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The final wait.

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Returning to the daily grind after the Christmas break has been just as pleasant as being at home really, only in a different way.

The fact that I come home to Her smiling face, the smells of cooking and a happily chattering Missy, working on her latest art project or giving a running commentary on a TV show, makes the day less of a drag somehow, my mood instantly lifts as I drive home each evening and the thought of sinking into a domestic routine never seemed more attractive.

Missy is properly engrossed in school now, the easing-in period of visits from Santa and Christmas parties is over and now there’s homework and gym class, a new dinner menu and “forest school” (outdoor pursuit classes), along with the much-anticipated trip to Paignton Zoo at the end of the month and a “baking and pajama party” to be earned by not receiving any bad behaviour points.
And she shows all the signs of loving every minute, making the most of her minor celebrity status as the only American in a school full of curious English children, who think her accent is “cool” and ask her about life across the pond as if she’s a traveller from another world. Which I suppose to them, she is.

As for Her, now more than ever she is keen to get out and start working, but as usual in this journey of ours, we are once again being held back by the talons of bureaucracy.
The initial “twenty working days” we were quoted by the registrar, to check Her divorce papers with the relevant authorities in America, passed sometime around New Year’s Eve, and on enquiring what was taking so long, I was informed that the lady responsible for our application was on holiday.
Not only that, but when she returned and eventually got in touch, it was just to tell us that the chief registrar was now running two weeks behind schedule and we would have to wait until their backlog was cleared.

In other words, just the sort of bad timing and disorganization that had dogged practically every step of our trip through the maze of bureaucratic beartraps and official obfuscation we’d been cautiously negotiating since September.

So on Tuesday this week I finally lost patience and called her again (despite the warning from our registrar that “head office have specifically told us not to ring for updates, as it just slows them down”) only to be told that she was on holiday AGAIN, but was back the next day and would get in touch.
And would you believe it, but she actually did.
And less believable still, our application had been processed and we could now get married pretty much whenever we liked!

Now all we had to do was make sure our chosen witnesses were available at such short notice and pick a day.

It seemed at the same time to be both the most surreal thing I could imagine and the most natural thing in the world, but one thing I was completely sure of; the thought of spending the rest of my life with Her, and the two of us watching Missy grow up together made me incredibly happy in a way that I’d never known before.

Oh, and of course there’s that one last minor hurdle of the visa exchange to make our lives unnecessarily interesting, but that seems like a mere formality.
Nothing’s going to stop us now.

Giving thanks.

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Our first week together will always stay with me. It was the introduction to a voyage of discovery for all of us and although it began in a small English airport, it ended with a Great American Tradition.

After the initial frenetic activity of that first day; the excitement of their arrival, clothes and suitcases all over the place, finding somewhere to put everything, exploring the unfamiliar aisles of the local Tesco and the luxury of our first night in the same timezone, it was still the simple, mundane things that gave me pleasure.
Having breakfast together, sitting on the decking in the peacefully enclosed garden, drinking coffee together in the morning, something we’d previously only been able to do (in separate gardens) by careful timing and video link, cooking for each other, showing them around the bustling town centre, introducing Her to friends at the pub, all these everyday little details could have been my own personal “few of my favourite things”, had I been able to make them rhyme.

We fed the ducks and swans on a local lake, we watched as Missy spun herself silly on the roundabout in the park, we walked in the woods and I delighted in the way She took in the beauty of Her newly adopted country and so clearly loved what She saw and we went to the beach. In November!

It was a beautiful sunny Sunday lunchtime and I’d planned to return to the ducks, Missy’s favourite excursion thus far, until it became clear the unseasonably warm weather was going to hold and we made for the summer tourist seaside town of Woolacombe instead.
They both loved it.
She instantly started snapping photos of the beautiful scenery, visible in any direction you cared to look, and Missy scampered straight for the gently breaking surf line, soon to be engrossed in the seemingly universal pastime of collecting shells and pebbles with which to weigh down all our pockets.

After an appetite-bolstering stroll along the sand, what better introduction to English seaside culture than Her first Devon cream tea and Missy’s first Knickerbocker Glory.
The excitable, and obviously American, tones of a little girl laying her eyes on the huge glass of whipped cream-topped dessert drew amused glances from the old lady at the next table and gave me the sensation that we had long ago christened “fizzy chest”, that warm fuzzy glow of contentment that comes only from true happiness.

All in all, a perfect first few days of our new shared life.
Then on Tuesday I had to go back to work.

