It's the anniversary of the day I turned up in America. It's also the anniversary of the first two airplane flights of my life, not an experience I want to repeat in a hurry. I never expected to be here this long, but there it is.
Here's the story in brief: I'd met an American lass on the internet, in the Generation X Yahoo chatroom to be exact and on July 4th to be ironic. We got close very quickly and four months afterwards, to the very day, I met my "cyber" girlfriend at Gatwick Airport, London. We'd already decided that I was to return to America with her two weeks later, though in my insecurity I feared she'd hate the sight of me and leave on her own. Nope. Far from it in fact, we got on so well I proposed to her on her second day in the UK. She accepted without a thought and we than planned for me to stay for as long as I was able in the States and bring Jennifer back home with me for a wedding in picturesque rural England. How wrong did that plan go...
So come the 19th we prepared to fly out of England, to stay in America for the full 90 days my visa waiver card (I-94 I believe it's called) allowed me to. I hate flying by the way, I was scared of it before, but after that day I knew the full horror of jet powered flight. 9 hours, a mile up in the sky, trying to doze but having nightmares each time I dropped off, falling nightmares of me falling through the hull of the 'plane to meet the Atlantic below.
Finally we came to Atlanta International Airport where I was treated to a lovely welcome by the much maligned Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) who kept me hanging around for a nice long chatter about the length of time I intended to stay in the country. I was eventually stamped in but with the warning that, "If you stay here one minute longer than my stamp allows for, we know where you are and we WILL come and get you." (And a big happy finger to you, lady. Come get me; hehe, course, I have a Green Card now, so you'll be leaving empty handed).
I really never intended to stay though. But I digress.
The second flight took us from Atlanta to Oklahoma city, and this was a bit more fun for me; well, I'd not had a cigarette since Gatwick so it was about as good as can be expected. But I managed to force myself to look out of the window as the clouds cleared, and I proceeded to watch in awe as we passed over Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas and finally Oklahoma. I'm glad I could do that, it's probably going to be one of the last things I remember as my mind crumbles in old age.
We landed in OKC, stood around waiting for our luggage and were met meanwhile by Jenn's Father in his enormous (by my European standards) Chevrolet truck, a self proclaimed hillbilly redneck (computer programmer) that I'd been terrified of meeting since I'd proposed to Jenn. (Hi, I'm the internet boyfriend, oh, FYI, me an' Jenn are getting married in England and staying there, hope you don't mind!) There was nothing to worry about, he must be one of the most relaxed dudes on Earth, though we left it till Christmas to let him know what was happening. I dashed out for a cigarette.
The 90 days ticked away, I got more and more stressed about the situation re. us moving to England. My homeland is dirty, expensive and lacks a lot that America has in abundance: Space, and lots of it. Ok, I was infatuated with the States, it's really not so great in comparison with Europe, but at that time it seemed Utopian to me. Kids on the whole are respectful here, proud to be what and where they are and I'd prefer that Jenn and I bring up our children in an atmosphere where teaching concepts like these aren't tantamount to abuse, as they are in silly libertarian Britain. So we discussed and discussed and eventually decided for these and other reasons to settle in the US for the time being. Which just left us the problem of my immigration.
We researched a lot and found that I could leave the country and return to England, then apply to the Dept. of Justice for a fiancé visa from there, return to Oklahoma after a possible six month wait and marry Jennifer, then apply for permanent resident status. About three weeks before I was due to leave we went to the local INS office and asked for the relevant papers and forms. Imagine our surprise when the officer at the desk suggested "Why don't y'all just get married here, then apply for the Green Card? As long as you get your applications in before your leaving date and after your wedding, you'll be allowed to stay till your application for residency has been processed." This is not what I'd been led to expect from the INS. They were in fact, HELPFUL.
We got married two weeks later. At the Oklahoma County Courthouse. Credit must go out to our families for their tolerance of our craziness, especially mine who flew out from the UK at this incredibly short notice. Actually it was a lovely wedding, we went the whole hog, or as much of the hog as we could manage in the time. We wore traditional wedding garb, Jenn looked fantastic in her dress, wandering down the clinical corridors, trying to find the chapel. We ended up going the wrong way, with the entire family in tow, towards the cell blocks and were treated to a parade of felons in striking orange, all chained together and with surprised expressions on their faces to see all of us coming the other way in all our wedding finery. But that's another story.
So, after hiring, firing then hiring again an immigration attorney (not recommended unless you're in actual trouble with the INS, we just did it out of insecurity) and a tough few months of stressing, we had our interview. If you are in a similar situation and are nervous about it, I'd just like to say don't be. An attorney will blow the situation up out of all proportion to freak you into retaining him/her, but it's a piece of cake, seriously. We got asked a few questions, were not separated, showed the guy a few photos and my passport got stamped, for the second time in my life, with temporary evidence of my legal status of permanent resident.
So I'm still here. We both are, happily. I'm a little disillusioned with the USA, it's not really any better than Britain give or take a few things, but the weather's nicer and Oklahoma isn't everything the States have to offer. So we'll stay for a few years, at least until I can apply for my citizenship, then perhaps move back to Europe, or maybe we'll just move to a state that's a little less repressed. But for now, here I still am, one whole surprising year since I last saw my old home.