FRESH YARN presents:
Do. I Do.
\My friends refer to me as Montreal's very own Elizabeth Taylor. But for the purpose of this story, you can call me Alien Number 7005634. I think marriage is a mirage. But I still partook in the husband and wife design. To be precise, it's more like I pimped and spat on its supposed sanctity. I was after a piece of the American Dream and for a wallet-sized green card, hell, I was willing to tie and untie the knot twice.
Each time, not only did I not walk down the aisle and collect my honeymoon in Hawaii, I risked going straight to jail. Quite a cheap deal, considering it only took a few fibs to the feds and a couple of broken hearts. Yet if you ask me whether I harbor any regrets, I'll gently lift my veil and whisper, "I do." Because deep, deep inside I too wanted to reach happily ever after. Not end up stripped and jaded, believing that our natural tendency is to form a temporary pair bond, only to separate and go in search of a new brief, tenuous attachment -- over and over.
I met Husband
One at age 22, during a visit from Montreal to Los Angeles. I believed
that I'd stumbled upon a Mickey-and-Mallory, Natural Born Killers
kind of love. Us against the Universe -- a bond so fatalistic, we planned
on building our very own wooden caskets. We clicked instantly. Manic,
depressive with a hippie streak and an IQ of 135 -- I fell in love with
his wicked genius. He read Scientific America, grew mushrooms in his parents'
attic and worked at a hospital on the weekends. Moles, spores, molecular
One year and a journalism degree later, I sold my stuff, packed my old way of life and headed west to be with him. It was California or bust, baby. But once in the U.S, I became an un-authorized "alien," banned from benefits. I couldn't get a social security number, a driver's license, a credit card, an apartment. Let alone a career.
I tried landing a job. Journalists, however, aren't part of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), a program that facilitates cross-border movement for certain Canadian citizens. Meanwhile, media outlets wouldn't hire me without proper work documents and I couldn't get the proper visa without a company sponsoring me. I was stuck in Catch-22.
So I proposed we get hitched -- on paper. We were planning on being together for lifetimes; why not help me jump-start my livelihood in Los Angeles? There was resistance. And then I reminded him that I'd left everything I knew for him.
Unlike other brides, I didn't have to agonize over the look of invitation cards, or make trips to Crate and Barrel to create a gift registry. And I definitely had no time to read articles, such as "Choosing the Right Lingerie for your Dress" or "How to Plan a Bad-Ass Bachelorette Road Trip." Instead of church, my shotgun ceremony unfolded in a dismal industrialized city called Norwalk, CA at the L.A County Clerk's Office where a million marriage licenses are doled out every year. Oh yeah, but first we stopped off at Wendy's for lunch.
When it was our turn, we were escorted into a florescent-lit courtroom turned makeshift chapel. The altar was made out of Formica; a tawdry paper bell dangled over our heads. Pitiful isn't even the word. And yet, I still managed to tear as the Justice of the Peace recited the vows: "Do you Husband One-To-Be take Alien Number 7005634 to be your lawfully wedded wife? To love and to care for as long as you both shall live?"
are you doing," my husband-to-be snipped in my ear. "Are you
crying? This isn't real! Remember?"
What are you doing? I asked myself that very same question by year four. Communication had deteriorated; our relationship had rotted into his stolid attitude and my nagging voice, begging him to ease up on the incessant bong hits. He resented my focused ambition. I hated his emotional vacancy; the pothead he'd become. We barely saw one another anymore now that I had my own place. His parents forbid him to live with me since we hadn't gotten married "in front of the eyes of God."
Despite my misery, I stuck around. Didn't the fable go something like, "for better or worse, till death do us part?" I suggested we consult a therapist, but he refused. I even purchased Give in or Give up -- A Step-by-Step Marriage Improvement Manual from a used bookstore for $2.75.
I gave up. I gave up on the marriage, and I wasn't even thinking about my Green Card. If that were the case, I would have waited till it was nestled between my new credit cards before getting involved with Husband-Two-To-Be.
