Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Green Card

The final project of Creative Writing Course at DePaul University (SNL) was creating a story by selecting one of the three approaches:
A Work of "Pure" Fiction
A Work of Autobiographical Fiction
A Fiction Based on Oral History
Mary Curtis selected choice # 2. Her story is written with a specif humor and certain sensitivity.

Autobiography: The Green Card

By Mary Curtis

“What brought you from a beautiful country like Ireland to live in America?” my date, John asked “Why did you come here?” “Oh, I was very drunk at the time!” I replied. “That’s hilarious” he said “Seriously though; what brought you all the way over here?” Here we go again, I thought. Why is it nobody believes me when I answer that question honestly?

At the age of 34, I was depressed, drinking heavily, single and feeling pretty hopeless about my life. My mother, rest her soul, was so concerned about me and was always looking for a way to help me “have a life” as she would say. I remember the day the phone rang in my office; it was January 15, 1994. “Maura, is that you?” “Yes mammy, it’s me” I replied. “Maura I’ve got great news” she said. I’ve just been sitting here watching the tele (Irish word for television) and they’ve just made an announcement that the American Government is holding a lottery competition for green cards. You might win, you might get to go to America, you can start a new life, you have to apply for this love, you just have to, please tell me you’re going to apply…” “Slow down mammy will you; I’m beginning to think you want to get rid of me.” “Oh no love, not at all, I’d hate to see you go, but I just want you to have a chance at life.”

I remember thinking what does she mean “have a chance at life” don’t I have a life right now? That was the first day it really hit me. No, I didn’t have a life. What I had was a love affair with a bottle; a relationship filled with pain and despair, an existence…not a life. The abusive childhood experiences had left me feeling worthless; defective and even worse, unlovable. In an effort to comfort my broken spirit, I turned to the bottle at a very young age. It numbed the pain for a while, but then it stopped working. The more it stopped working, the more I drank. The more I drank, the more depressed I became. There was no solace to be found in the vicious cycle of my life. After a string of unsuccessful relationships, I was alone and empty, with the hopelessness growing deeper by the day. Some days, I didn’t even get up out of bed. Maybe mammy’s right, I thought. What I have here is not a life; maybe I should apply. No, there’s no point, I’ve never won anything in my life; but it’s an opportunity to get out of here, maybe I should? Maybe there is hope somewhere for me…

Well; I applied. I put my name into their big computer data base of thousands upon thousands of names and, guess what? Yes, you got it. It happened like this on February 28, 1994: “Maura, is that you?” “Yes mammy, it’s me.” “The postman’s just delivered a letter from the American Embassy, this could be it, should I open it, oh my God, what if you’ve been chosen, Sweet Jesus, what if they’ve picked your name…” “Slow down mammy will you, just open it and tell me what it says.” “Jesus, Mary and Holy Saint Joseph” she screamed “You got it love, they picked your name, you have to go to the embassy on March 20.” “Mammy, will you slowdown?” “I’m shaking so much I can’t even read love.” Okay mammy, I’ll be home soon, I’ll read it then. And so my Green Card process had begun.

Just because your name was pulled out of the computer didn’t guarantee you a visa. I had to bring a list of things to the American Embassy and go through an interview. The two most important things I had to obtain and bring to the Embassy were a) a letter from the Gardai (Irish Police) stating that I had never been arrested or convicted and b) a notarized letter from an American Employer stating that I had a job in the United States and how much I would be getting paid for that job. So, off I go in search of these two important items. The first stop was the local Garda station to get a letter of reference. Of course, there were forms to fill out and details to be revealed and the good looking Garda behind the counter assured me I would have the required letter within 10 days. I wasn’t concerned about getting a letter from an American employer. My aunt was a very successful business executive in Chicago and I was sure she would help me out with this. Wrong! I left her message after message asking for her help with this. All I needed was a notarized letter from someone, anyone, stating I had a job to go to; babysitting, cleaning, anything. It didn’t matter what the job was I just needed a letter saying that I had a job waiting for me. “What is wrong with your sister?” I yelled at my mammy. “Doesn’t she realize how important this is to me?” ‘She doesn’t trust you love” mammy replied “You’ve been drinking for years, she’s afraid you’ll ruin her reputation. I’m still working on her though.”

