Saturday, May 8, 2010

Happy Anniversary, Eh?

On April 29, 2010, Sarah and I celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary. On that same day ten years before, we were married in a ceremony that was part of the Millennium March in Washington, D.C. We exchanged vows and rings on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Our friends Todd and Chris were there, as were a few hundred others. Even though this wedding had no legal standing anywhere in the world, it was a marriage to us.

Ten years is a long time, and when I think back through those ten years, I realize what an achievement it has been for us. The time seems to have flown by so quickly, but that may have a lot to do with the segmentation of our lives as we went from visa to visa. For our first nine years living together, we could only plan as far ahead as the expiration date of the current visa. Some visas were for 18 months. Some were for three years. Some were renewable, others weren't. Not being able to plan ahead for more than three years ever at one time meant we were in a constant temporary state. We had an excuse not to buy new furniture--we might have to move to England. We had an excuse not to go back to school--that schooling might be interrupted and we might not be able to complete it. Sarah had an excuse not to look for a new and better job--she couldn't as her visa was tied to her job. I had an excuse not to look for a new job--why do that when we might have to move out of the country? There are so many things we really wanted to do but didn't because we were aware of the imminent threat of having to move out of the US. If Sarah was fired from her job, quit her job, or if her visa expired, she would have ten days to leave the US.

Now that we are in Canada, I still don't think I'm used to being able to plan far into the future. I spent so long in visa purgatory that sometimes the reality of my current situation seems just a nice dream.

When we were living visa to visa, the amount of stress on each of us was, at times, unbearable, and the rest of the time, crushing. When Sarah would apply for a visa and we would wait and wait and wait for word on it, there was this horrible feeling in our stomachs when we wondered what would happen if the visa was denied? One time, her visa application was denied (due to shoddy legal work)--I can't even begin to explain the heartache we both felt when we were informed of the denial. We had no idea what we would do, where we would go, how we would stay together, and we had no money--at the time of the denial, Sarah had been working at her US company without pay because she didn't have a visa and it would have been illegal for her company to pay her. But how else was she supposed to keep her job with the company? If she didn't do the work, they would have hired someone else. And any money we did have from my income went to paying for what turned out to be inept legal services. We had absolutely nothing but each other and our dog, and we didn't even know how the three of us could stay together. We both cried and cried for days.

Eventually after nine months back in England and a new application, she did get a three-year visa, but this only prolonged the misery of living visa to visa, and really only postponed the inevitable--a move out of the US.

It seems that whole periods of my life were consumed with stress about visas. I wonder how many of the rough times in our relationship were due at least partly to this constant stress. When the final application for a visa was abandoned, as much as I was dreading the work involved in moving and the unknowns of living in Canada, I felt a certain sense of relief that I was soon going to be living a life of permanence; we would be able to plan for our future in more than three-year increments.

Our relationship has survived so many obstacles--the stigma of being a same-sex couple, the financial hardships, Sarah's homesickness, lack of legal protections available to us as a couple, and in the end, the move to Canada. In our ten years of marriage, I think we've endured more strain than most couples endure in twenty years, and likely more strain than most relationships could handle.

The day after our anniversary, I was on the phone with my mother who is back in Michigan. I explained that we had just celebrated our ten year. Her response was, "Oh, I didn't realize. You will have to remind me again of your anniversary date. I never remember." I do tell her at least every year and any time she asks.

That night, we headed to a soccer teammate's house for an end-of-season barbeque. Our teammates and their husbands and kids were there. We were all having a wonderful time. Suddenly, the hostess brought out a large sheet cake. I got a bit choked up when I saw the writing on it--"Happy Ten Year Anniversary Mary and Sarah." I certainly didn't expect that. I thought about how something like this would have never happened in West Michigan, and therefore was able to identify two clear examples of just how our lives had changed for the better. Not only did we have a whole group of (straight) people recognizing our anniversary with no one experiencing any apparent discomfort, but a bakery in the area had actually agreed to write such a message on a cake!

1 comment:

MSEH said...

Happy Anniversary!

Guess what? We were there, too!

And, great about your soccer team!