I met him when I was an extra on an Enrique Iglesias music video, on some back lot at Universal Studios. I'd recently quit a job producing the online news for MSNBC (after nearly two years, I could no longer write about transients hurling wheelchairs out of sixth-story buildings, newborns in dumpsters or Sally Kirkland's leaky breasts). I opted for the life of a starving freelancer and convinced myself I was doing research on my next piece -- the glitz in being a Hollywood "Background Talent." In reality, I just wanted to get out of the house and meet people. I was tired of sobbing so violently that strands of mucus swayed precariously off my nose.
Husband Two-To-Be was a grip. He was a German/Costa Rican mix; tall, and chiseled with turtle-green eyes. Later, during our relationship, I would sometimes stare at his hands, which were too small for his body, and think of a T-Rex.
He slipped his number into my pocket. Normally, I would have tossed the digits away. But I welcomed the distraction, and stashed the note in a kitchen drawer underneath the knives.
He remarked on my butterfly spirit, an aspect of myself I'd forgotten existed. By date three, I was having a cup of Chamomile on his couch in Glendale. He traced my face with his fingers and gently played with my hair.
"You're so beautiful. You deserve to be happy." God, in retrospect, I could gag at my naivety. But I felt alive. I couldn't remember the last time Husband One paid any attention to me. He leaned in. And within that splinter of a second I knew I was to become an adulteress. Just like my mother.
My father divulged the news on a bleak September afternoon as we took a walk around the block. I was 11. He'd apparently unearthed some love letters from her to him -- The Other Man. To cement his suspicions, Dad had hired a Private Eye. I envisioned images of a trench-coated man, snapping pictures of my mother. Francois, her lover, had been her driving instructor. So technically, my father's the one who fixed them up.
"You're a vegetable. Useless. When are you going to get over your fear of driving and be like all other women," my father had told my mom. He paid for her lessons and still to this day, my mother's too afraid to drive. Who knew, I would find myself in my own rendition of an extramarital affair to understand hers.
The following dawn, when I returned home as a hussy, I rushed to the bathroom mirror.
"You know you can't pretend," my higher-self whispered.
I found myself playing out that cliché shower scene. You know, the one where the protagonist frantically scrubs her skin as though she can get rid of her sin along with dead skin. You may be squeaky clean, but inside you're still oh-so dirty.
I wanted to plead guilty. It was just a matter of mustering up the balls to do it. But Husband One -- like my dad -- stumbled upon the truth. He found my journal. A week later, he filed for divorce. A month after that, I received the date for my Green Card interview. But sans husband, I was screwed. Soon the INS would place me under "removal proceedings," and I would be forced to leave the life I'd forged in El Lay. To distract myself from my ill fate, I pedaled into yet another full-blown relationship.
"It's too soon. You're just escaping into this guy, instead of dealing with your shit," my higher self hissed at me one morning as I busted a pimple. "You're too afraid to be alone -- to feel the emptiness and disappointment. This is wrong. This Is Wrong."
I didn't listen. Instead, I poured chloroform in a tissue and forced it over her face. And then, I asked him to move in. He made me feel sexy; he called me Babydoll; he always put the seat down. And, he asked for my hand.
"No matter what happens, this marriage is strictly business -- to help you stay in the country," he swore. He wasn't Husband One. He wasn't going to cheat me out of life in America if things didn't work out. Or so I thought.
The notion of getting re-married revolted me. One-shot white dresses; vows with limited warranties; diamonds instead of forever. Marriage was a money-sucking scheme; an ancient institution, curdling like sour milk under the modern age. But a marriage certificate was the slickest and fastest road to secure my legal status as a U.S. resident.
Just one glitch -- I didn't love the groom. But it wasn't time for me to admit that to myself. Much easier to believe that I could catch up to his feelings -- like love was some sort of relay race.
"Going to the chapel and I'm gon-na get a Green Gard," I sang softly to myself as we whizzed across the Nevada desert.