But even that was ok, because it meant that I could come home to Her and Missy, to a flat filled with the happy sound of laughter and the fabulous smell of home-cooked food.
I could spend my evenings basking in the glow of belonging with someone and then fall asleep in Her arms.
This was what I had so patiently waited for, this was finally our dream coming true.

On Thursday I came home from work to be welcomed by cries of “Happy Thanksgiving!” and the mouthwatering aroma of roast turkey drifting from the kitchen. (She had almost been thwarted in Her culinary pursuits by the lack of turkeys in the thanksgiving-free UK supermarket, eventually having to make do with breast fillets) Missy had even made fresh cranberry sauce.

And after a fabulous dinner, one of a great many things I had to be thankful for that week, we sat down to watch The Game, (you can practically hear the capitalisation when She says it) by which I mean of course American Football.
I had made a point of recording live coverage of the Dallas Cowboys v New York Giants late on Sunday night, to replay on this most traditional of Game watching days, so She sat and watched it with evident enjoyment and gave completely unintelligible (to me anyway) but knowledgeable-sounding analysis throughout, and I not-very-convincingly feigned interest whilst writing the previous post of this blog and conducting a somewhat sarcastic commentary on The Game via Facebook.

So, a week after Her arrival and already I was voluntarily watching pretending to watch something I’d usually scoop my own eyeballs out to avoid and…and this is the amazing part…I was actually enjoying it.
Not The Game itself you understand, it’s as anathema to me as our own ridiculous national alternative, but the whole experience.

I know they will miss those that they left behind and that’s just as it should be, just as those they left behind will miss them. Both She and Missy have had moments of homesickness (how soon do you stop calling it that, when does “here” become “home”?) the scale of which I can only imagine, so any connection of this sort to Her old life is as important to me as anything else in helping Her and Missy settle in.
Overall though, I have been amazed at how resilient the six year old psyche can be and how quickly Missy has adapted to this biggest of Big Adventures.
And as for Her, I believe She has already grown to love living here, despite missing friends and being frustrated at not being eligible to work yet and I just know we are going to be very happy.

So far, and I think I can speak for all three of us here, we have an awful lot to be thankful for.

The end of the beginning.

imageOf course there was more waiting, but somehow this wasn’t quite so bad.

The relief I felt after we received the (albeit incredibly obtuse) notification from the UKBA that their visas had been granted was like nothing I’d ever known.
You know that moment, two minutes after the washing machine stops spinning, when you can’t quite place what it is that’s changed? Then you realise that irritating noise has stopped and peace has returned?
That was what it was like for the next couple of days. I would find myself thinking; “There’s something different about…me?…life?..something…  Oh yes, that’s it, that constant, nagging feeling of tension and anxiety that’s been with me for the last few weeks has evaporated, like self-pity under the warmth of Her smile. I’m actually HAPPY!”

The only minor obstacle now was their insistence on not giving a specific timescale for the return of Her documents. Apparently, “administrative formalities” made it impossible for them to guarantee an exact date. Which was slightly galling, as we’d had to include a “two day return” label in the package for them to mail it back to us.

It also didn’t help in the matter of buying Her plane tickets.
Her hosts at the lake house (who had also generously offered to give them a lift) were going on holiday themselves on November 19th and given that they would all be leaving from the same airport, a six hour drive away, it made sense that they go on the same day.
But the bureaucrats, having passed down their judgement, remained aloof and tight lipped, refusing to be drawn on specifics.

So we waited.

Only this time it wasn’t the anxious, perpetually-on-edge sort of waiting, this time it was the pleasant tingle of anticipation sort, the grinning like an idiot for no particular reason sort, and it was lovely.
It took me back to the early days of our love, the days when the wonder of Her was just beginning to sink in. The days when everything was new and the excitement of Her impending first visit was almost unbearable in its intensity.

This was different though, this time I knew what I’d been missing.
This time I’d already confirmed what we’d both really known before we met, that we were made for each other.
This time I’d been painfully missing Her for three months.
And this time She was bringing Her daughter.

I couldn’t wait.
The wave of affection I felt every time I thought of them was now my friend, no longer simply a cold reminder of what I could not have, now it was like being engulfed in a warm and comforting embrace.

So we waited.

And just as it was starting to get just a tiny bit irritating, She got another e-mail.
This one was from UPS, the carrier that was delivering Her documents.
The package had been despatched and would be with Her in (allegedly) just two days.

