RSS Feed

Tag Archives: true story

It has all been for this moment.

image The rest was surprisingly simple.

The last few days of waiting were pure anticipation, all bureaucratic obstacles overcome, all arrangements made and confirmed, just the formality of signing a register to go, before the rest of society would acknowledge the commitment we had pledged to one another long ago, we could finally get on with our lives (after yet more visa paperwork) and She could get a job.

All through the weekend I found myself grinning at Her like an idiot and, as if saying it out loud would make it seem less surreal, I would say; “We’re getting married on Tuesday!” and burst out laughing.
I had never thought I’d get to this point and now I was here, it seemed, through all the dreamlike haze, the most natural thing in the world.
I could honestly look inside myself and detect not the slightest doubt, hesitation or indecision.
There was nothing I wanted more than to spend the rest of my life with these two special people and almost before I knew it, The Big Day arrived.

I’d taken the Tuesday off work to get married, and the Wednesday too, for our honeymoon.
Not the wedding of the century then, but nonetheless it was all we wanted, all bar one thing.
Due to one final twist of the bureaucratic knife, we would be having our little ceremony without Missy in attendance. The seemingly immutable laws of the Chief Registrar stated that, without paying an extra £70 to cover “up to 30 guests”, only ourselves and our two witnesses would be allowed in the ceremony room.
Working as we were on a tight budget, paying seventy quid extra for one six year old was not an expense we could justify, although Missy was focused mainly on the reception, (to be held a month or so later, once we could give people rather more notice than we’d had available for the wedding itself) so we played down the day as “just signing some boring documents” and that seemed fine by her.

I got up early and took Missy to school, then made my way out onto the moors to pick up Chris, old friend, wedding witness, financial saviour and one of the people we really couldn’t have done all this without.
After that it was just a matter of going home to get changed and sit chatting, waiting for the hands on the clock to crawl up to midday.
She was already dressed when Chris and I returned and She looked positively radiant, glowing with happiness and, like me, not in the least bit nervous.

We drove into town and parked by the concrete monstrosity that houses the civic centre and registry office, arriving just in time to meet Becca, a former housemate of mine and the second witness to our nuptials.
Whilst Chris and Becca were shown into the ceremony room, She and I went with the registrar, to confirm all our details and be walked through the last steps of a journey that had begun with a misplaced thumb on Facebook, over six months ago and nearly four thousand miles away.

To be honest, I doubt if I would have noticed if there’d been a hundred people in the room, all I remember is looking at Her and speaking the words we were asked to repeat, Her eyes as calm and beautiful as that first day of revelation, looking up at me with an expression that told me all I needed to know, had ever needed to know, that this was meant to be.

We exchanged rings, but even that was mainly for show as they were already ours; She had a small sapphire ring, which also covered the blue part of the “…something borrowed, something blue” tradition and I used my late father’s signet ring, a small way of including him in a day I wish he could have been there for.

And of course, The Kiss.

Then it was time to sign the register and pose for photos, (thank you again to Becca for doubling as wedding photographer for the day) after which the nice lady who recorded our wedding asked if she could read an Irish marriage blessing, which was very poetic and rather sweet.

The whole thing took barely fifteen minutes.
Next thing was to organise the reception, so friends and family that She had yet to meet could come and celebrate with us.

But first, I really thought it was about time I took my wife for a drink.

Cheers.

Advertisements

Strangers in a strange land.

image

We had settled into some kind of routine now, with me working during the week and She and Missy organising the flat to their liking, making occasional trips out to the shops, getting to know the neighborhood a little and adjusting to, well, everything really.
It was fun to find that a lot of everyday goods we take for granted as being somehow universal, just…aren’t.
Orange squash for instance. Or any other flavour for that matter.
I’ve never been anywhere which hasn’t got its own local variation on the dilute-to-taste liquid fruit concentrates, but it’s apparently not a thing over in the good ol’ U S of A.
There were many other examples of this type of thing and I suspect it’s the origin of the cliché of Brits needing to take Marmite and teabags on holiday with them in fear that these will be unavailable in “foreign parts”. Her particular version of this affliction is the fact that Graham Crackers can’t be found over here, (an essential ingredient in the teeth-achingly sweet American invention called S’mores) but I think she’ll cope.
Despite the potential for culinary-induced culture shock, all this would only be an extended vacation until they began to put down some kind of roots however and the next thing to do was to get Missy into school.

