“Hopefully, this will be the last time I ever talk to you,” he said. “Because that will mean that you’re not the victim of a crime again. Good luck, and have a great life, Sarah.”
Have a great life. The finality of those words sure stick, don’t they?
For the last couple of days, I’d been playing phone tag with a prosecutor in the San Diego District Attorney’s office. Nearly two years after she’d stolen my identity, made a fake I.D. with my name, address and date of birth on it, and impersonated me all over San Diego County, the woman who’d opened up a slew of fraudulent credit cards in my name had been caught and was going to jail. Justice was being done. I couldn’t believe it.
However, when it came time to make the final call to the Assistant D.A. to confirm the information that he needed – that I had successfully disputed all the fraudulent charges and that the banks, not me, had absorbed the financial burden of this woman’s theft – I was strangely reticent. I wasn’t sure why I was dragging my feet, why I was delaying calling him back. I was busy (of course, I’m always busy), but it was more than that. There was something about closing this chapter in my life that I didn’t feel quite ready for.
I first learned that my identity was hijacked on February 4, 2013, when I received a call from a fraud investigator at Neiman Marcus. A woman had visited their San Diego location to fill out an application for a store credit card, and Neiman’s flagged her right away as suspicious. She was nervous, and appeared to be taking instructions from a man (surveillance cameras picked him up in another area of the store) via cell phone. Neiman’s did a quick Google search to try to locate the real me (good luck – there are about a million Sarah Kellys in this world), but were unable to find definitive evidence in a short span of time that this woman was an impostor. Unable to act without proof, they accepted her application, flagged it as potential fraud, and sent her on her way.
Almost immediately after my conversation with Neiman Marcus’s fraud department, they started arriving: the avalanche of both credit cards and rejection letters. I would spend countless hours over the coming days, weeks and months undoing the damage that had been wrought in the space of one weekend-long credit card application joyride in San Diego. Time spent canceling cards, filing fraud alerts, getting documents notarized, faxing, sorting, calling – sometimes pleading – with the powers that be that it was me, that I was who I said I was. Nobody has time for this garbage. It is a full time job to reclaim your identity when it has been taken away from you. And in my case, the timing could not have been worse.
When I received the call from Neiman Marcus, my father was in the hospital, gravely ill with stage four pancreatic and liver cancer, and awaiting a transfer – arranged by my half-sister Deirdre – to at-home hospice care. Ten days later, on Valentine’s Day, dad passed away, quietly, at home. His death was a mere four and a half months after the sudden death of my mother, a death which sent shockwaves through my life that I still haven’t recovered from. I can see now, with perspective, that I didn’t even begin to process my mom’s death until well after my dad died. He was too sick, there was too much to worry about, too many fires to put out. Not the least of which was my maternal grandmother’s rapid decline into advanced Alzheimer’s disease. One day she knew who I was, the next day, I became a person of no consequence.
My identity theft was a relentless pain in the ass that I didn’t need, that I didn’t have time for and that I certainly didn’t have the emotional wherewithal to deal with. When it happened, I couldn’t believe it. I made jokes about it, laughed at the unfairness of it all. But really, it felt like a sucker punch, like the universe kicking me in the gut when I was already about as low as I could go.
But here’s the awkward truth; a truth that I’m literally coming to terms with in this moment as I write this blog. It’s a truth that reveals my hesitancy to wrap up that unfortunate chapter once and for all. In the midst of the biggest crisis of my life, there was something incredibly powerful about having to fight for who I was. What I lamented as some sort of karmic curse was actually, in all likelihood, a gift. Not only did it offer a distraction from all the impossible, emotionally loaded jobs that had to be done in the wake of my father’s death, but at a time when I felt like I was drowning, when I felt like I was disappearing into nothingness, my identity theft fight required me to state clearly, emphatically, over and over again: I am who I say I am. I am Sarah. I am still here. I exist, dammit.
So when it came time to call the Assistant D.A., I procrastinated. I put it off. And at first, it didn’t make sense to me. After all, I’m happy to have this case resolved. I’m happy the person who stole something so precious from me is being punished. It’s a win, but strangely, it also feels like a loss. Because though I won this battle, the war rages on. Twenty-one months later, I’m still fighting to find my way back to me. A wild, fearless, big-dreaming me from my youth that I lost long ago, or a me that I always wanted to be but that I never quite became. I don’t really know. What I do know is that in the case of my identity theft, there was a path to follow. A long, arduous, tedious, frustrating paper trail of a path, but a path nonetheless. But with everything else, there is no path. Just an ongoing struggle to heal, to rediscover, to fall in love with life again, and to try to figure out who I’m supposed to be.
And so, with one chapter now closed, the fight goes on.
Until next time, friends.