And so, I continued with my drinking, every day getting further and further depressed. Fourteen days later, still no sign of the letter from the Gardai. I called them and they insisted they had already sent it and it must have gotten lost in the mail. Fuck it, I thought as I was downing some vodka shots, this is just not meant to be. It’s a sign I’m not meant to go to America. No letter from the Gardai, no letter from my aunt, I’m just not meant to go. I am a defective piece of crap and there is no place for me on this earth. The more vodka I drank the more distant a memory the thought of going to America became. Then, one night sitting in my sister’s house I got the call. “Maura, is that you? Yes mammy, this is me.” “You’re not going to believe it, there’s a letter here from the Gardai, this is it, I’m sure of it. They must have re-sent the letter to you. This is it.” “Will you slow down mammy, for Jesus’ sake? You’re driving me crazy, it’s not meant to be, remember? It’s too late now.” “No you still have time; your original interview date is tomorrow. This is a sign, getting this letter today, this is the real sign, you’re meant to go. I know it, I feel it.” “But mammy I don’t have a notarized letter of employment, I don’t have the $240 processing fee, there’s no point in going to the Embassy tomorrow.” “Now you listen to your mammy; you get home here, get sober and get your arse to that interview in the morning. You lie to them; you say whatever it takes to get more time from them to get your shit together. Do you hear me; you listen to your mammy now.” So I kept my appointment, I lied and told them I was out of town and didn’t have time to get my money changed or the letter from an American Employer. They gave me a one week extension. But where was I going to get a notarized letter of employment? And then I got the call: “Maura, is that you?” “Yes, Mammy, this is me. I’ve great news, I just spoke to your Aunty Eva and I convinced her to get a letter to you.” “How did you do that?” “Never you mind, let’s just say I’m her sister, I know things and blackmail is a wonderful thing.” She’s going to send it priority mail; you’ll have it in plenty of time for next week. See, I told you it’s meant to happen.”

Two days before the interview still no sign of the letter form my aunt. My mother called her and she assured us it had been sent in the priority mail. Monday at 5pm the evening before my interview, it came. I ripped open the envelope and read it. ‘FUCK…I screamed loudly; what is wrong with that stupid woman?” “What’s the matter love” my mammy said as she ran in from the kitchen. “Jesus Christ Almighty, that sister of yours might have an executive job but really mammy, she’s as thick as two planks, honestly. “Calm down” mammy said. ‘Calm down?” I replied “It’s supposed to be notarized, it’s supposed to say who I’ll be working for, and it’s supposed to say how much I’ll be making. This says nothing!” ”What do you mean it says nothing?” my mammy asked. “Your stupid, pain in the arse sister sends me a letter on blank white paper, no letterhead, no notarization and it reads “To Whom It May Concern, this is to state that Maura Curtis will have a job when she gets to America.” What the hell is she thinking? The embassy will never accept this mammy. They’ll never accept this.” There were tears in my mammy’s eyes as she said “Maura love, listen to your mammy now, I know it’s not what they asked for, but you can’t give up now, you have to go tomorrow, just go and see what they say. Please.” “But there’s no point. The embassy’s been refusing people who have jobs lined up, what makes you think they’ll accept me when I don’t even have a job offer?” “You can’t give up now; mammy said “You have to show up tomorrow morning.” I snapped “Why do you want to get rid of me, why are you pushing me so much to go. You love your sons so much and always want them around, but me; me you want to get rid of and won’t be happy until I’m thousands of miles away, what did I do, what did I ever do for you to hate me so much?” Mammy went white in the face as she sat slowly down into her arm chair. She breathed deeply as she raised her face to look at me. With tears streaming down her face she replied “Get rid of you? Can’t you see I’m trying to keep you, not get rid of you? I don’t want you to die here from drinking vodka every day of your life!” She started to sob. “If you go away even for a short time and find a different life I might get to keep you a little longer, not loose you to a bottle. If I can help you get away, I might get to have you around just a little longer. ” “We sobbed, embraced, sobbed some more.

