I married a Scotsman. Yes, with the brogue and the kilt and the family castle. (Unfortunately our castle is in ruins, as shown above, and belongs to the Scottish Historical Society. My only request—since I can’t reside there—was to get free admission into the place because I bear the name of Urquhart…they wouldn’t budge. Cheeky buggers. Incidentally, that body of water is Loch Ness, so technically we could have Nessie as our pet. Just sayin'.) Anyway, when first launching into marriage with Jonathan—that's his name, by the way (we can do formal introductions later)—the world was pinked and fresh and blissful. Especially considering that I have sworn from my adolescent years onward that I was born in the wrong country. At heart, I am a Brit. I love rain and cloudy weather. I love the cold and the wind and the rolling, lush green countryside. And I love tea. (Ask Jonathan, he'll tell you.)
Yes, there’s a but.
In order for me to keep my new husband in this great country of ours, we had to go through the long, tedious, and tortuous process involving the U.S. Immigration Services—a.k.a. the INS. Now, the INS is used to dealing with people who struggle with the English language, who struggle with adapting to our culture and pace of life, who struggle with mere common sense. Jonathan and I are not those people. We are law abiding. We speak English. We are in a committed, lifelong relationship. We are delightful. But clearly the INS had its doubts.
We drove to Philadelphia to submit the dossier (their word, not mine) filled with reams of paper, our signatures written so many times our hands withered with carpal tunnel, and hundreds of our hard-earned dollars. This dossier represented months of preparation. It took us forever to locate the INS building in down-town Philly (without a GPS), find a place to park where we weren’t in fear of our lives, shuffle through security, and then settle into a room packed with people of every nationality imaginable. It was like sitting on one of those packed buses you see jouncing across the dusty African countryside with people hanging from the roof and out the windows, the bodily smells, the strange sounds. I was just waiting for a chicken to land in my lap and poop.
We sit in the waiting area for about an hour for our number to be called. Finally it is, but a man who had been hovering along the wall, runs up to the booth ahead of us and starts asking the officer questions and handing her papers. We stand behind him until he has accomplished all he had hoped too, and we then step up to the booth expectantly. The officer glares at us.
“Can I help you?” she says, her voice clearly stating, And what do you think you’re doing stepping into the air that I am breathing without my say-so?
Jonathan and I look at each other.
“Um,” Jonathan begins. “You called our number.”
“I most certainly did not call your number. I did not call any number.” Again we look at each other. I try to help.
“You did.” Anna, you’re an idiot. “You called 107 but then that man jumped in front—”
not call any number, ma’am,” the officer glowered. “Sit down and wait to be called.”
And the eye of Sauron has nothing on this INS officer when it comes to the stare-down. I nearly pee right there—but since I don't want my husband deported because I can't control my bladder I refrain. (Though I'd like to go on record as saying that our number was indeed called.) Obediently, we sit back down. We watch the people mill around us—one woman asks for one of our personal checks since she is not allowed to pay with cash. We decline. Another asks if he was to go pump some gas in his car would that count for being able to produce a gas bill as evidence of his residence here. (Dude, do you live in your car? Actually, he might.)
We wait another 15 or 20 minutes, then another officer calls our number. We sprint from our seats to her booth so no more lurkers can get in the way and get us in trouble again. We hand over our dossier and wait. She rifles through the papers, ignoring us completely. Jonathan reaches silently for my hand, and I grab hold like a drowning person to a buoy. The officer looks up.
“You’re missing some of the paperwork.” She slaps down a pink piece of paper filled with microscopic print in the form of a checklist. She ticks off 3 or 4 items on the list. “You need these. Come back when you have them.”
Numbly, Jonathan and I shuffle with our dossier away from the booth, out the glass front doors, and onto the curb of Callowhill Street where I immediately burst into tears. I literally want to go fetal on the sidewalk. Jonathan wraps his arms around me and holds me with all the inhabitants of the INS waiting room staring out at us. When I collect myself, we walk back to the car. Jonathan hands me the dossier and the wretched pink checklist.
“Well, this checklist would have been helpful to have before we started the whole process,” I sniff, glaring at the paper.
Jonathan leans over and kisses me. He smiles. “It’ll be okay.”
I smile back. “I know.”
Eventually, we got the paperwork right. We went through interviews. We survived a debacle of informing the INS about a change of address when we moved. (FYI, we’re never moving again.) We went back after 3 years to prove we were still married. We renewed his permanent residency (a.k.a. Green Card) and will have to renew it again in a few years. The INS has become an unutterable word in our house.
Had I But Known the anguish and agony of marrying an immigrant to this country, it wouldn’t change my mind in the least. Eleven years, three children, and one cat later, there is still no one else with whom I would rather share my life. He is amazing. (Besides, now I have a castle.)
Anna C. Urquhart