Originally we’d thought that she wouldn’t be eligible for state schooling until her mother and I were married, making her my official dependant, but minimal research (my sister works as a teaching assistant and knows about such things) revealed that a child of her age was pretty much obliged to get into full time education as soon as possible.
This kind of made sense; after all, there are many people whose professions take them and their families all around the world to work and their kids need to be able to get educated whenever they find themselves relocated to some far-flung corner of the globe.
So we got in touch with the nearest primary school – actually an integral part of the housing estate on which we lived – to find out if they had an opening for a six year old.
But this late in the term, just a month before the Christmas holidays, we weren’t overly optimistic they’d have a place and sure enough the class was full up.

Our initial disappointment at discovering they were unable to take Missy at such short notice didn’t last long however, as we found that the smaller, community-based school on the estate just a half hour walk from home would be happy to take her, so we made an appointment with the headmaster and took her down there for a look round.
Missy was a little shy at first, but soon her natural inclination to talk to anyone who would listen got the better of her and before long she was asking the headmaster questions about the school uniform, (she hadn’t been required to wear one at her school in the States, so this was another new and interesting development for her) grilling him about the size of the playground and finding out which year she would start in, as she was insistent that “I have to finish first grade you know, that’s what I was doing in America”.
On the way home from our first visit she seemed slightly anxious – perfectly natural of course and something we’d been fully prepared for – but after we went back that Friday to meet her teacher, then into town to buy her uniform, she was showing all the signs of looking forward to joining her new classmates on Monday morning.

The fact that she would begin this new and exciting experience with two weeks of Christmas build-up; parties, special meals, movies and a visit from Santa, probably didn’t hurt either.
Missy even posed for Facebook photos, sent to friends across the pond, proudly modelling her new uniform, a sweater and grey cotton trousers combo that marked the very first time she had voluntarily agreed to wear anything but leggings, much to the amazement of her mum.
She and I were delighted at the enthusiasm Missy was suddenly showing and if anything, she now seemed impatient for the weekend to be over so she could embark on the next stage of her Big Adventure.

The three of us walked the route from home to school a couple of times so that She would be able to find their way on the first day. I would have already left for work by then and She wanted to have plenty of time to get Missy dressed and ready to leave.
As it turned out She needn’t have worried, Missy was so keen to meet her new friends that she was there in plenty of time, despite a small navigation problem, easily solved by asking a friendly native for directions.
And off she went, on the first leg of her own personal journey of discovery, full of new people with new accents, new ways of doing things and lots of questions about the new girl from America.

As for Her, She could now enjoy a day on Her own, completely by Herself for the first time in over a fortnight, since before the two of them had boarded that plane, nearly four thousand miles and a lifetime away, something She had been looking forward to for the last few days and I can’t say I blame Her either.
It had been quite a full-on couple of weeks for all of us.

Missy’s first impression of the English school system?
I think one particular conversation says it all.
As she was getting ready for bed on Friday night of her first week she asked; “What day is it tomorrow?” and when she was informed that it was Saturday, her next question was; “So how many days until I can go back to school?”, the same thing she kept asking all weekend.
And now, at the end of the second week, the living room wall is plastered with Christmas cards from her new friends and she even yawningly wrote a dozen or so in return on Thursday night, which she distributed on the final, ice cream and movie-filled day of term.

So that was one more thing successfully crossed off our list.
One more thing to strengthen those tentatively questing roots, another foothold on the shores of a strange land which I so wanted them to consider Home.

Touchdown.

image

Was I nervous? What do you think?

I got up at five thirty, after eventually falling asleep about two hours earlier, got dressed, did a few last minute checks to see the flat looked as perfect as possible and drove off to meet my future wife and daughter at Bristol airport.

Of course I was nervous.

The morning traffic meant it was to be a leisurely journey and I wasn’t in any rush, so I cranked up the stereo and enjoyed the dawning of the first day of the rest of my life as I drove into the sunrise, singing along at the top of my voice.

I stopped for a coffee and a cigarette when I got within ten minutes of the airport, feeling excitement begin to finally chase away the nerves and suddenly I was in a rush. Very much so.
Arriving in the hideously overpriced car park at the exact time Her plane should have landed (I had at least learnt that much from Her last visit) I unsuccessfully attempted to stroll nonchalantly into the arrivals hall whilst my stomach played host to a gigantic swarm of epileptic butterflies.

The display board did indeed confirm that Her flight had just that minute touched down, but from previous experience I knew it’d be a while before they made it through customs and I made for the hideously overpriced coffee bar and the thankfully free smoking shelter.
Even then I couldn’t feign casualness, speed-smoking and gulping my (admittedly pretty good) coffee as I peered in through the window until I could stand it no longer and had to go and lean on the security barrier by the sliding doors, hoping each time they opened that it would be Her I saw on the other side.

