An earlier version of this story has appeared elsewhere. This is from 2009/10. I’ve reposted it for the five year anniversary of our emigration. It’s a long read, so grab a cuppa…
The Diversity Lottery, or Green Card Lottery, happens every year, despite the fact that most Americans we’ve met, and many Australians, have never heard of it. It’s one way that the US Department of State diversifies immigration into the USA from countries such as Australia, with its traditionally low emigration rates.
Not only does it happen every year, it happened to me. This is my story.
On the morning of Saturday 10th October, 2009, there were four adults, three children, too many empty wine bottles, and a mysterious envelope in our house. The envelope, postmarked from Kentucky, USA, was lying under large grocery list on a table near the front door. Cranky exchanges of “Did you leave this here? Why didn’t we see this? It could have been thrown out!” preceded the opening of the envelope, which contained a letter duly informing us that we could now proceed with our application for immigration to the USA.
To backtrack, when we first found out we’d been randomly selected in the 2010 Diversity (DV) Lottery for the US Green Card in late April 2009, we were elated, but of 100,000 selected only 50,000 to 55,000 make it through the process, so we were sober about our chances. Sober, but incredibly hopeful.
We swore to keep the information to ourselves, but it slipped out and certain people got wind of our news. We started drawing mind maps about how we’d dispose of unwanted possessions, what we’d store, what we’d take, where we’d live… US-related things bubbled away in the back of our minds. It was like planning an elopement.
Time passed, things happened in our lives. Friends had more and more children, our son grew like a weed, we worked in different jobs, played in our band, my husband Danny ran his record label: in short, we tried to balance all our passions and duties, like everyone else.
Family issues surfaced: my mother’s health got worse and her diagnosis more confusing. I saw her doctor and asked for more tests to be done.
We sent off the first round of paperwork in May 2009.
That same month, Danny’s dad had a mild stroke that knocked everyone for six – he’d barely been sick a day in his life.
Our Australian Rules Football team looked really good throughout the season, as winter consolidated.
I watched in impotent horror as my mother’s personality, vibrancy, everything she was drained away, like cold bathwater.
Then her diagnosis changed from the more stable and manageable, if generic “neurological condition” to a more accurate but less upbeat one of non-Alzheimer’s dementia – unstable, and inevitably deteriorating.
My father, who had had a double lung transplant in 2003, turned 70 in October with a massive celebration at Sydney’s iconic Opera House, organized by his new wife.
In the excitement and domestic confusion surrounding this birthday party, in a house full of guests staying for the party, the mysterious envelope from Kentucky, which nobody remembers taking out of the mailbox, had landed on the hall table in the midst of everyones hungover haze.
We had made it through the next hurdle, it was getting so very real.
And so was my guilt over leaving this country, as my mother was so diminished in her executive function.
From that week forward, we pursued the next round of administrative hurdles that the US DV Lottery insisted on us leaping. Several more reasons for guilt and fear and thousands for excitement, arose.
Danny and I fronted the GP to have our blood tested for various immunities, and have boosters for Tetanus, Whooping Cough, Diphtheria. While we were there, what the hell, let’s partake of the government-funded swine flu jab. We were immunological junkies, big-Pharma’s pincushions.
I then took our toddler to the GP to get a second dose of the Chicken Pox (Varicella) vaccine, to bring him in line with the US immunization schedule.
Reading the product information on the vaccine, our GP said he was not comfortable giving a second dose to our boy, not yet two, who just had a Varicella at his 18-month vaccinations.
This from a doctor who had previously seemed gung-ho, compared with my reservations about excessive immunization, gave me pause for thought. Was I now worse than gung-ho, putting my son’s health at risk, where only one dose of this vaccine is recommended for anyone under 13 years. They even spell immunization differently for goodness sake!
We came home from this second visit to the doctor, Lewis un-injected and me worrying – was this all going to be worth it?
The police checks (everywhere you’ve lived for more than 6 months since you were 16), the fingerprint checks that go with them (which we’ve tried to do three times but the local cop shop can’t fingerprint us while they’ve got prisoners in the downstairs hold, which seems to be all the time) … these bureaucratic dealings with ‘the system’ remind us how infrequently we have to deal with ‘the man’, how cushioned our day-to-day lives really are. Or had been up until now.
