What Matters

I have a terrible memory for names, dates, and even the course of my own life, but I have a remarkably good memory for embarrassing moments.

A few years ago, I wrote about my experience in getting a police background check so that I could volunteer with a non-profit group. To cut a long story short, I had to wait a long time (so long that I was glad I brought along my e-reader), prove who I was (with two forms of photo ID), answer a lot of questions (about my past and present lives), and sign a long document.

The remarkable thing about all this was that it turned out I had completely forgotten about my first marriage.

When I filled in the form, I was asked about previous identities. I dutifully gave up my maiden name, but I forgot that I had once been known by the surname of my first husband. It was a brief marriage a long time ago, but the fact that a complete stranger found out about it online and reminded me of it was a great shock to my psyche.

I felt like a fraud, but it was an honest mistake. I experienced a mixture of emotions starting with embarrassment at having my recollections challenged, followed by dismay at failing to remember an unsuccessful marriage, and ending with a warm glow in realizing I had forgotten it.

That embarrassing moment was so thoroughly fixed in my mind that it was in the forefront of my mind this week when I went for another, similar, interview at the local police detachment. This time, though, I was ready.

I prepared a file folder with all the necessary documents to prove who I am and who I have been. I dug through my old document files to be able to prove, beyond the two forms of picture ID, how I was named in the past. I included my birth certificate, my divorce certificate, my certificate of marriage to my late (second) husband, and just for good measure, his death certificate. . .. Well, you never know.

Image via terripaddock.com

The certificate of my first marriage seems to have been lost at some point, and perhaps it was thrown into the Pacific Ocean in San Francisco along with the wedding ring, but I hoped the divorce certificate would be sufficient for background checking purposes.

When I arrived at the local police station, I expected to have to wait for my request to be processed but I was surprised to see a small waiting room with only six empty chairs. I walked immediately to the reception desk and explained that I needed a background check for a volunteer position. I submitted the letter that had been provided by the agency I hope to work for and in return I was given a three-page form to read and sign.

When the officer behind the desk asked me if I had any former names, I was ready! “Yes,” I said. “I have been married before.” When he asked when that was, I said I couldn’t remember the date, but I was nineteen then and I am seventy-three now. He didn’t hesitate a moment before saying “Oh, that doesn’t matter.” After a pause, I could not have agreed more.

I provided my maiden name and signed the three-page form, and by the time that was done my background had been checked through the magic of computers. I was given a document stamped with an official seal and signature, and I was good to go.  All in all, it took about ten minutes, tops. I didn’t even have to open my file folder.

As I paid my $10 processing fee, I remarked that this interaction had been quick. The officer replied, “Yours was one of the easiest ones.”  If only he knew.


  1. Ha Ha! I understand how that could happen- forgetting your first marriage. I won’t forget mine- because of my two kids. Never had to go through a police check like that.

  2. I think the background check depends on who you are working with. I needed one because I volunteer with children, but my husband didn’t for volunteering with the food bank.
    I had no problems in Edmonton with my application. They had a separate line for volunteers and I hardly waited at all.

  3. “He didn’t hesitate a moment before saying “Oh, that doesn’t matter.” After a pause, I could not have agreed more.” As a person who has a couple of ex’s, I love it!!

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