I didn’t think I would be so nervous about our green card interview. Anyone who has ever seen the Ukrainian and I together know how much we love each other. Indeed, this blog is almost an on-going testament to our love rather than its original purpose: charting my course in trying to learn the Russian language. But then, late last night, we had a mad-dash to get our wedding photos printed. We walked from the Noe Walgreens to the Castro Walgreens, looking for one that could print our photos so late at night — the night before we so urgently needed them for our Green Card interview.
Of course, we bickered. “Why is everything always left to the last minute?” “Why are we always so frantic whenever there is anything important to be done with a deadline?” “The wedding was just like this!” The accusations and questions flew. But they were half-hearted, not cruel. Each one punctured by nervous laughs. The situation was just too important to have a go at a proper fight.
But then, the Ukrainian asked, “What are we going to say?”
“What do you mean what are we going to say? We’ll just answer whatever they ask.” They being the INS/USCIS. Bureaucrats who had the power to make our lives miserable just because they could.
“But are you going to tell them about the time we fought about XYZ?”
“No, no, we’ll leave that out.”
“What about the fact that you sometimes fall asleep on the sofa.”
“But then I wake up later and come join you bed so it’s fine.”
“I don’t think you should mention the sofa.”
“But if they ask. What if they ask if we always sleep in the same bed? What am I going to say. What if they take us into separate rooms and ask us these questions? I can’t lie. I am a terrible liar.” I don’t have a moral issue with lying. Indeed, I have a certain respect for people who clam up and keep their truths to themselves. But, I can’t. I start to and then I twist my words so that I tell the truth even when I am lying. I’m a terrible liar.
“You would never survive in Kiev or Moscow. Everyone lies there. You have to in order to survive.” Ah yes, that Soviet mentality that didn’t just die with the collapse of the Soviet Union.
“I didn’t say I’m not naturally suspicious of people. I just assume everyone is lying to me if there is any doubt in the matter. Unfortunately, I just can’t lie back.”
While I couldn’t exactly say I had been looking forward to putting our personal lives on display for the INS, I hadn’t exactly been worried about it. But this conversation with the Ukrainian….this attempt to repackage our lives into some sort of perfect storybook tale free of blemishes and flaws made me ill to my stomach. If our stories differed at all, the INS would have no problem making our lives as difficult as possible in forcing us to prove we have a bona-fide marriage — to prove that the Ukrainian didn’t marry me for a green card. The validity of our relationship had been on trial since the day we got engaged — the U.S. Government would not be the first to ask, “How do you know the marriage is not for the Green Card”, my family and friends had asked that plenty of times. But only the U.S. government had to the power to say, “No. We don’t think your husband loves you. He needs to go back to Ukraine.”
It was with this foreboding mood, I took the DVD with the photos chronicling our lives and weddings into the Walgreens at Castro and 18th Street. I explained to the man behind the photo counter that I needed the photos printed quite urgently. “Would it be possible to get them tonight?” I asked, letting my desperation show in my voice.
“Oh, that’s no problem. I can have them for you in about an hour. How many are they?” he replied.
His eyebrows raised. An urgent order on 200 photos in the middle of the night. Whatever could they be?
“My husband and I have our Green Card interview with the INS tomorrow. We need to show them we are truly married and in-love. These are the photos to do that.”
“My colleague here went through that,” the photo counter man responded.
“Oh really?” I acted enthused. I didn’t much care, but I figured the nicer I was to the photo counter man, the quicker he’d be about getting my photos printed.
“Yeah, he did. He married a woman who worked here as well. But the INS didn’t believe they were truly married. They thought my friend was gay since he lived here in the Castro. The INS even went over to their house to make sure that they were both living there. Made sure all his clothes were there and whatnot.”
The photo counter man had my attention now. Oh God, what if went through the same. I mentally envisioned our 3 closets. My wardrobe and assorted belongings took up over 2 of them. The Ukrainian, the ultimate minimalist, took up almost no room when he moved in. And our recent housecleaning effort led him to throw out any piece of paper or memento he had accumulated in the past year that he hadn’t deemed a true “need”. How would anyone be able to tell that we hadn’t just thrown his few clothes into a closet and a few books on a shelf and said he lived with me. His physical footprint on my life was small — marked more by the gifts he had given me than any sort of personal physical treadmarks on our joint belongings. But his emotional footprint was quite large.
“Oh wow, that must’ve been really tough.” I didn’t ask how the investigation turned out. I didn’t want to leave myself open for hearing bad news. “How long will it be before the photos are done printing?”
“An hour. Maybe a bit more.”
“Thanks.” I smiled, hurriedly. I wanted to be nice in order to get the photos. But the nausea in my stomach had grown more intense. I wanted nothing more than to get out of the Walgreens and breathe fresh air.
The Ukrainian was waiting for me outside with our 2 dogs. I told him how long it would be before the pictures would be ready.
“How many pictures did you give them to print?”
“You are crazy!! We are going to have the most pictures anyone has ever taken to the INS!”
“Better too many than not enough.” I was too risk-averse than to not have a picture for any moment in our life together that had to be proven as true.
We decided to wait out the photoprocessing at the Samovar Tea Lounge at 18th and Sanchez. A bar would’ve been more appropriate, but we had the dogs with us. Although he’s usually a positive person, the Ukrainian was not feeling so happy. He made fun of the place for calling itself “Samovar” — a sort of Slavic or Central Asian tea kettle — but not having a samovar on the premises. I pointed out the Samovar on the counter by the cash register. But he had a point. It didn’t seem the water was boiled in a samovar. It was just a catchy name for advertising.
The tea lounge also had a Russian food plate, but the Ukrainian wasn’t interested. We shared a salmon caesar salad. My nerves from the upcoming interview had been upped by the Walgreens photo counter man. I couldn’t eat. I spent our wait chatting with the Ukrainian about mostly nothing and picking the salmon bits out of my share of the salad to give to the dogs. We kept looking at our watches. Is it time? Is it time, we wondered. Is it time for the photos? Is it time to get the government seal of approval for our marriage? Is it time to truly start planning for a baby? Is it time to plan for our trip back to Kiev for our Russian Orthodox wedding? Is it time to get on with our lives. Is it time to stop waiting. Is it time?
The conversation turned to our planned Orthodox wedding in Kiev. How many people could we expect to come? How much would it cost? How would we budget for it? What happens if I get pregnant first? Would I really want to endure such a long journey and unknown culture while with child. We could only decide that if I become pregnant soon, then we would postpone the wedding to 2010 and have a baptism and wedding the same week. But if I don’t become pregnant soon, the baby itself will have to wait.
Waiting. That is all I feel like we do sometimes. We wait for the Ukrainian to graduate. We wait for the Green Card. We wait for him to get another raise. We wait to save money. Wait and wait and wait. Tomorrow, it seemed — we hoped — tomorrow could be the end to one of our waits.
Our wait for the photos came to the end. We paid our bill, leaving the money outdoors on the table, hoping no one would take it before the waitress found it. But I suspected she was waiting for us to leave. She must’ve been watching us. So I didn’t truly worry. The Ukrainian did, but I reassured him that no one who waits tables is so naive to leave their tables unwatched. We walked back to the Walgreens at 18th and Castro. I picked up the photos and purchased a small, cheap album that looked sort of wedding-ish. The photo counter man looked a bit at my photos before handing them to me: “The INS will believe you. This is a beautiful wedding.”
“I hope so,” I replied, tired. It was too late now to gather anymore evidence of our love. What we had is what we had.
And so the Ukrainian and I returned home with the dogs to sleep. And to wait. And to hope that maybe the beginning of the end of our waiting had begun.