And now Danny is worrying over two events that occurred when he was 18, which is more than 26 years ago, that may appear on his record, even though his main recollection of these at the time was of the magistrate criticising the police for even bringing the matter before him.
I assure him this won’t be the deal breaker.
But we both wonder whether the time, effort and expense will all be in vain due to some random, insignificant failure on our part, due to the level and complexity of the administrative load.
And will some random hiccup show up in the medical examination we must have next week, which includes chest x-ray, urine test and blood sample – for just $319 per adult ($154 for the toddler).
But apart from the medical, and the police checks, there are the small matters of our house, car, our massive collection of books, records, the dismantling of Danny’s home studio, the record label we run from our house, the bands we are involved in, and letting people know. We are finally “out” with our news. It’s like announcing a pregnancy – there is no going back. We’re pretty much telling everyone as we see them, with the exception of my mother. But we have a schedule for this. A strategy.
Late October 2009 and the medical checks are done, the medical envelopes remaining sealed until our US consulate interview. To open the envelope is to void it. But we know the contents are all okay. The interview is scheduled for 24th November. Two days before American Thanksgiving, which at this stage has no meaning for us. Lewis ended up having to have not only another Chicken Pox shot, but Hepatitis A, as well. He’s not even two years old yet. The doctor and nurse gave him one in each leg, simultaneously. He was brave: the crying only lasted as long as the shock and pain.
We raced home that evening after the entire afternoon had been chasing around for X-ray, blood tests, forms to be signed, film to be collected, the separate medical centre where Lewis’s shots had to be sourced… we were to meet my mother and her dog, for their weekly visit and sleep-over.
I would be lying if I said it was not hard to see my mother, but it will be harder not to, to be relying on Skype and once or twice-yearly visits back here. She probably wont be able to travel to visit us.
Whenever we get a moment, we run through the paperwork we still need to get hold of – Danny needs a proper document of his divorce — the Catholic Church letter that allowed us to legally marry in Australia, apparently will not cut it for the Americans. Luckily, that’s just a trip into the city and $15 to secure.
We’re now waiting on the police check paperwork to be posted out. The Victorian one for Danny will reveal whether we’ll even have to mention or defend his two charges from 1982. Fingers are crossed.
The more we think about it, the more we believe it’s not going to be the thing that holds us back. The more we think about it, the more we realise this is really happening.
Yesterday, we started a month-by-month plan, working backwards from our nominal leaving date of the last week of May 2010. Working backwards, slotting in everything that needs to be done, it’s scarily soon. Selling the house, selling the car, off-loading all our possessions – it’s such a wonderfully liberating feeling at this stage. Daunting, but so is having all this stuff, being weighed down by possessions and a life of routines. I had a coffee with a close friend who was in the midst of moving to Melbourne, talking about these shared issues, and she commented: “my whole life is a container and a half”.
When we leave, our whole lives will be the (hopefully few) boxes we leave behind in storage, the three suitcases of clothes and essentials we plan take with us, and the potential of what is coming.
Looking at neighborhoods in our soon-to-be home, we’re kind of keen on the upper part of the Upper East Side, called Yorkville; an older, less-fashionable part of Manhattan with an eastern European pedigree and good access to Central Park, but not well-served by the subway system, hence it’s relative real-estate slumber, in Manhattan terms. A large-ish apartment with three bedrooms and parks and playgrounds near by could be the answer.
But visualising what your life on the other side of the planet in the busiest city on earth with a then-to-be two-and-a-half year old, with neither of us having lined up jobs in advance, at the tail end of a serious recession and with no family support and only the beginnings of a network, well, it’s a mental exercise that’s well beyond me.
I’m much better focusing on minutiae, such as making a list of what pots and pans we’ll buy when we get there, rather than how the whole jigsaw will fit together.
Lewis’s second birthday, just three weeks away, has become our deadline for telling family, formally – Danny’s parents are coming up from Melbourne, and the night before, we’ll explain it to my mother.
After that, it’ll be the main topic of conversation and there will be no going back to the normal ebb and flow of our lives in Sydney. That time will have passed.
