"The reports of my demise have been greatly exaggerated." Mark Twain
In June of this year my husband began to receive condolence letters from Social Security Administration, our banks, credit cards, Medicare and just about any other entity we are officially connected to in this hyper connected world we live in. His first reaction, and mine, was to grab me and hug me so hard my ribs hurt. According to all of the sources that identify an American, I was in the Walking Dead category. They all wanted the last piece of paper necessary to complete the process of registering a death, the Death Certificate. I was, on the internet and in computer files in our home country, finito, a goner, a Zombie, passed on, croaked, kicked the bucket, DEAD. I no longer existed on this plain even though I was sitting at my creaky kitchen table reading it. I did not exist .
Neither one of us knew how to react to this bizarre news. Our first thought was that, somehow, my identity had been stolen. When we checked it was obvious that no one was using my credit card or bank card or making any claims. So that idea was checked off the list first. Good thing too. I've been through that before. I am hyper vigilant about how I order anything now, keep email, written and printed out records and never order from any company I haven't already ordered from before.
It was a weekend so we sat down together to plan out the next steps that needed to be taken. In the meantime I was completely cut off from being able to purchase anything unless I had cash (which I did). Thankfully I am still enough of a Boomer that I keep cash on hand. It's too easy to be manipulated by plastic and computers. This was going to be the ultimate 'test' of my theories on how to exist off grid. I was, according to all records, as off the grid as it gets. I no longer existed, at least on 'paper'. As much of a movie-o-phil and book reader/story teller that I am, it should have been kind of exciting, my opportunity to be my own 007. The truth is I was creeped out! Somehow, although I was perfectly healthy and present, I NO LONGER EXISTED.
I lost sleep that weekend. I think we both did. It's hard enough to get to the far side of fifty without having this kind of stark reality hitting you between the eyes. I still had chores to do, laundry and dishes, gardens to weed, horses to care for, dogs and cats, and a bathroom to clean. I'm laying there in the dark that first night, listening to my husband toss and turn, and I started to laugh. I mean, sheesh, I couldn't get out of cleaning litter boxes or my bathroom even when all of the so-called official entities in the world had me on record as dead! I had a new status. I was a ZOMBIE. I was now a real life member of an exclusive club that very few people ever have the opportunity to be a part of unless they are a celebrity worthy of click bait news.
I could not stop laughing! I sat up and started hiccuping; what I usually do when I get hysterical. John sat up with me and held me, patting me on the back. " Honey, HONEY! What is going on? Are you OK?" I was worrying him, I knew. But it struck me as weirdly profound and funny at the same time. As easy as that I no longer was 'among the living', even though I was. When I was able to catch my breath, I looked at him and said, " You may address me as Your Majesty Zombie Queen of Kansas, thank you very much. I am one of a kind and therefore worth noting and treating with respect. " And then we both dissolved in giggles again. Ah me, how I love a really good belly laugh. Of course I needed a tiara, but that would be something for the next morning. For now he had a chance to sleep with a Zombie. How kinky!
That Monday was going to be the beginning of a surreal process of trying to convince people I was still here, still alive, that I existed on this level and not the next. My first visit was to the Social Security Administration. The one in our home town wasn't all that bad a place, as bureaucracies go. Someone at some point in the recent past had, for reasons unknown to me, run in to the corner of the office with a vehicle. It was cordoned off, walls cracked and broken, window cracked and taped together with crime scene tape around it. Have to admit that sent me off in to paroxysms of laughter again. Maybe there were more Zombies around than I was aware of.
When I calmed myself down (I had assumed that going in to an office like that giggling hysterically probably wasn't going to endear me to any of the people working there. And I certainly didn't want anyone to call the police and have them check on their computers and see that I was not alive!), I went in and took my number, a bit like the kind you used to see in bakeries when people waited in line to buy their bread and pastries. I sat there holding my little piece of paper, wondering if it had any validity since I was a Zombie. Are Zombies subject to the law? Do we have to be polite and wait our turn? Couldn't I just start shambling around and acting like I wanted to eat people's brains? I needed to rein in that kind of thinking. I was already hiccuping again, trying to keep from laughing!
The incredibly bored looking man called my number and said, "Next!" . And the naughty Nancy almost escaped again. You have no idea how hard it was to be adult about all of this. The theatrical side of me wanted to start drooling and snapping my teeth together! I harrumped to myself, remembering that I could literally end up being put in handcuffs while they tried to classify me. I did not want John to have to bail me out of jail for not existing. So many possibilities I was passing up! And then reality hit again. It took hours for me to convince those paper sodden people that I was alive!
