Wednesday, March 25, 2009

I do/will: Part 1

Part 1 (of 3): Deportation

Right from the beginning
I knew Dominic could potentially leave. He was consistently being offered jobs in countries all over the world. This was great…for him. I kept things as light and breezy as I could, but we fell in love hard and fast. Before I knew it we were both moving to London.


About eight months into the relationship an interesting job offer crossed his path. The job was in London, and he said wouldn’t pursue it unless I was keen to move. He explained the opportunity, and I agreed that it had great prospects. I wasn’t exactly tied to anything in San Francisco, I love to travel, and I love him. Why not move to London for a bit? I figured I would have time to let the idea settle anyway.

A month later he got the job and we were booking flights.

The truth is that I just wanted to be with him. It’s mushy and pathetic, I know. But if I didn’t go I would have always wondered what-if. So I packed up my beloved apartment in the Mission and shipped my worldly possessions with Dominic’s to London. It was both heartbreaking and thrilling.

Dominic and I got to San Francisco International Airport with two first-class, one-way tickets on Virgin in our hands. I was looking forward to the complimentary champagne, but he was eager land to safely to retrieve his two cats and dog that were flying with us to London.

Coupled with the fact that that Dominic hates flying, nervous was an understatement. All things considered, we had a fantastic flight. I’ve decided first-class is the only way to fly–three-course meals, non-stop beverage service, and spacious seats facing each other. As we reclined our seats turned into beds and the nice airline lady came by with the occasional Evian spritzer. Ok, there was no Evian spritzer, but you get the idea.

About 20 minutes before landing, we discussed our plan to meet once we passed through our respective passport gates. We suddenly remembered an email from his company’s Human Resources department suggesting that we say we are traveling independently so it wouldn’t seem like I, a college graduate and young professional, am trying to illegally stay in the UK with my British boyfriend. As if! I knew that I was allowed to be in the country as a visitor for six months without any hassles. We would figure out longer term plans once we were there for a few months.

Between the two of us we had been to over 20 different countries, so the last thing we thought to do was concoct a story for my entry to the European country most visited by Americans. We foolishly followed the HR lady’s advice to lie, which was stupid even without retrospect.

First off, I am the worst liar.

Secondly, I know that lying isn’t usually the best strategy–particularly when you haven’t done anything wrong, and especially when it involves government officials.

I collect my three oversized suitcases from the baggage claim. There is not a single person in line at the international passport checkpoint. Was I the only non-British citizen on that plane? I sail right up to passport checkstand, and:

Are you here on business or pleasure?

Pleasure? [Trying to maintain eye contact]

Right. How long are you staying?

A few months? [Face starts heating up]

Hmmm….ok. Are you traveling alone?

Umm…yes? [Sweating]

Do you have a return ticket?

Return ticket? [Heart palpitations]

See what I mean? Worst liar ever.

I knew I was in trouble, but I’m not sure what for at that point. The guard directs me to that row of seats by the string passport counters–you know, where the shady people sit and you wonder if they’ve been stopped for carrying a bomb? For 45 minutes I watch normal people breezing into England without breaking a sweat.

Meanwhile, Dominic has been anxiously waiting for me at the other end. Neither of us had a mobile phone yet so there was no way of communicating. I kept telling myself everything would be fine. Nearly an hour had gone by since we parted ways. Dominic lost patience, and raced down the hallway to the passport control area when he realized I had been stopped. Our worried eyes met. My passport guard recognizes the eye contact between us. He starts asking Dominic questions. The story now becomes even more tangled because Dominic admits we are travelling together, and now we are fundamentally screwed.

I am taken away to the official search area where my bags are thoroughly, and I mean thoroughly searched. Every scrap of paper, every toiletry, and every bra is questioned. My personal and business documents are scrutinized. Even my vitamins undergo a drug scan. It was eerily invasive.

I’m taken into a small, clinical room with fluorescent lights and metal chairs. I’m jet-lagged, cold, hungry, and feel like a criminal. I don’t have any of my stuff because I am a bad person who isn’t allowed any possessions Even more unsettling was that I had no way of getting in touch with Dominic.

Two hours go by and I have no idea what is going on. I literally just sit in the icy, metal fold-up chair thinking about how much I hate fluorescent lighting and staring at the other suspects. They smelled weird, didn’t speak English, and looked guilty of more than taking bad advice from HR. Maybe they thought the same of me.

A new officer has been assigned to my case. I guess the other one was taking a long lunch or something. We go into one of the rooms where I’ve been watching lawyers and their terrorist clients coming and going for the last two hours. I will have to undergo a lengthy official questioning session.

The interrogation takes about an hour. He writes down every word I say.

At the end of the questioning, he says needs to review this with his superior. He informs me of the two possible outcomes: 1. I am granted entry to the UK as a tourist for six months, or, 2. I will have to go back to the US. He ushered me out of the room back to my cold metal chair with tears in my eyes.

What did he mean go back? I’ve moved out of my apartment, my stuff is on some vessel in the middle of the Atlantic as we speak, and my boyfriend is here. Going back in not part of the plan.

It’s not like I had capsules of drugs shoved up my you-know-what for godssake! I told a little fib under pressure, and it’s gotten sorely out of hand. Surely this will all be cleared up, and I can be on my merry way.

Two more hours go by. I felt gaunt and pale. I thought, on the upside maybe I’ve lost a couple pounds on the Deportation Diet. I had been crying for hours and trying to distract myself with a Spanish version of Lonely Planet, London from like 1996 that I found laying on one of the chairs.

As if sitting under fluorescent lighting for five hours wasn’t punishment enough, the officer returned with the verdict: I was going back to the good ole U S of A. Further more, I would not be able to return without an official visa.

Reason: Because I lied.

However, they don’t think I will flee the country or pose any real threat, so they are giving me five days in the UK to sort stuff out.

My heart sank through my body. I felt like a thousand bees had stung me. I asked if he was serious. And he was. Quite. I didn’t say anything at all. I just kinda stared thinking how messed up this was.

An hour and a half passes, and all I’ve done is stare at the small rectangular window in the door waiting to see Dominic’s face. I am shivering with fatigue and emotion. It doesn’t feel real. I truly think that any moment now a mist of Evian will wake me up from this nightmare.

Sadly no Evian appears, but I am finally released from the room and accompanied by my prosecuting passport person through the dim airport to meet Dominic in the pick up area.

I called my Mom the first chance I got and told her the story. My poor Mother’s head was probably flooded with scenes from Brokedown Palace. Oh, what we put our parents through.

The next five days were melancholy and jet-lagged, but we were grateful for every minute together. We held on to each other tightly every waking and sleeping moment; we didn’t want to part. We talked to lawyers in the UK and in US trying to figure a way out of this idiotic mess. In the end, there was no way out. I had to go back, and we would have to sort it out from there.

What the hell was I going to do, and what did this all mean?

Hold on a second…did I just get deported?


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