I said yes to a proposal of marriage and agreed to the move from the wonderfully warm, it never rains in California, to London, where gray (grey) and dreary are weather’s uniform ninety percent of the time. Love conquers all, right?
The days leading up to the big day I reminded myself of love’s magical healing powers, any problems encountered, I chanted, Love conquers all. I had endless lists to check off, extra workouts with the trainer, dress fittings, shoes to find, cakes to taste, meals to choose, and Champagne to sip. My marriage plans did not differ from any other new bride bar the need to obtain legal entry into the United Kingdom. My intended lived in London. Typical for me to date a guy five-thousand miles away.
My ideal wedding changed every day, and not by choice. Mom invited her hairdresser, “she thinks your story is romantic and wants to fix your hair on your wedding day,” she pleaded. I cringed, multiplied $24.50 times two—the cost of two dinners—and added another bottle of bubbly to the mounting number of cases, and chanted. The invitations had a spelling mistake and there wasn’t enough time reorder. Plan B. Weddings, I learned, go off without a hitch so long as the bride keeps an open mind, swaps, and compromises. Popping the cork on a bottle of France’s best nightly helped.
Our wedding went off without too much drama. The only notable faux pas occurred when the organist played the wrong wedding march song. I froze the moment the first chord echoed overhead. Dad nudged me onto the petal covered aisle, “Come on, Bren, everyone is waiting and watching.” And they were.
As it turned out, the biggest challenge I needed to overcome, aside from uninviting the strange people Mom insisted on inviting, was filling out paperwork and preparing for my first meeting the British Consulate. Our story didn’t read well.
“What is the length of your acquaintance with Mr. Granger?” the silver-haired woman dressed in a red, double-breasted jacket with gold buttons, with perfect Downton Abby diction, asked.
It’s funny what the mind remembers with absolute clarity.
“I didn’t hear you. Could you repeat your answer?”
“A year,” I asserted with a smidge of confidence and watched her pound the keyboard. My two-word answer didn’t need sixty seconds worth of typing.
“And how long have you dated?”
My stomach boarded the express elevator to the floor. We were in trouble.
“Did you want me to repeat the question?” she prodded.
I babbled for five minutes. Her raised palm silenced me.
“How lovely for the two of you, but can you confirm the approximate length of your dating history?”
“Three months.” She looked down at me from behind her glasses. I squirmed. What could I say to explain when even I didn’t understand. He asked, I had told her, and I accepted. We met at work. We hadn’t dated so much as shared dinner and drinks when he traveled to town on business. I explained we were both employed by Bank of America, but he worked in London and traveled to Los Angeles. Things happened. She stopped my prattle before I said too much.
She typed for dozens of seconds on what I will never know.
“You must fill out these forms,” she recited names and numbers. “And return in two weeks. After we will issue a temporary Visa for entry…”
She carried on for several minutes, but to this day I can’t remember a word. My brain stopped ticking at temporary. What did that mean? I wanted to know. She placed the new paperwork into the folder I had provided to her at the start of our discussion and handed it back.
“If you no more questions, we can schedule your next meeting.”
“What did you mean by temporary? Can I get into the country?” I asked, resisting the urge to cry.
“You can enter the UK legally with a temporary Visa. During the first year, we conduct several spontaneous interviews,” she smiled, but her eyes held no warmth. “At the end of the year, you and your husband will meet at the Consulate in London for a final assessment, assuming we find no abnormalities, we will grant a permanent Visa.”
“Spontaneous? Assessment? Abnormalities?” I wondered about the royal we.
“Nothing to worry about. November 15 at 2:30 pm, does that work?” she continued.
I nodded, pulled the folder she had nudged in my direction, and left. She dismissed me and moved on to the next person. I staggered to my car filled with dread.
The next meeting…