The following morning was rough. It was the longest taxi ride of my life. My head was pounding and my stomach was all over the place from all the vodka I drank the night before. I asked the taxi driver to slow down for fear I was going to throw up all over his cab. It was like an outer body experience. I was so hung-over I couldn’t even think straight. As we pulled up in front of the embassy, I knew I needed a drink so I took a quick slug from the bottle in my purse. Once inside the door, I went into the bathroom and downed a couple more slugs; in the elevator a few more. I walked into the big room where hundreds of people were sitting waiting for there number to be called. I sat in a seat in the corner out of the way of the crow and downed a few more slugs. The room at this point was becoming a bit blurry. There were 6 stations, each one being manned by an Emigration official. People were walking away either crying having been refused a green card; others were jumping up and down with joy having been accepted. “They’re not accepting everyone you know” the lady said as she sat down beside me. Shit, I thought why can’t I be left alone. Now I can’t have any more vodka. “My sister had a job and everything lined up and they still refused her. It doesn’t make sense.” “Really?” I replied. “Mint?” she said as she stretched out her hand. Shit, I thought, she must be able to smell the vodka. “Yep” she replied “I believe it’s just a matter of who you get behind the desk and the mood they’re in on the day.” In a panic, I put my hand in my purse and pulled out my cleverly disguised vodka water bottle. “Do you really think that’s going to help?” she asked “it’s none of my business but you might be better off keeping your senses about you today.” “I’m going home, there’s no way they’re going to give me a Green Card.” I said as I moved the bottle toward my mouth. “What, go home? No you can’t give up now” the lady said as she put her hand on my bottle. “Give it a few more minutes; you’ll have plenty of time for this bottle after the interview.” “Did my mammy send you to spy on me?” “No, she replied, I don’t know your mammy.” “What am I doing here, I thought. I don’t even have a notarized letter. I’m going through all of this for nothing; I should just go home. Just as I got up to leave I heard it “No 151.” “Shit, that’s my number I said to the lady beside me as I stumbled back into my seat.” “Mint?” she said handing me another one of her mouth exploding mints. “If it’s meant to be it’ll be” she said ‘Just take a deep breath and step out in faith.” Faith? What’s that?” I thought to myself.

I walked up to the counter, my legs were like jelly, my head was pounding, and I could barely keep my eye lids open. This woman looked up from her paper work. Her face beamed at me as she smiled widely and said “good morning beautiful, and how are you doing today?” ‘Great, I replied shakily. I handed her all my documents. She looked at the letter from the Gardai, my birth certificate, my doctor’s reports, and then she came across the letter for my aunt. She read it, looked up at me, looked back down at the letter and looked back up at me. She slowly took her glasses down from her face. “Mam, this letter; it’s not notarized. ‘Yes, I know, I’m sorry my aunt lives in Chicago and she’s very old fashioned and didn’t understand what I needed. I’ve attached the envelope there so you can see it was mailed from the United States and... “Yes mam, I can see that, but it’s not even on letter head. “Yes, I know, I’m sorry, I…” It doesn’t say what kind of work you’ll be doing?” ‘I’ll be babysitting for my aunt’s neighbor.” “Babysitting?” “Yes, babysitting until I can get something else.” She looked me straight in the eyes, I felt like she was looking right into my soul, into my pain, into my despair. “Mam, can you give me one good reason why I should accept and process this paperwork today?” I could feel the pain welling up inside of me; I swallowed hard, took a deep breath, looked her straight in the eye and said “Because I really, really need a second chance.” The couple of seconds that followed felt like an eternity. I had exposed my vulnerability; what would happen next? I didn’t even notice which one of the two rubber stamps she picked up; I just know the loud sound of the stamp coming down hard on my paperwork brought me back to the moment. She looked at me, smiled widely and said “Welcome to the United States Ms. Curtis that will be $250.00 today.”

A little later, as I moved toward the exit door I felt a tip on my shoulder “Mint?” the lady said. “Thank you” I replied as I reached out to take the mint. “In or out?” she asked “In” I replied. “Hmm, now that’s God working.” she said. “Are you sure you don’t know my mother?” I said as I headed out the door pulling my bottle from out of my purse. Then I saw the public phone on the wall and I made the call: “Hello Maura, is that you? Yes mammy it’s me. ‘Well…how did it go? I’m going to America mammy.” Jesus, Mary and Holy Saint Joseph, there is a God.” she replied. “Whatever?” I said as I hung up the phone and thought God? Who the hell is God and where has he been for me?”