And then there they were, trying to control two uncooperative baggage trollies, Her daughter completely hidden behind the piled suitcases and carry on bags that constituted their worldly possessions for the foreseeable future.
I watched Her search for me, saw that radiant smile light up Her face as our eyes eventually met and savored those very last few seconds of waiting, knowing that I wouldn’t be having to say goodbye to Her this time and wanting to etch every last detail of this moment into my memory.
Then they were through the security barrier and, after crouching to finally greet the shyly grinning little girl that I’d chatted and laughed with on Skype so many times, I stood and took Her in my arms once more.

Cramming all the luggage into my borrowed car, we set off for Home. Just the thought of that word gave me a huge rush of happiness and contentment, it had a finality to it that we’d waited so long for and now we were together, nothing else seemed to matter.
We chatted for a while, until the long night flight across the timezones caught up with them and they both slept for the rest of the journey.

I woke Her as we drove up the road towards our house, left most of the bags in the car and welcomed them into their new home.
I’d carefully prepared the first view they would get as they walked into the living room, the dining table held housewarming presents for all.
Flowers and a bottle of wine. Check.
Fairy-winged Barbie doll. Check.
Front door key on Mickey Mouse keyring. Check.

Then, exactly what I’d hoped for;
“I want to see my room!”
Little Missy was off, trying doors in turn (not that there are many to choose from) and rewarding me with appropriate noises of delight on discovering the fantasy-themed posters, dragon ornaments and lighted castle in her bedroom.
I was equally pleased at Her reaction to our family’s new living arrangements, watching cautiously as She took in the room layout and my taste in decor and feeling a happy thrill of relief as I realised She liked it.
They also both loved that we had a garden, complete with fairy lights in the trees and coloured LED spots in the decking and Missy was already planning the enchanted fairy garden she would plant here,

The rest of the day was spent unpacking, juggling space and belongings to make the most of our minimal storage and taking a brief trip to the local supermarket to pick up a few treats and snacks.

I cannot begin to describe how it felt to wake up with Her lying next to me in my our bed, sharing our morning routine, deciding what we would all do for the day, just being together with them and revelling in the surreal, dreamlike feel of the whole situation.
They were finally, actually, really here and the fact filled me with such joy that I had to keep telling myself it honestly was real and they really weren’t going anywhere, because none of it seemed real yet.
The way the three of us fell almost instantly into a natural rhythm with each other made me impossibly happy.

We were a family. As if it had always been.

Revenge of the bureaucrats.

image

It was Her that I felt sorry for, She was the one who was going to have to do all the paperwork, all over again.

After the initial shock of the total destruction of our schedule had had time to sink in (we had already booked the date for the wedding, as required by the visa rules, and I had paid the deposit on a two bedroom flat for us which I was going to be paying for until we were married and She could start work) we started going through the new requirements for Her application.

Some of the mistakes, errors and avoidable misunderstandings that we’d had inflicted on us by the out of date official websites were obviously common causes of grief for other applicants, as a quick search of forums devoted to the subject (stop sniggering at the back, Hindsight) showed that there were people who hadn’t found out all the new rules before submitting their documents and had their visas refused.
We too could have sent incomplete or incorrect documents and failed in our application, through nothing more than following the posted regulations. There were a whole range of things we hadn’t been aware of.
For instance;
– Supplying my payslips and bank statements, instead of just one or the other.
– The biometric readings they had to have taken in America.
– Sending all the documents back to the UK.
– All the extra charges involved.
– Filling in Her enormous application form online and then printing it off to post it, instead of printing the form off and completing it by hand (something the system, bizarrely, allows you to do and apparently one of the most common reason for failure)
– Although the financial sponsorship form they’d neglected to tell us about the first time, I did have to print that one off and fill it in by hand. (as opposed to the simple covering letter from me, detailing my “intentions” and willingness to financially support them that we’d originally been told to include with my payslips)

And then there was the bank.

Since the relief at being given the money for the plane tickets by my aunt, we had ceased to worry about any immediate financial problems and had been concentrating on the fiendish labyrinth of the application process itself.
So it was initially a puzzling and potentially thrilling discovery that I suddenly had £945 in my account that wasn’t there two days before.
Then I got a nasty sinking feeling in my stomach and did a quick calculation. Minus transfer fees, that sounded unpleasantly like the $1500 I’d finally managed to send to Her bank in the States after a soul-destroying three hours on the phone the previous weekend.
A quick call established that Her bank had indeed bounced back the payment, reason unknown.
Unknown that is, until the international transfer officer I was venting my ire at on the phone the next day read back the account number he’d transferred it to.
He’d written it down wrong.
{…Breathe slowly and deeply, remain calm…}
I went through all the numbers with him again, in slow motion for the hard of thinking, he apologised for the fifth time and promised to refund my transfer fee.
I thanked him through gritted teeth and hung up, dearly hoping to never have the need to call another bank as long as I lived.