The nuptials had to be even cheesier than the first. Naturally, I opted for Vegas. Viva Las Vegas. At only $40 a pop, the Little White Chapel's legendary drive-thru wedding was ideal.
As our rented
Subaru pulled up to the takeout-style window, I imagined shouting, "I'll
have a small fries, a coke, and a McMarriage, please." How had I
become the kind of gal who didn't even have the decency to stand up on
her own wedding day?
With the INS being so disorganized and backlogged, it would be yet another year before I was appointed Green Card Interview -- Take Two. By then Husband Two was long gone. We broke up shortly after watching Addicted to Love, with Meg Ryan. Everything gelled during the scene where French Guy tells Mathew Broderick's character, "You can't choose who you love."
had I been? Of course -- you can't choose who you love!! Love isn't rational.
It's not about what the other person does for you. It's about how you
feel about them.
Husband Two had served as a custom-made cocoon, which I'd used to transform into the electric blue Morpho butterfly I'd always imagined myself to be. But if I wanted to flutter around in the States, I needed a spouse. I didn't even know where he lived anymore. All I had was a P.O. Box number. By most people's definition -- ours was now officially a "sham wedding."
look into about 2,000 marriages a year. Officials cannot state how many
are fake, but fraud can bring up to five years in prison, a $250,000 fine,
or both. Deportation is always involved and you spend the rest of your
life referring to America as Never Never Land. My case was especially
dubious because I'd already been married before.
So I tracked Husband Number Two down. We met at a Chinese restaurant in West Hollywood. As suspected, he wanted nothing more to do with me. I'd broken his heart; deflated his dreams. I was to him what Husband One had been to me.
"We're going to have to be intimate if you want me to pull this off. I have to connect with those feelings or else they'll sense how cold I am toward you," he said nonchalantly as he smooshed a grain of rice with his index finger.
I gagged on my Peking dumpling.
me get this straight. You are asking me to prostitute myself? What kind
of human being do you want to be?" I blurted. "I had no idea
you could stoop this low. You made a promise. This is about being a man
of your word. You know Husband Two, I'll go back to Canada if I have to.
Enjoy your Mu Shu."
A week before
Showtime he somehow changed his mind. But now we had to win the INS's
demented version of the Newlywed Game. There was no telling what
they would ask, all in hopes of determining whether we had a "shared
life." Fortunately, I had spent the entire relationship collecting
documents: joint bank accounts and tax returns; a rental agreement with
both our names on it. And since Husband Two was a photographer, I had
tons of snaps. The only thing we'd forgotten were rings, which we picked
up at Venice Beach for $15 each.
"Raise your right hand. Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?" the officer declared.
"I do," I lied.
"Have you been married before?"
"What do you do Husband Two?"
"I am a photographer," he replied.
"And do you reside together seven days a week?"
"Yes," he whispered.
"Okay. Where were you born Miss?"
"I see here that you're of Egyptian descent. Are you a member of any terrorist associations?"
The interview had unfolded post 9/11. Who knew that the tragedy would take the heat off my first marriage and actually help me? But what kind of question was this? Yeah officer, and if you fuck with me and don't give me my Green Card you're gong to have to say hello to my turban-wearing friends.
"No sir. I've never been to Egypt. I am not even Muslim," I quietly replied.
"Okay. You get me a certified copy of your marriage certificate and I will stamp your passport."
"Um, do you wanna see any pictures?"
"No, it's okay. I believe you. Just bring me that certified copy."
I wish it
could be more dramatic for the purposes of my story, but the interview
was over in seven minutes.
Today, I own a certificate of permanent residency that allows me the luxury of roaming wildly across the land of the free. But to gain freedom, I had to lose my faith in lasting love. As far as being a two-time divorcee at 31 -- I don't care. I've never really been married. A bible oath, or a State's permission, is not what forges matrimony. Marriage is a sacred union between two souls; it's a vow that has to be continually renewed and respected. So when I do get another go, I intend to rise in love rather than hopelessly fall in. Who knows, perhaps the third time is a charm.
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