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Interlude: Getting to know you – An open letter to Her.

imageTo say that I’m happy with my new life would be an understatement and I hope I speak for Her and MIssy when I say the feeling is mutual.
But as with all relationships, there has to be some kind of transitional period, the accelerated emotional learning curve that helps you to really understand how to nurture that happiness.

As you know, if you’ve followed our story from the start, She and I had been friends for a long time before we realised we were falling in love. In that time we had got to know each other pretty well, considering we had spent the vast majority of our friendship nearly 4000 miles apart.
But it isn’t until you spend time living together that you find out all the things you don’t know about the one you plan to share the rest of your life with.

Oh, I always knew there would be cultural differences, homesickness, occasional linguistic barriers (the old “two countries separated by a common language” cliché) and various other adjustments to my routine and lifestyle, all of which I was only too happy to make. But the actual process of getting to know someone, well that’s a different kettle of fish altogether.

At this point I should probably say that I might not be the easiest bloke to live with. Not that I’m intentionally difficult or awkward, but maybe there are facets of my personality which need some adjustment.

You can’t really predict what someone is going to be like to live with until….well, until you’ve lived with them for a while. So for the last few weeks I have been attempting to attenuate the me-ness of me, because although I’m quite happy being me, I’m perfectly well aware that others might not be so thrilled about it.
It has made me very conscious of how tone of voice, body language, micro-expressions and other non-verbal communication can affect the way others see us and most of the time I take notice of this and try to moderate myself and my behaviour, in order to not upset the woman I have fallen so deeply in love with.
And do you know what? The process of de-me-ing me, for the sake of Her and Missy, has somehow given me back the me that I most like being.
If you see what I mean.

However, every now and then I take my eye off the ball, so to speak, and a little too much of the old me leaks through.
That isn’t to say that I’m mean, rude or obnoxious on purpose, but sometimes I don’t take long enough to think about what’s coming out of my brain before I let it escape from my big mouth.

I am trying though, because there’s nothing I’d hate more than causing Her or Missy the slightest distress if I can help it.
So I can only apologise for any slips of the tongue, inadvertent snarkiness or thoughtless comments that may not translate the way I mean them to.
I’ve always known that She is sensitive and caring in a way that I’ve seldom experienced before and, despite Her best attempts at coming to terms with our time together, I feel it is my responsibility to make the extra effort, easing them both into a new and strange life that will, if I pay close attention, be the best thing that’s happened to all of us.

The love of my new life grows daily, so if I can only stop being quite so me, I think that we will all be happier than I could have ever imagined.

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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.

Swings and roundabouts.

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There’s something to be said for doing everything by the book. But it’s also a good idea to check which book.

I’m always thrilled when I see photos of Her appear on my Facebook newsfeed or messenger thread, but one that I was particularly happy to see was the one of Her with Her daughter, posing with the bulky envelope that I’d posted a few days earlier, containing all my documents for the visa application.
The relief and anticipation was obvious in their excited smiles and I’m sure it was mirrored in my own expression as I happily Skyped them to celebrate starting the final stage of the tortuous journey that had led us here.
All She had to do now was make an appointment with the British consular people at the embassy in Chicago and then travel there to present their application. As far as we could tell (following multiple re-checking of all the UKBA and Home Office websites to ensure we had included every last scrap of documentation they required) the rest would be a formality and the visas should be issued the same day.

And that wasn’t the only good news we’d had that week either, although it didn’t start out too well.

She had still not managed to sell Her huge wooden bed, something we were counting on to help finance their flights over here, but She at least had Her car to sell.
Her generous host at the lake house, a retired law enforcement officer who now worked for a security firm, said that he’d take the car into work for their mechanic to look at, with a view to buying it for the business.
This was indeed good news as She was hoping to get $1500 for it, which would go a long way towards buying plane tickets.

Plus the fact a generous cousin of Hers had donated $1000 to a GoFundMe appeal that She had set up online as a last desperate attempt to raise money, gave us hope that it was all going according to plan.