Mary, are you with me, Mary?” John brought me back. “Yes, sorry, I just spaced out a little” I replied. “Well?” he asked “Seriously, how did you get to the United States, why did you come here?” “Oh it’s a long story John; let’s just say I came because it was God’s plan for me and I got here on the wings of Angels.” As he stared back at me in confusion, my thoughts strayed again...

The phone rang at 5am. As I slowly opened my eyes and reached to answer it I knew it could only be one person. “Maura, is that you?” Yes mammy, it’s me. I keep telling you mammy, there’s a 5 hour time difference.” “How’s it going love?” She said completely ignoring the hung over irritation in my voice. “God I miss you so much” she said. “It’s only been three weeks mammy.” “Yes, I know love. But have you found a job yet?” “Mammy, it’s only been three weeks.” “Yes, I know love. But you need to find work. Tell me love, have you been following the football?” You know I’ve been following the fucking football. I thought to myself. But what else would I be doing for God’s sake? Ireland was playing in the Soccer World Cup for the first time ever in the Irish history, and, it was taking place in America. I had to support the lads. The craic was ninety every night in the local Irish pub, plus I was traumatized from a complete culture shock, what did she expect me to do… “The lads will do just fine without you drinking yourself into oblivion you know” mammy’s voice interrupted my thoughts. “I’m not…” “Don’t lie to your mammy; I’m not stupid you know. Just remember why you left Ireland. I slammed the phone down went to the kitchen and took a beer out of the refrigerator.

It was such a freeing experience to be in America. With no one watching my every move (that is without the watchful eye of mammy) I could drink as much as I liked, as often as I liked and with whomever I liked. So much so that my drinking spiraled out of control very quickly and with that my depression too. Then one night around 11:30 I was drunk, depressed and decided it was time to end it all. I had prepared by getting some extra vodka and had talked a psychiatrist into giving me a three month supply of anti-depressants and some sleep meds. It was time…it was over…I couldn’t take it anymore. And then I got the call. I almost didn’t answer it but something told me to pick up the phone. “Maura is that you?” “Yes mammy, it’s me.” “I know it’s late for you but I knew you’d probably still be up. I just couldn’t stop thinking about you and wanted to check if everything was okay.” Of course, I broke down into sobs, and convinced her that everything was okay. But just her calling at such a poignant time, shifted something inside of me. I knew her calling was a sign. So when I hung up from her, I called a friend who came over and drove me to the ER. That was the last night I drank. I was hospitalized and treated for alcoholism and depression. The night I thought I was going to end my life, became the first night of my new life. Almost a year later, at 5am I got the call. Yes, you guessed, it could only be one person. “Maura, is that you?” Yes mammy, it’s me” “I did it, I booked it, I’m coming to America to see you love.” “Slow down will you mammy, what are you saying?” “I’ve got my ticket; I’ll be there to see you pick up your one year sobriety coin, I’m so excited?” “Mammy its 5 am in the morning? When are you going to remember there’s a 5 hour time difference between us?” “You listen to your mammy now” he replied. “We’re talking on God’s time and in God’s time there is no 5 hour difference.”

That first year of sobriety was tough, as were the years following—tough but so worthwhile. Between AA, therapists and a new spiritual path, I discovered that I don’t need anything outside of myself to fill me up. There is no doubt in my mind that if I hadn’t have left Ireland, I would never have gotten sober. There were too many drinking friends and too many memories bringing me down. Mammy came to see me getting my first year medallion, and many more times after that. I’m sure she’s up there with her God watching down on me now, filled with as much gratitude as I am for the second chance I got. While the saying “wherever you go, you take yourself with you” is very true, it’s also true to say that sometimes you do need to move yourself somewhere to heal your spirit, change your perspective and find the true you.

“Wow Mary, you’re really not with me here, are you? “ John said “I’m so sorry John, it’s just your question brought me back in time” I replied. “Really Mary? Hmm sounds like I’m in for a good story sometime in the future.” Sometime in the future, I thought. Hmm, maybe this date is not going so bad after all! Did you hear that mammy?

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