I was at work, trying to keep my mind busy last Thursday afternoon, when I got a message from Her;
– Want to Skype while I open the package?
I very nearly cracked my phone screen, I hit that little blue thumb symbol so hard.
Several times.
Just in case She wasn’t sure.
I rushed out of the office and into the car park, dialing the video call as I did so and then there She was, holding a large manilla envelope and grinning into the camera while Her friend videotaped the opening ceremony in the background.

She tore open the envelope and extracted the carefully colour-coded files She had sent our application in (they clearly needed everything made as simple as possible for them and every little helps) and as She sorted through the piles of paperwork I could hear Her friend saying excitedly; “Find the one with the damn passports in!”
She found one.
I saw Her opening it and saw the look in Her eyes as She looked at me over the top of the little cardboard booklet that held the key to our future.

She turned it round to show me the page containing a picture of Her daughter and a fuzzy stamp.
I said; “Is there a stamp there that wasn’t there before?”, already knowing the answer but wanting to hear Her say it.
“Yes, Entry Clearance Visa. We’ll be home next Thursday baby.”

I didn’t hear what She said next because I was jumping up and down in the car park whooping my head off and laughing like a madman.
I did eventually say; “You better check that’s it’s not just her they gave it to, hahaha.” and a lot of other incoherent nonsense too I expect.

Suffice to say, we were thrilled.

A week? Ha!
I could do a week standing on my head after all we’d been through.

But for Her it would be a bittersweet time, a time of family farewells and small, happy but tearful gatherings of close friends, all of whom had spent many years being touched by the lives of these two special people and whose sadness at their leaving I can only imagine. 
I owe a debt of huge gratitude to all of those friends for the unfailing love and support they gave the woman I love and the bright eyed little girl who was embarking on such a gigantic adventure.
We couldn’t have done any of this without them, or the generous friends and relatives, on both sides of the Atlantic, who have helped make our dream a wonderful reality.
So thank you all, if you’re reading this, you’ve made three people very happy.

All that remained was for me to do some last minute shopping, get a few repair jobs done around the flat (by our very nice maintenance man who was as good as his word when he said he’d drop everything and come straight round as soon as I knew “when your partner is coming with the little one”) and enjoy the fact that I wouldn’t have to see Her on a tiny plastic screen anymore.

And tomorrow morning, Thursday November 20th, 2014, the day we were originally to have got married, I will pick them up from the airport and bring them Home.

Journey’s end?

imageWhatever the future holds, I will always be grateful to Her for these last few months, for the uniqueness of our courtship.

She has been a constant source of strength and happiness to me through all the yoyoing emotions, the anger and frustration at official obstruction and various, barely-avoided financial disasters. The resolve and calm She has shown in the face of difficulties that at times seemed about to derail our plans, has helped keep the Voices in the Dark quiet (most of the time).

But it’s the powerful force of Her love for me, our love for each other, that I’m most grateful for.
I honestly believe that anyone with anything less than the total love for another person, that instant and complete connection that She and I shared from the moment that the Universe chose to give our paths a nudge, I believe they would have given in to despair long ago and never found the happiness they deserved.

One summer’s evening, in the early part of our journey of discovery, we were discussing (with a kind of wide-eyed wonder that I still feel today) what possible reason there could have been for me to so suddenly recognise Her for who She now so obviously was; My One. My Other Half.

Would we have been just as happy if we’d met by chance twenty years ago?
If my parents had moved to America when I was a kid, could we have been childhood sweethearts?
It seems not, no.

When I asked Her;
“How is it that I’ve known you for nearly three years and I’ve only recently realised how gorgeous you are, how strongly I feel about you?”
Her answer, delivered with the beautiful, serene smile I’ve come to so adore, was simply this;
“Because it wasn’t time.”

That was it.
The Universe had not yet decided that it was time for us to be together.
Maybe It was waiting for us to need, as well as want each other, but for whatever reason, It decided to allow us to see who we were to each other and I’ve felt it more strongly every day since.

It was this complete devotion and commitment to our relationship, right from the very start, that made up for any minor inconveniences like mere geography, timezones, video delay and the terrible loneliness of a long distance love affair.
It was knowing.
And that’s what kept me sane during the wait for a decision on Her application.

We had no communication from them for over a week and She had already decided by Saturday night to e-mail them on the Monday (this was the end of October) to get a progress report.

