On Thursday morning, I met the Ukrainian downtown at his office on Montgomery St., lugging my 200 photos and cheap white photo album from Walgreens in my luxe black leather Coach tote that the Ukrainian had given me the previous March in honor of International Women’s Day. I had on my knee high black patent leather boots — also from Coach, the ones that made unknown women stop me on the street exclaiming, “Where did you get those boots?!” and men look me up and down with a whistle. For the main piece, I wore the same Tory Burch long sleeve shift dress that Britney Spears wore on probably the only classy trial day she ever had. Economy be damned. If ever there was day to be a label-whore, this day was it. I didn’t want to show up at the INS looking like some slovenly student that the Ukrainian had to pay to get her to marry him.
For his part, the Ukrainian played the role of the successful young businessman very well. He wore his Hugo Boss suit with a navy-blue striped Hugo Boss tie. His shoes were Calvin Klein. His black leather satchel: Kenneth Cole. Sadly, neither of his Hugo Boss shirts were clean so he had to settle for Zara. But it was fine, what he lacked in labels, he made up for in fit and class. The Zara shirt was made for his tall, lean body and had French Cuffs! This touch of sophisticated flair was certain to impress any INS bureaucrat, I was sure.
So I met the Ukrainian at his office where I could deposit my iPhone, camera, and 2nd cellphone (long story why I carry around 2 phones — it’s a temporary situation). While he finished up a few last minute business-related calls, I went to work on organizing our 200+ photos into the cheap white album I had purchased the night before.
“You’re crazy,” the Ukrainian told me again and again between each phone call as I tried to sort the photos into chronological order while stuffing them into the cheap plastic album slots.
“Get me some paper clips. They’re not all in order. We’ll clip the ones that aren’t in order to the pages they should be in.” My engineer’s mind couldn’t function without everything in life being absolutely sequential and “in order”. But I also knew that looking well put together — not just in clothes — but in the “evidence” we brought with us to our interview would be important to impressing our interviewer, and hopefully save us the troubles that so many other couples have endured.
Soon, it was 10 minutes until our interview. There was no more time for business phone calls. No more time to organize our photos to best show our story. It was time to walk to the INS offices.
And that’s when I realized: I hadn’t eaten. Not that morning. Not more than 2 nibbles of lettuce the night before. And I was hungry. Whatever nerves I had vanished. My stomach rumbled. The Ukrainian laughed. “I feel sorry for whoever interviews us. He better be nice to you because he won’t be able to kick you out of the country for being mean!” The bitchiness that I exude when hungry is famous. All I have to do is say the word “hungry” and the Ukrainian is on his feet offering to fetch me whatever food I desire. He’d rather exercise this small moment of servitude than suffer the wrath of my mood on an empty stomach. But on this day, he was having none of it.
“There is no time to eat. Or to stop for a candy or fruit. Here, just for you, I have a piece of gum.” I reluctantly took the gum from the Ukrainian while looking across the street at a deli. I could just run in…get something…anything…just one thing that would save me if we’re taken into separate rooms and questioned for hours on end with out so much as a cup of water or a bite to eat. Clearly, I’d been watching too communist-themed espionage and subversion films. But I could tell that this was one moment the Ukrainian did not want to be challenged. The moment was simply too important.
And so in my fancy clothes, I dragged my hungry belly, bundle of nerves, and cheap white wedding photo album into the non-descript government building on Sacramento St. and through security. Though I would not have even been there if it wasn’t for the Ukrainian, I was especially glad to have him there. The nerves and lack of food made me light-headed and a bit faint. I no longer knew where we were supposed to be going or what we were supposed to do once we got there. I took the Ukrainian’s arm for support and let him guide me through the halls he had negotiated so many times before since arriving in the States.
Suddenly, in my own native country, I felt myself to be the foreigner.