Then there were the bank statements. I needed six months worth, to cover the matching period of the payslips.
The fake-tanned and rather superior lady in my bank tutted and rolled her eyes as I told her how important this was and related some of our misfortunes with officialdom while we stood and watched the printer spew out my statements. She said;
“All that incompetence, is there some sort of complaints procedure you could follow?”
I told her I just wanted to get it over with, asked her to put an official bank stamp on the copies, thanked her and went home to post my second batch of transatlantic paperwork.

I just thought I’d check everything one final time before sealing it in the envelope and to my horror (I’d nearly posted this!) found that of the six months of statements I’d asked for, I had in fact got three.

Ten minutes later.
I walk up to the same supercilious, slightly orange woman, place the papers carefully on the counter and say;
“Remember me telling you how important this was?”
“Of course”
“There’s three months missing”
“Oh I don’t think you’ll find there is” {condescending smile}
…………..
“Oh I’m sorry, there do seem to be some missing”
I couldn’t resist;
“Is there some sort of complaints procedure I could follow?”
Apparently this wasn’t funny.
We didn’t chat while we waited this time.

I then took what I fervently hoped was the last package I’d have to send priority air mall (£52 for a 250g envelope!) to the Post Office and watched a trainee shop assistant spend fifteen minutes asking his supervisor what to do every thirty seconds while he filled in the label.
So I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised when I got a phone call from the international sorting office the following afternoon, asking if I was “trying to post something aboard”.
You probably won’t be amazed to discover that the trainee hadn’t filled the label in properly and I had to ring Her and get various additional recipient details from Her before they would post it.

All through this ordeal by stationery She remained calm and positive, grumbling occasionally about “English bureaucracy”, but otherwise She just ploughed through the red tape and helped keep me sane in the process.

With any luck, there wouldn’t be too many more things they could do to make our lives difficult.

Wait, did I really just say that..?

Interlude: Limbo and the lake house.

image

Emotions are all very well, but shouldn’t they be restricted to only happening one at a time, otherwise how the hell do I know what I’m supposed to be feeling?

Life started running in slow motion, every day stretching out wafer thin, until it seemed like I’d never reach the point when I could finish work, rush home and call Her, see Her face, hear Her voice.
It was becoming more and more difficult to stay patient and focussed on everyday life. I found myself looking for any distraction to lull my treacherous subconscious into a false sense of security, to persuade the malicious little voices in the dark places in my head that everything was going to go without a hitch, and that their constant attempts to undermine my sanity by presenting me with terrifying images of the whole fragile dream crashing down were not going to work.
Easier said than done when the voices are backed up by a whole battalion of emotions, all trying to get in on the act at the same time.

The medium of internet video communication is a strange thing. It manages to give the illusion of closeness while at the same time making it seem as though She’s further away. Accentuating instead of reducing the geographical distance between us and, coupled with the timezone difference and the change in the daily rhythms of Her day now She was staying at the house on the lake, it made me feel suddenly disconnected from Her.

Which was about the time I realised this emotional roller coaster ride was a lot more complex than just a series of highs and lows, feeling miserable and/or lonely followed by the all too few, eagerly grasped moments of happiness and contentment whilst bathed in the light of Her love.
It was more like one of those fiendish carnival rides that spin you round in three different directions at once, all the time going up and down like a bipolar yoyo, leaving you with no idea which way up you are, let alone which way you’re heading.

I’d never experienced this sort of psyche-battering cocktail of emotions before, as they seemingly competed for mastery over each other by using my nervous system as a battleground.
If the resulting sensation was anything to go by, Low Grade Constant Anxiety was ahead by a nose, always hovering there in the background as a base on which to stand the second and third place podiums of Rampant Paranoia and Whining Self-Pity respectively.
All of which made it even more extraordinary that Her love and serenity could shine so brightly through the dark clouds. Like the sun cutting through the morning fog, She never failed to brighten my life the very second I saw Her smiling face.

And yet…it was impossible for me to apply any logic to these uninvited feelings, they defied explanation or rationalisation, were immune to reasoned thought or sensible analysis and refused point-blank to go away.
I began to dislike the way my brain worked. It was like having a running commentary on my own subconscious, patiently and gleefully whispering in my ear the whole time, cheerfully pointing out how horribly unreasonable I was being, without offering anything in the way of help or advice.

