|Carrie and Claire at their September 2007 wedding|
Claire did beautifully in the interview and felt really good about her chances. Sadly, the position was offered to someone else. Claire was feeling defeated before this, she was gutted by not getting the job and felt completely alone with me on the other side of the world. She called to tell me about the job and broke down (not something my wife does). We had no idea when we would be together again, Christmas was close and we felt every mile of the distance between us. Claire asked me to consider traveling to the UK to be there for her. The decision was easy to make, but the many details to make it happen weren’t so easy.
We agreed that I would go for nearly 3 months to give me time to recover from the long trip (my health is not particularly good) and actually have real time together. I had less than 2 weeks to pull it off. Got my flight sorted quickly—that was the easy part. I had to contact my healthcare provider for 3 months worth of prescriptions, not so easy. I got my meds 2 days before my flight. I arranged for our daughter, Ariana, to stay at our apartment and look after our cats while I was away and had my sister poking her head in each week to be sure everything was going all right. My step-dad's health was rapidly diminishing; I was grateful I’d spent time with him the year before and we’d said our goodbyes.
It was a long trip. I was completely exhausted when I arrived at Heathrow. Security was tough. I was asked the reason for my trip and I told the officer I was there to see Claire. I was asked how much money I had with me and at my disposal and told I didn’t bring enough cash. The officer then asked what type of employment I had and wrote “unemployed” when I told her I was retired on disability. She then wanted to know where Claire worked. When I said Claire was actively pursuing getting work, I got a “look” and the officer informed me that she shouldn’t allow me to enter the country since we were both unemployed. I tried to explain that I have stable income and that I would not be looking for any public assistance. I was terrified that I was going on the next flight out without being able to even let Claire know. My passport was finally stamped and I was allowed into the UK, being reminded that I could only have a total of 6 months out of 12 (starting with the day I first enter the country) in the UK.
Finally, I was in the UK. I did not receive the wheelchair assistance I had requested and had to walk the length of Heathrow Airport on my own, no small task. I got my bags and found Claire frantically waiting. I was the last person through the gates, unassisted, 30 minutes after all the other passengers from my flight had gone through. We took the taxi trip home to a place I’d never been—even exhausted, I loved the snow-covered countryside and, especially, my wife by my side. My darling decorated for our first Christmas together. I spent the first week sleeping as best I could to overcome my jet-lag, but we were finally together, if only temporarily.
Claire continued to job-hunt and finally found a position. She was working by the end of January. We were elated that she landed a position with a company owned by an American firm—we don’t know if it will ever help in getting her over here as she’s been with them a short time and is learning the ropes, but the really good thing is that it is run more like an American company than a British one and so Claire has the opportunity to learn how differently things are done here without the culture-shock that she will have when she is able to finally come home to me and work here.
It proved to be good timing for me to be in the UK when I was. Our boiler quit putting out any hot water. We had heat, but no way to bathe other than in the sink. Claire was out of the house on training for 12-16 hours every day. I needed to be the housewife and deal with the workmen replacing the boiler and installing a shower. It was utter chaos for over 2 weeks. I walked to a beauty salon about a block from our house a few times to have my hair washed as I cannot bend over a sink. There would not have been any way for all the work to be done so “quickly” had I not been there, not with Claire’s only weekday off being Mondays.
While I was in the UK, my step-father passed away. It hurt not to be with my daughter, as he was her grandfather and she loved him dearly. I called family members regularly, but it’s not the same as being there. I felt homesick for our cats, for my sister, and, especially, my daughter. But, I was at home with my wife, and that was wonderful!
Because I am allowed 6 months out of 12 in the UK on a visa waiver, Claire and I decided that I would come to her for 3 months then be in California 3 months until she can come to me permanently. Prior to this trip, Claire had worked for a company that gave her wonderful holiday benefits and she was always able to come to me. Once her job was eliminated and she had to find other employment, she lost the benefits and we knew that we would have to wait a long time for her to be in a position to be able to come to me at all.
From the beginning, Claire’s concern for my health would not permit her to even entertain the thought of my making the long trip and staying in England’s changeable and bitter weather. With nothing changing regarding immigration laws, we did not even know when we would see each other again. I am grateful that we were forced to reconsider. It wasn’t easy, but I needed to be with my wife. I far better understand what it might be like to be among those living in exile—how painful!
I returned to California in March 2011. It broke our hearts as I got in the taxi and Claire went off to work the morning I left. I was thrilled to be with my daughter and kitties again, but it hurt so badly being away from Claire. The same week I returned, the engine blew out on my daughter’s car (which was still in my name) and I had so much to do to bring it back to town and get it salvaged—nothing about it was straight-forward. It took about 3 weeks to get it all worked out. In the meantime, I’ve not had time to recover from my uneventful (thankfully) return flight. I was exhausted and stressed and missing my wife and got a miserable sinus infection and ended up with a horrible bout of bronchitis—and I still had to figure out how to file my income taxes. In California, we are married. However, Claire is a “non-resident alien.” Under federal law (DOMA), we are strangers. Even though I worked in taxes for 20 years prior to my disability retirement, I was completely flummoxed as to how to file. I, finally, one week before they were due, contacted a preparer to help me. DOMA is costly and blatantly discriminatory. I pay my taxes, even when the laws don’t make sense and hurt me. We finally got my returns mailed by the deadline, but I was made even more keenly aware how “second-class” committed gay couples are treated, yet the government is able to take more in taxes from us than from married straight couples. We are funding our own discrimination!
I am returning to the UK for another 3 months starting in June. I need to be there to celebrate Claire’s 50th birthday and to meet my in-laws for the very first time, although we’ve been talking on the telephone over the past 5 years. During my December 2010 to March 2011 stay, I ventured out no more than 6 times. The weather and my health kept me housebound.
Until the laws of our land accept us with equal treatment, this is our life. 3 months in California, 3 months in the UK. It’s hard. It’s challenging. But it’s more than we’ve ever had before.