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Tag Archives: USA to UK

Strangers in a strange land.

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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.

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.”

Together, alone.

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Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Isn’t that the phrase? Well that’s only because “Absence makes the chest tight, the breathing ragged, the hands shake and the heart race madly” doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as nicely.

Somehow the fact that we were now, theoretically at least, nearing the end of our journey through the Kafka-esque maze of online bureaucracy, made the feeling of disconnection and solitude even worse.
Like being able to see Her, the woman I so desperately needed, trapped behind an invisible barrier, knowing She was only inches away and yet unable to reach out and touch Her, hold Her.

It was a fortnight of constant tension, a sensation that was becoming unpleasantly familiar to me by then and not one that I enjoyed. It seemed to have been my default setting for far too long now; an underlying feeling of mild and indefinable panic or anxiety that robbed everything in life of its shine, made it difficult to be positive and cheerful when talking to Her and made it harder than ever to be alone when She wasn’t there.

On good days I’d think to myself; “It’s all going to go perfectly, there isn’t a single reason why they would refuse the application.”
Whilst on a bad day I’d constantly be worrying and getting myself worked up about the most innocuous things, magnified through the lens of paranoia into insurmountable obstacles.
And all the while, She carried on calmly and serenely, soothing my nerves whenever we spoke and convincing me (apart from the Voices in the Dark of course) that I was worrying about nothing and it was only a matter of time.

We stopped using the word “soon”, as it seemed to have lost its meaning.

Meanwhile, She had one last mission to accomplish, the trip to Detroit for their Homeland Security biometric records.
Her friend from the lake house drove them the two hours down there and She arrived to find that with only minutes to spare until Her appointment, She had to return to the local library to pre-pay for the entire visa process and get a receipt.
Rushing there and back just in time, She managed to get a cancellation for both of them, (Her daughter’s appointment had originally been scheduled three hours later than Hers, as it took that long to fill in each application and submit them online) had all their various readings and measurements recorded and that was that.
All that remained was to post the whole lot to the UKBA and wait.

Except…the receipt She had to print off for our priority service and place in the envelope, to pay for the return postage, wouldn’t print, the button on the link was inactive.
After much fiddling around, changing computers and printers She managed to get the link working and duly inserted the receipt and posted the envelope, consigning our future to the faceless bureaucrats once more.
Oh, and She had to e-mail an electronic copy of the receipt to New York.
The e-mail button didn’t work.

Honestly, you’d think they did it on purpose.

She was finally able to send a pdf from Her phone I think, or maybe it was from the computer in the library, I’ve given up trying to remember the ins and outs of the official ineptitude we encountered during the whole infuriating process.
But that was it.
It was done.

Then, only a few days later She got an e-mail from our designated Entry Case Officer, asking for details of Her daughter’s biological father. (His name didn’t appear on her birth certificate, he was not in any way part of Her life, She had bought up Her daughter completely independently from any support or input from him since her birth)
They were basically asking for proof that he hadn’t made any claim for paternity or custody, nor made any attempt at paying maintenance or wanting to be involved in raising her.

How do you prove the non-existence of something?
People don’t go round giving out documentation every time they don’t do something.

So She wrote a letter stating categorically that there had been no contact whatsoever from the father and that She was, in every way that mattered, the sole parent to the bright and bubbly little girl whose life She was trying to enrich by giving her a new start in life with a loving family.
This wasn’t enough for the Faceless Ones, they reiterated their demand that She provide concrete, legal proof of non-involvement.

Take two: This time Her affidavit was accompanied by notarized statements from officials at both the County Court and Public Records Office, where She had conducted record searches to establish that there had indeed been no claims on Her daughter from anyone.

Again we waited.

A final e-mail, requesting that She send a current issue of Her daughter’s birth certificate, “…to allow me to ascertain that there is in fact no claim for paternity and that you are indeed the sole parent…” was easily complied with and, with no further missives from on high, we once more trusted our fate and our future to the unsentimental and inscrutable men from the ministry.