Last Sunday morning, the first of December, was spent doing what I prefer to do best. Cradling a cup of coffee in my fingers, wrapped up in a blanket on the sofa. We had been dog-sitting from the night before, and I had Harriet nestled upon my lap, curled next to the fire, listening to Micheal Bublé’s Christmas album.
We’re listening to “All I want for Christmas Is you”, another favorite Christmas favorite. It never falls to choke me up a little at the end of “Love Actually“. Even when Mariah Carey goes there, I can still get behind it.
It’s an ordinarily a fast-paced jingle, (What? Mariah Carey co-wrote it? Huh, who knew?) but Bublé makes it a slow love song. I am feeling aglow with holiday spirit. Feeling hopeful for the month ahead. Benjamin is checking his email and spots a message from Immigration and Citizenship Canada. He says my name aloud in a stunned tone and reads the email to me. His permanent residency application had been completed. We simply had to pay a fee and we would be contacted regarding a time in which to meet an immigration official. Benjamin joins me on the couch, Harriet still nesting near me. We kissed and cried as Bublé crooned along. All we want is to be a normal married couple, free to leave the country, free to make long term decisions, free to make a home. And how lovely that this news comes to us before Christmas.
The December calendar has a lot of writing on it. Meetings, events, parties, concerts. It’s all so busy and exciting but unfortunately the temperature is so bone cold that it would normally take dynamite to blast me out of the house. It was -20 yesterday, and I can’t say that I love that. There’s not even the magic of snow. It’s that part of the snow cycle where it starts to look like cookie dough, mud and chunks of rock and debris in thick slushy slabs. The cold is bitter and is mood transferable. I’ve been so anxious about winter driving conditions. My tire fell flat the other day. There was nothing worse than standing by helplessly in the frigid night air as Benjamin set up the air compressor to fill the tire so I could take it to the shop in the morning. In a moment of sheer anxiety, practically frothing at the mouth my husband took hold of my shoulders. “Alicia, you have got to accept that shit happens“. Shit happens?
I know shit happens. Have you read a newspaper lately? Across the world and in your very own community lives are being smashed to smithereens. I’d need both hands to count my major “SH” moments. Natural disasters, major accidents, violent encounters, broken hearts, I’ve seen my share. The agony of catastrophe, the inconvenience of tragedy. Things take forever, and them they come and go too quickly. Things get broken and need mending. People make mistakes and need forgiving. Shit is happening all the time everywhere. Sure, I could cope better with frustration, I could be gentler with myself, I could go with the flow, but I don’t. I don’t care for surprises. Good or bad, I’d prefer ample warning.
From that Sunday on the sofa, feeling blessed, happy and relaxed, and all that shit happens stress in between, came Friday afternoon. I arrive home for my lunch break around 1:30pm and see the light flashing on the answering machine. “Hello this is Immigration and Citizenship Canada, bring your pertinent papers and we’ll see you in Vancouver next Wednesday. I’m not going to give you my name or number so just be there or be square. So…Bye.” Uh…what? Next Wednesday? I looked at the packed calendar…this was not on the agenda. We have work. It’s so expensive, so close to Christmas. Such a long way to go on such short notice. We’ve waited forever for news, and now it’s on our door step and the timing is utterly inconvenient. Not to sound ungrateful; we want nothing more than to resolve this and move forward with our lives. But it’s a bit like the old librarian in “The Shawshank Redemption“, he had gotten used to imprisonment. He had a good thing going at the library, had a pet crow, good friends, he was used to the conditions. When faced with freedom it becomes his undoing.
I called Benjamin, who shared my reaction. It all seems so sudden. Not even a week’s notice to make plans. We speak briefly, and hang up to call our respective employers. I begin looking up flights, weather reports, all while being on hold with the immigration call center. I am trying to connect with an actual human on the phone, but an elaborate labyrinth of options always leads to something along the lines of: “We’re super duper busy right now, we urge you to check the website”. The lunch hour nearly over, and not a single moment spent actually lunching, I try the old trick–to just press zero, but that wily old recording, she’s just not having it. I bellowed…no, shrieked...no raged into the phone. “I JUST WANT TO SPEAK TO A REAL PERSON”.
I was desperate, angry, frustrated. How foolish were we to think we had any control in this matter. We did not dream of being called in December, we figured sometime between January and March…maybe in the spring at the latest. Not next week. When I finally got on the wait list, I was told there would be at least a thirty minute wait, which was time I did not have. Okay then…let’s drive to Vancouver in the middle of winter. Why not?
We’ve made lists and arrangements and are warming up to this new development. I’m nervous about the weather, Ben is nervous about the meeting. Of course, there’s nothing to fear, our marriage is legitimate and he has every right to be here. In an immigration office I once saw an beastly, overweight senior citizen with his young Asian bride. She wore a basketball jersey as a dress with striped knee socks and high heels. She complained endlessly about the long wait and he snapped impatiently at her. Certainly they had more to answer to than my husband and I…but you just never know. Benjamin has sorted through all the required documents, and already we are discussing what else to bring…just in case. You could bring every piece of paperwork you ever received, along with your marriage certificate, love letters and photographs and they’d be like “Everything looks great, if we could just get a receipt from the coffee you purchased this morning, that would be great”. And the color would drain from your face, blanching at the memory of telling the girl at Starbucks to go ahead and keep that golden ticket.
It’s as if we cant possibly imagine our lives without that hanging over our heads. From the moment we met, we have lived under a bureaucratic umbrella. Separation was a very real possibility if we didn’t cling to each other fiercely, and fill out the appropriate paperwork for three different countries. To think that by Christmas morning my husband would be a permanent resident, that we could think seriously about our future seems too good to be true. I can’t let myself imagine the possibilities it until I know the outcome. If you ask my husband he’d like to acquire a dog, truck and a baby. Those things sound perfectly lovely, but you know me…I’m also excited about being able to leave the country again. Maybe we’ll get to Paris after all. As long as we get there together.
Benjamin: husband, friend and bear…best of luck on Wednesday. All I want for Christmas is vous.
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