Then I got a message from Her on Sunday morning;
– I just sent you an email.
I hurriedly checked my inbox, my heart rate suddenly doubled, and found….
The world’s vaguest email:

“I understand that you have enquired as to the progress of your visa application. I have tracked the application and I can tell you that a decision has been made.
Your documents will be returned to you in…..blah blah blah”

Wait, wait, back up there a minute!
“…a decision has been made…” ?!?
What bloody decision, you sadistic bastards?!

I rang Her immediately;
“What does it mean? What does it mean?”
“I’m not sure, I woke up at three this morning and it was there. I didn’t understand it so I left it until I got up. It doesn’t tell us anything does it?”
Meanwhile, I’d read it again
“Hang on, hang on, the very last line in the final paragraph; “We strongly advise against booking pre paid travel or accommodation prior to receiving the visa”   “…RECEIVING THE VISA!” That must mean you’ve got it. It has to, surely!?”
There was a pause while She re-read the email;
“Yes, you could read it like that couldn’t you”

There followed a certain amount of excitable conversation, Her rushing upstairs to show Her friend, who read it exactly the same way as I had, and me jumping up and down in our living room, crying, laughing and taking huge shuddering gulps of air in case I passed out from relief, excitement, emotional exhaustion or all three.

I stared at Her grinning face on the little screen, heard Her delighted laughter and then She said the words I had waited so long to hear;
“We’re coming home darling.”

Root of all evil.

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October the fifteenth. That was the day on which they were supposed to have arrived. Two days before that, on Monday 13th, I moved into what was to be our family home.

I thought I’d done rather well, securing a two bedroom, ground floor flat with a private garden, for a reasonable rent in a quiet close on the edge of town. I’d managed to furnish it on a budget by buying everything from one local house clearance specialist and, along with a few pieces of my own homemade furniture, had the flat looking like home in no time.

Being able to afford it was another matter, in the long term at least, as that depended on Her earliest possible arrival, enabling us to marry, (after a month or so of further bureaucracy and shelling out yet more money for Her “spouse” visa of course) and for Her to be able to start work.

But since our little setback with the ministry of misinformation had put paid to our plans, I was about to reach my financial limit and the longer we were delayed, the longer I’d be paying all the bills.

It was all a bit of a gamble.

Now I admit that talking about such prosaic stuff as mere money, when discussing true love, lifelong happiness and general hearts-and-flowersiness may sound a trifle cold and mercenary, but these were genuine concerns that had begun to worry me.
It was all very well having a nice home to live in if I couldn’t afford food or heating.
One of the main causes for financial concern were the aforementioned spouse visas, which both She and Her daughter would have to apply for after we got married.

At a cost of £600 each!.

And because we couldn’t afford to wait the {insert random number here} weeks for them to be processed, we were going to have to pay for yet another “priority” service, costing a staggering £400 for each visa, making a total of another £2000, a month after She entered the country and without Her being allowed to earn a living.
Why do they have to make everything so difficult?

Cue the appearance of another of our guardian angels, our emergency rescue service if you will, in the shape of an old friend of mine with very sad news that was to have tragically happy consequences.

(Sometimes I think the Universe may just be taking the piss,…you know what I mean?)

This was exactly the sort of juxtaposition of emotions I’d been experiencing for a while, but not even those stomach-clenching moments of stress prepared me for this bombshell.
A friend I’d known since I was 15, one who I’d only recently been back in touch with after nearly 20 years, rang me to tell me that he had been diagnosed with advanced terminal cancer.

We are very good friends and although the subject was hard, the call was surprisingly relaxed and I could tell that he was coping better than I expected with the news.
Even so, for my part the conversation consisted mainly of;
Shock.
Disbelief.
Acceptance.
Sadness.

I visited him soon afterwards and unsurprisingly, he didn’t want to dwell on the subject and instead was eager to hear of any news I had about our ongoing romantic drama.
So I told him about our latest battles with the authorities and all the crap they were putting us through, just updating him on the story so far and chatting about old times when he said;
“So when d’you need this two grand then?”

I told him it wouldn’t be for a month or so and he simply said;
“Well if that’s all you’re worrying about, you can stop worrying. When you need it just tell me, it’ll be there. I’m leaving you some money in my will and if you can’t pay it back then it’ll just come off what I’m leaving you. Of course if you do pay it back, you’ll get it back when I die anyway,”, and he laughed.

I nearly cried.

So that was it. At a single stroke we suddenly had no more financial worries about the visas and could concentrate on getting the formalities processed.

This had to be the home straight….didn’t it?