Then the bad news.
The chassis on the car was badly rusted and it was now only saleable as scrap.

Oh come on Universe, that’s below the belt!

So, no money for the bed and a much lower price for the car, along with the fact that She’d had to pay out over a thousand dollars to settle a debt She had thought already cleared (another case of The Idiot reneging on his responsibilities) left us pretty much broke after paying for the visas, (£885 each at time of writing) even after I had taken out a loan for the deposit on a flat and furniture to put in it.
At this point another of the guardian angels, who seemed to be following our story so closely, stepped in and casually swept the obstacle aside.

I had stayed in touch with the aunts and uncles on my mother’s side of the family (mum died when I was a child) ever since I had reconnected with them in my twenties and had been talking on the phone to mum’s sister Jane, who had been following the tale of our relationship and it’s complications with interest.
I’d got to the wretched point in the conversation where I was going to have to ask her to lend me some money and I was dreading it.
But she saved me even that awkward moment by simply saying;
“Give me your address, I’ll send you the money today.”

To say I nearly burst into tears would only be inaccurate in that it contains the word “nearly”, and I sniffed and snuffled my gratitude at her for the next few minutes, arranging that she would actually transfer the money straight into my bank account that day.
And, bar a frustrating three hour phone marathon with various bank call centre sadism experts, the money was transferred to Her bank in America a couple of days later.

Phew! Relief, with a side-order of elation and emotional exhaustion.
We were on the way.
I made the money transfer on the phone from work at about ten in the morning and told Her when I called Her at lunchtime.

By my calculation, that means I was happy for three hours forty five minutes.

Checking my phone as I walked to the car I saw She had messaged me sometime earlier:
– They should take down that website, it’s completely fucked us!
My heart pounding, hands shaking, I ran to the car and called Her;
“What’s wrong, what’s happened?”
“All the information is out of date, they changed the procedures and haven’t updated the websites.”
I could hear the hopeless anger in Her voice and my stomach sank.

WHAT?!
What more could they do to keep us apart?

In a nutshell, and to prevent me from becoming incandescent with rage all over again, what it boiled down to was this;
Except for the (incomplete) list of required documents and price of the visas themselves, almost all the information we had from all the official sources (including the nice lady at the immigration consultants who gave all the free advice, remember her?) was incorrect, irrelevant or out of date.
Including the most crucial part, taking all the documentation to Chicago.

You’ll like this…

It now all had to be sent (along with previously unmentioned additional paperwork which I had to post to Her in the States) to…are you ready for this?…..to fucking Sheffield!
Yes, Sheffield, that Sheffield, the one in Yorkshire.
Because that’s where the UKBA hang out, waiting to pass judgement on whether or not people get to be together.

Not only that, but She and Her daughter had to make the two hour drive to Detroit, where a storefront franchise for Homeland Security would “do biometrics”, whatever that means (digital fingerprints, photos, etc) which all had to go in with the rest of the small rainforest of paper She would finally post to….fucking Sheffield!

I apologise, I tend to get somewhat over-excited whilst discussing this part of the story.
Rest assured I had more than one lengthy and possibly not overly polite “chat” with various nonplussed members of the embassy immigration department, regarding advice on what they should do with their website and what I thought of the “service” they allegedly provided.
After which I ranted the whole infuriating story at my long-suffering sister on the phone, then sat in my room and cried for a bit.

If you go to the Home Office visa website now, you’ll notice that it has an obvious red banner across the top of it which reads;

WARNING BETA – THIS SITE IS BEING REBUILT.

Well about bloody time too.

If nothing else good came out of this whole sorry episode, I’d like to think that my “feedback” may have given the powers that be enough of a prod to actually do something and save any other poor victims of the faceless bureaucratic system the stress and frustration we went through.

So, we started all over again.

Interlude: Limbo and the lake house.

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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.