I had taken in every single piece of paper identification I could think of with me. I had a birth certificate, insurance papers, four different drivers licenses that I had kept over the past twenty years (because I like to torture myself with awful pictures of myself, I suppose), wedding license, credit cards (which had been put on hold because I was a Zombie), bank card (same) and my phone with images in it of me that John had sent so I could use them. I am not one for taking selfies (probably because I had kept all of those old driver's license cards). I told the guy what had happened, showed him the letters sent by SSA and other places. He looked at them and droned at me, " These prove that you are dead." Oh my. Stop it Naughty Nancy. Don't start snapping your teeth and mumbling about eating brains.
I took another deep breath and repeated myself. "Sir, I am not dead. I am, as you can see, standing in front of you upright, breathing. You could even listen to my heartbeat if you want too, as final proof of life." I had, on impulse, taken the stethoscope out of the med box in the barn and brought it with me. Naughty Nancy was definitely trying to take over here. I pushed the stethoscope across the counter at him. He stood there, blinking at me, looked at it like there was something gross on it. " This is most irregular. " Oh god. I was having such a hard time not laughing again. I just could not help myself. " No shit Shylock! "
He took everything except for the suspect stethoscope and went to an advisor. They stood there for quite a while, waving their collective arms around. And then the two of them went to an office in the back and knocked on the door. It opened and they were ushered in, the door was left open. And then there were three bureaucrats standing there waving their arms around, looking at papers and ID of various sorts, turning to look at me (and I smiled and waved at them too), and went back to pacing around and making calls.
I should stop here and tell you that I had called an 800 number at the SSA that morning and was told that my demise had been called in on my birthday and that the so-called date was on my Mother's birthday! It was someone who had enough personal information on me that called it in. I had an idea of who it was but no proof so I had said nothing about the call. I was absolutely positive it was not my children or husband who did that. It was a prank call that was going to cause us a lot of problems for months. There was nothing funny about it. My laughter was part of a defense mechanism that I've used for most of my life to manage the hard parts. I turn things around and try to see the humor in them, the positive side. It doesn't always work but that didn't stop me from wanting to start shambling around, drooling and snapping my teeth. I used to play a Zombie at Halloween. She was my favorite character. And here it was, my moment of truth!
Shape up Nancy! Be good. Resist the opportunity to be a complete clown and get down to business. Deep breath.
" Ma'am, it appears that you might be live. " OK. I could not help myself. I started to laugh and just could not contain myself. That is probably the weirdest thing anyone had ever said to me. I wiped my streaming eyes, and made myself stand up, shoulders back and back straight. " I'm so glad you've come to that conclusion. It would have complicated my day to find out otherwise. But look at it this way. I'm probably the first Zombie you've had a chance to talk to. " This poor guy had very little sense of humor, but I did manage to coax a smile out of him with that.
"So what next? What do I need to do to complete the process of my resurrection?" His jaw dropped. I had probably stepped over some religious line with that one but it was all just so silly! From my perspective I was just fine. It was their computers that were wrong and they were just machines. How complicated was this going to be? I was here, right in front of the guy, prepared to let him listen to my heart and lungs just to prove I was alive. And I was even going to pass up the past time of trying to eat his brains! I thought I was being very nice about the whole thing considering it wasn't my fault.
I signed paper after paper, had my picture taken, and they copied all of my identifying papers too. It was stamped each time I signed .... scribble, scribble, stamp! I was actually kind of sad that I was giving up my new found Zombie status. Turned out I wasn't. It was going to take weeks of tracking down every entity that had been notified by the SSA that I was dead, and a lot of them had to be convinced on phone too. Ask me if THAT isn't an awful process. If it was difficult to do in person, doing that over the phone was worse. It's a world of hackers and frauds. Everyone had an official notice from the SSA that I was a Zombie. It seems that paper is more important than I realized.
The financial side of all of this will take at least another month to untangle. We've been able to pay our bills, no worries there. But things have been skinned down to the bone here without my additional retirement income. And the complicated math of it all is so tangled we still don't know how much we've really lost. Frankly I'm kind of tired of my Zombie status now. I really don't care. Just get me back on to all of the so-called books as a living entity so I can get on with my life!
But here's the upside to this whole bizarre affair. My outlook on life has taken a complete 180. I am busy cleaning out closets and drawers of all kinds of flotsam and jetsam. Every day I get up, walk out on to our slanted, cement overpass of a deck, look off at the hills and fields around me, the sky, and listen to the birds singing. It's one of the hottest Summers on record since the years of the Depression more than eighty years ago, gardens are struggling, and it's been August weather since April and I'M ALIVE! It's not like I wasn't before but now the colors seem brighter, the possibilities bolder. I am still in the process of relinquishing my Zombie status but if I can do that, I can do anything!
Lucky still greets me at the gate, Apache steals my gloves and Stony still nickers, very quietly. Willow was in one of her moods this morning and offered to bite me. I laughed and told her she needed to be more cautious, I still have some of my Zombie Queen status. I might develop a hankering for donkey ears. You can't tell! It could happen!
People, anything is possible! I am, ever yours, Nancy, Zombie Queen of the Prairies, smiling at you because I ... AM ... ALIVE!