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This has been a very long gap in my lj. I've been reading along but… - Nick's Valve [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Nick Verne

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[May. 23rd, 2010|11:45 am]
Nick Verne
This has been a very long gap in my lj. I've been reading along but not really participating. Withdrawing if you like. I blame a mixture of apathy and anxiety. It's silly. These are just words.

I fear the brainquake. They are very rare but so unpleasant to me. I've been hypervigilant, avoidant and detached from anything that even looks like a path that could lead to one.

Here's an example from late 1999.

I lived in San Francisco with my partner G. We had a regular playmate (who stayed a very important part of my life for years). The rules were supposed to be "play only together" but the rules were changed for my trip away to Australia. The rules were changed by G, naturally. Now he and E could play alone.

So, I went to Australia for Mum's 60th birthday. My sister had given me the flights LA->SYD using her frequent flyer miles on Qantas. It was very generous of her. I stopped overnight in LA and stayed with friends. Spoke to G that night and that's when I heard about the "rule change". Nice. Took the flight to Sydney the next day and finally called in to G. I was feeling jealous and left out. He and E were already at it without me.

I spent the two weeks in tooth-grinding jealousy. I was actually jealous of E, not G. I felt much closer to E by that time. Hey, I didn't claim the relationship situation was healthy. I had control issues that are perfectly understandable to me now as a product of my repeated traumas growing up. I could accept just about anything in my life in America as long as I felt there was some areas that belonged to me in the home.

So it was finally time to come home and assess the situation first hand and see what I could fix, what I needed to do, see if I needed to get the hell out. The uncertainty was really distressing. I flew in to LA, and was getting a connecting flight to SF. I got to the immigration desk. He opened my passport.

"That's not a valid visa," he said. I had an H1-B visa. It was expired. I had an INS letter saying the visa was extended for another two years. Now for my mistake. "My immigration attorney told me that the old visa and the letter were good enough." Never mention immigration attorneys in front of INS agents. They hate it. I didn't know that. I now found out. I was taken over to "immigration area 2". There was no longer any prospect of making my connecting flight.

Home would continue to be pear shaped for a while longer. Now I heard the words "cancel", "deport", "not deport - withdraw application for admission". And now on to immigration area 3. Here's what was really wrong from the technical standpoint: the validity of the visa for entry required a new passport stamp. The letter should have been presented to the US consulate in Sydney and the passport stamped there. I had blown my chance for having this requirement waived by mentioning attorneys at the immigration desk. This was a pretty harsh way to learn a lesson.

Immigration area 3 was the point of no-getting-in. It was the point of return to Sydney, but not for eight or nine more hours. I had credit cards and the ability to pay for a ticket back, and so I paid. Qantas sold me a one way ticket for $1365. I had fingerprints taken. I had to give a statement to a greying, crew-cut, square jawed ex military type. They recorded everything.

I had calling cards for AT&T and was allowed to call G. He really came through for me. I got him at work and explained the situation and he turned the call into a conference call with the attorneys. Now wheels were in motion although I didn't know it at the time. All I knew was I had to return to Sydney. I had to wait until 11 pm that night for the next flight back.

I waited. I grew more and more anxious. I paced like a caged animal. I was told to sit back down.


I was desperate for the time to be over. The return to SF was cast in my mind as the final act in a domestic drama in which I found out for myself what was really happening at home, where I stood and what I might be able to do. Instead, here I was thwarted and frustrated, nobody to talk to, no real rights to phone calls (after all, I wasn't under arrest). Without the home drama I probably would have taken all the immigration setbacks in stride and calmly waited out the time. What a mess the mind can make of a situation! The mind is not necessarily a good friend. It can take a mildly bad situation and turn it into a catastrophe, complete with sweats, adrenaline rushes, unfocused anguish...

Finally the time came to be escorted to the departure lounge. I was allowed then to make some calls, and that's when I found out how G had really come through. He made calls all over the place, including to my family in Sydney. My sister was to meet me at Sydney airport and drive me to her office at Circular Quay where I could shower, change and race up to the US consulate which was closing down until the new year at the end of business. An appointment had been made. All my documents had been faxed across to Sarah's office and were waiting for me. I just had to fly back in to Sydney and do as I was told.

I did. I got the new visa stamped in my passport. I called United Airlines and booked a ticket back to Sydney the following day. Finally luck smiled on me (or maybe a very sympathetic employee) and the ticket never showed up on my credit card.

I got back to SF and back home. Naturally, the situation was nowhere near as awkward as I had cast it. E was horrified to find out that I had felt upset about the rule change, having been assured by G that I was fine with it. Rules were realigned to reality and we continued our weird dance for another two years. (I didn't say it was healthy or unhealthy).

The fallout was pretty major, though. A brainquake isn't so easy to recover from. US immigration now became the fearful beast from which I needed protection. With a green card, I was sure things would be better. I wouldn't need to know so many rules. I had an application in place. As the years continued, I got more wary of US style bureaucracy: dispassionate, uninterested, inhuman.

I got over it, or did I? Being trapped in no-man's land with nobody to talk to and no knowledge of how and when I might get home has been a recurring dream for me. Institutional looking offices, dead, uninterested eyes, no conversation, waiting anxiously. These are the possible consequences of travel. These are the possible consequences of saying the wrong thing in "America". These are irrational, entirely emotional thoughts. The brainquake was caused by thwarting of what little control I thought I had.

The need for control, to feel I have at least some control over my life, is its own psychological can of worms. What does it even mean? The more you consider it, the more meaningless it gets.

But there it is, my anxiety exposed on the floor, looking like that beast in Galaxy Quest that was turned inside out by their transporter. Is that squishy thing making me withdraw from experiences I might find vital and rewarding?

From: (Anonymous)
2010-07-04 04:53 am (UTC)
Nick, this is very heartfelt and well expressed. I never knew the whole story of that situation in 1999. Thanks for being willing to share it all on your journal.

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[User Picture]From: nverzeanu
2010-07-04 09:19 pm (UTC)
Thanks Brett. It look me a long time before I stopped being paranoid to talk about it, just in case any further words on the subject were all that was necessary to revoke my green card.
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