I’d been thrilled with how the change in Her environment had so positively affected Her health and happiness and it was truly wonderful to see Her and Her daughter being so well looked after by such good friends.
The waterfront property was in a beautiful, peaceful location and was very obviously a place perfectly suited to rest and recuperation, with glorious views, a hot tub on the patio overlooking the lake and with wild birds and animals taking food from the feeder poles on the decking, it was a place where the two of them could regroup for the next stage of their journey and I couldn’t have been happier for them.

And yet…when the time came for the daily management review by the Voices In The Dark Place, there was always one at the back, pointing to the ugly patch of selfish envy that wouldn’t come out no matter how hard I scrubbed or tried to ignore it.
The Voice would say; “You’ve only seen Her for an hour all day and now She’s sitting in the hot tub or having dinner with Her friends, and what are you doing? You’re sitting here, absently playing with your phone, your life on hold, just waiting for Her to spare a few minutes to call you.”.

Just the very thought that I might have thought that, even for a second, appalled me, made me feel selfish and insensitive to what I knew She was going through.
At other times I’d think; “No, actually it’s only fair, I’m in love with Her, I should be able to see Her whenever I want” and feel perfectly justified in doing so.

An hour later I’d feel guilty about thinking that too.
As I said, emotions are all well and good, but there are only so many I can take at once.

What we needed was a distraction, something to keep our minds off the separation.
Well, as all my documents had now arrived with Her in the mail, the next distraction should be the final step, the submission procedure and having the visas issued.
Oh, and the small matter of raising the money for their plane tickets.

As it turned out, we were about to get rather more of a distraction than we’d hoped for.

All aboard the roller coaster.

image

 

I kept telling myself that the Universe was supposedly looking after us, but sometimes unfolding events made it hard to hold onto that thought.

At first, it seemed as if things had begun unravelling almost immediately She returned home, starting with Her job.

She had worked tirelessly and with little or no thanks for an ex-partner, practically running his business for him for eight years and he had treated Her appallingly the whole time. But that was nothing to what he had in store when She got home from our holiday together.

Within a week of Her getting home She had rung me and said that She had been called for a meeting with The Idiot (our own term of endearment for him) and casually added that; “I think he might be going to try and fire me.”

WHAT?!

Apparently while She’d been away he’d been interrogating the rest of the staff, (all of whom are Her friends) trying to find out what She was doing in England and generally poking his nose in where it didn’t belong. She took this to be a sign of his intention to make our lives as difficult as possible, bearing in mind that we were anticipating a long wait while She saved up her wages to pay for visas and plane tickets and She would need every last dollar She could earn in the meantime.

If She got fired, She lost Her income, Her medical insurance (when The Idiot remembered to pay it, that is)  and the house She and Her daughter lived in, accommodation being part of Her employment.
Yet She seemed strangely upbeat and unconcerned as She headed into the meeting, saying She’d call me back soon.

I was expecting a long, anxious wait (the thought that I once considered an hour or so a “long, anxious wait” almost amuses me now) but She was back in less than twenty minutes, for all the world sounding like someone who’d just had a pleasant afternoon chat with a friend.
Even when She said; “Oh well, looks like I’ve been fired.” and my stomach turned over, even then I could hear the smile in Her voice.

“How can you be so calm about it, I’d be frantic?”
Don’t you see, he’s done us a favour?”
– {dumbly, stunned} “What do you mean, how are you going to live?”

Of course I’d fallen into what would become my default state in these situations – blind panic and instant fear that everything was crashing down around our ears, just as we’d found each other – whereas She, with Her usual serene calm, had already seen a light at the other end of the tunnel
And it looked like it might not actually be a train coming the other way for once.

She cheerfully explained that as a counter to his paltry month’s wages as severance, She would be demanding of his lawyer the rather more appropriate sum of $10,000.
Enough for Her and Her daughter to finance their move to England far, far sooner than we’d imagined.

Now that may seem like a big leap, but you’ll have to take my word for it when I tell you, he was getting a good deal in more ways than one. He would be better off with Her out of the picture altogether, the quicker the better in fact.

Long, despicable story short:
The lawyer finally made a “final offer” of about $5000.
She was to be out of the house by the end of September, a month hence.
They would continue to live there free of charge until evicted.
She would sell as many of their possessions as possible and store the rest – bar essential clothes, a few personal items and toys – and move in with a good friend prior to travelling across the ocean and into my arms and a new life.

Looking back now, hindsight sniggering behind its grubby little hand as usual, it all seemed like a dream come true.
We would be together in no time and everyone would live happily ever after.

Except of course, only imaginary fairy tales are that simple…