaid mortgage. Every Wal Mart credit card charge snowballing with added penalty fines and rate hikes. Every JCPenney purchase unpaid for and stinking with cheap plastic rot.
Only those charges? They were not mine.
They belonged to a name that looked like mine and that lived in a town that indeed belonged to me.
One could even say it all looked familiar.
Only I didn’t just say that, I screamed it. To the police officer assigned to my case that very same afternoon. Poor fellow, as they say.
This had to be identity theft. It just had to be. This town is too damn small to hold two people with such a similar name. A name that isn’t that common. A name that has an obscene amount of fraud, bankruptcy and debt tagging along behind it.
I was a little outrageous, I admit, but it was as if my worst 21st century digital world fear had come true. Someone had been sneaking behind me this whole time, tearing down everything I was working so hard to build, for cars and Cheetos, that cheat!
But, as I probed, I wasn’t so angry because they did it the easy way while I had been working my tail off to do it in a way that I found fair. No, I felt duped out of having those things myself. If I knew I was going to have bad credit, I would have just really gone for it, you know? Like a good girl with a bad reputation who just decides to own it and suck all those Cheetos because fuck you! Those foreclosed homes could have been mine!
The cop told me (in much nicer, professional words) to chill the fuck out as he sorted through this. (My mom sat with me. A little girl with big girl problems.)
The cop looks as surprised as me when he delivers his verdict.
She’s real. A real person.
Turns out, Social Security Numbers don’t mean diddly when it comes to the credit agencies. They just want their money and they had attached her crocodile to my alligator with their own swampy string to lure one of us and, thus, their own slimy green green, faster.
The cop lets me see her record, which he probably shouldn’t do, but I need to see it to believe it. I put my middle and index fingers to my chin and push up my jaw.
There are moments when you say “small world” but the moments when you mean it the most? You forget to actually say it.
I went through the painstaking process afterward to get our credit scores separated but we are still invisibly tied in certain ways.
A threatening call, letter and lawsuit from a creditor is never far away, to whom I say, “This is not me! It can not be! Would you like, like a cup of tea?… Also, I filed a police report, mother fucka.”
That usually gets them to take my name and address off the list of hers.
I almost look forward to letters addressed to her now delivered to me. It gives me a lawyer or debt collector with whom to blow out pent up snottiness. But, on a kinder note, it reminds me to keep some perspective.
If the world is small, you must be in some ways too. There’s comfort to be found in that. And wouldn’t you rather know, remember what’s swimming right beside you? Surviving too.
Also, buy the damn Cheetos.
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