In early November, we drafted a pitch letter to our beloved New York Magazine, to try to articulate our reality, to see if they were interested in our immigration story.
Before long, the day of the consulate interview was upon us.
Tuesday 24th November, 2009. We drove in to town to get to our 8am interview appointment early. Arrived at a York Street parking building (perhaps the name is an omen?) to be greeted by Vampyric stoner parking attendant, who hovered across the concrete floor to hand us a parking stub. He said he would park the car for us, which did not fill us with great confidence considering there were weight-bearing pillars in a grid formation at 70cm intervals across the entire parking space.
We wrestled the toddler into pram, made our way to the Martin Place consulate address. Were stopped at reception to attend the security check at the 10th floor before proceeding to the 59th floor for the interview. Arrived outside 10th floor door (still closed) at 7.30am as the second in line. The first was a young Australian woman who works on a cruise ship and needs a certain level of visa. Within minutes, a young fey chap, going for a Distinguished Talent visa (an actor) – as Danny commented “That’s a singular journey” — joined us, and both he and the girl were entertained by Lewis’s greetings and grape eating (until he spat out his chewed mouthful of grapes and both smiled and turned their attention elsewhere).
By the time the security office opened at 7.45am, the queue was at least a dozen strong.
Then of course, through the security, and there’s nothing we can take up to the interview room – not the bag I packed of treats, bribes and entertainments for Lewis. I managed to snaffle a snack, his water, and a couple of toys and a nappy (diaper) before everything was consigned to secured safety and Danny was given a laminated number. Then the lift, the bullet-proof glass reception for our passport check, and through the door to take a number and wait. We were 001 of the Immigrant Visa application queue.
As soon as we were called, we took our paperwork in the order it had retained (give or take) to door 5, then took the cash to the cashier … we paid in US cash which seemed to throw her, but really, there seemed no other option … then took our receipt back to the first window. Then it was the wait while they processed all the paperwork.
We spent the time keeping Lewis entertained, having a flash forward to the flight in six months time, and entertaining the cooped-up toddler on board a plane for all those hours on end. Outside, the misty rain enclosed the MLC building until we could barely see the outline of the harbour below. A flag blowing, a great view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge…
Finally, our names were called, our paperwork “appeared to be in order” we were told (hallelujah) and we would be called to the next window for fingerprinting. Oh and to tick an extra, supplementary question in the YES or NO box, answering “Are you a member or representative of a terrorist organization?” I thought we’d pretty much ascertained that with the rest of the questions in the substantial paperwork, but it appears from the US’s point of view, it doesn’t hurt to ask the question directly, one more time, and probably not for the last time. There are not enough times in your life that you can answer No to that question, it would seem.
In due season (yes, still spring), fingerprints for Danny & myself, then another (shorter) wait, and the final interview at door 7. This time we were called as “Jumpertz family to door 7”. A good omen. By this stage, Lewis has reached the end of his short tether and it was only the timely administration of a cabanossi stick that salvaged the last 10 minutes of the interview – otherwise he was a car alarm of such abundant decibels, we could not hear human voices.
All our paperwork was indeed in order, and we were successful. We received a “Congratulations” information sheet, and were able to ask the woman about the time frame that we would be looking at.
When she told us that it was possible to hold the processing of the application for another few weeks, even four weeks, we both had different reactions… I was thinking “More time would be good” and Danny was thinking “Let’s just stick to the plan we’ve had all along, this time frame is what we’ve been working towards”. Anyway, suffice to say we had a last minute diverging of reactions in the heat of the moment. A marital disconnect. It was not the embracing, kissing, joyful scene that you would see in a movie.
More like a ‘tense miscommunication barked by a stressed-out couple’ scenario, as the now two-year-old chewed his cabanossi loudly with much dribbling. Nothing like a stick of salted meat at a crucial crossroads in life. From there, down to reclaim our bags of distractions that were safe, useless and secure on the 10th floor, and out into the misty drizzle of Martin Place. Back to the car, and an outrageous $55 to the Vampyr and his clan (but we don’t want to make any enemies at this stage, not while we’re doing so well with our karma). Lewis had promptly curled up in a ball as soon as we left the consulate office and gone to sleep.
Must remember to buy some more of that cabanossi for the flight…