This time two years ago I was packing my bags to move to New York. This time nine months ago I moved home fully intending to be returning to New York within four to six weeks when my new visa came through.
That did not go according to plan, as regular readers of this column will remember. But lo and behold, last week I went to a courier depot in a business park and finally picked up my passport which had my new O-1 U.S. visa stamped on page 13!
I have spent a year of my life working and waiting for this monstrous thing to come through, and the total lack of pomp and ceremony as I drove through Dublin at 9 a.m. on a Saturday morning made me laugh.
Where was Uncle Sam and all the red-white-and-blue? Balloons? Streamers? The national anthem? Having been rejected TWICE, and spending an obscene amount of money on legal fees, I finally FINALLY got it. This is a big deal! Where is my parade?!
The process was completely flat and sterile. I got an automated email from the embassy that said “your documents are ready for collection” with no specification whatsoever as to whether that meant the visa had been issued or not.
Physically unable to wait for a time when I could get to the depot (miles away) to collect the “documents,” I logged in and checked my visa status online which read “Issued.”
Then began frantic Googling along the lines of, “When my visa status says issued what does this mean???” It was all very isolated, just me and the Internet hunting down my future.
I got no phone call from the embassy, no direct email. Just a succinct, automated dispatch notification.
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My boyfriend kindly drove me to the depot at 9 a.m. on Saturday morning. I was calm, cool, collected, stoked.
I proudly announced to the courier guy that I was there to pick up some documents from the embassy about which he clearly could not have cared less, so I looked around to see if anyone else had overheard me. They had not. They did not care.
I took my package and returned to the car. I opened the package (clawed it open with my bare hands) and there it was. My passport with my visa stamped on page 13. We drove home and had breakfast and the day unfolded like any other ordinary Saturday.
So what gives? Why has this been so incredibly anti-climactic?
I haven’t even told anyone bar my boyfriend, parents, brother and two close friends. If anyone else is reading this – SURPRISE!
Having waited for so long I reckon it may take some time for this new reality to sink in, to no longer spend hours musing over hypothetical future scenarios, to no longer wonder what temp job I will take up next as I continue “pending” through life. To no longer panic about the wasted money, wasted time and wasted anxiety worrying about something that might not even happen.
It is now true. It is real life.
Getting a visa is a positive, reaffirming occasion. I feel good, validated. My entire body of work was analyzed thrice and rejected twice which hurt like hell, so if I had gotten a third rejection I think I would have begun a long, self-indulgent phase of hibernation which would have legitimately involved digging a hole and climbing inside it to wait for the pain to subside.
To hand over everything you’ve ever written, created or worked on and to be told twice that it’s not good enough is a blow to one’s confidence that simply cannot be understated. Similarly, the powerful undoing of the third analysis that granted an approval which trumps the two previous rejections is a force to be reckoned with.
I feel validated. I feel like less of an idiot for thinking I would be good enough, or talented enough to get this stupid visa in the first place. I feel right.
The relief is also physically palpable. I genuinely feel that a weight has lifted off my shoulders, like a Wile-E.-Coyote-style anvil has just been unstrapped from my back and I can sprint and fly and float.
The self-doubt, the pressure and the inescapable stress of being trapped in limbo is finally gone away. I have room to breathe, to daydream, to plan, to be excited about the future rather than darkly, overwhelmingly uncertain.
A visa is many things. It is a ticket to America, the land of freedom and dreams and pizza burgers. It is a ticket to certain opportunities that are not available in Ireland. It is a ticket to travel, to adventure, to work – to whatever you choose to make of it.
But more than that, for me at least, it is a relief.
I was becoming increasingly consumed by the idea that if I didn’t get this visa I would have to take it as a sign to give up writing. I would have to stay in Ireland, get a masters in something that would get me an entry-level job and get me on the career ladder so that I could start earning money and building a pension fund and begin the next 40 years of my working life.
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Alternately, getting the visa represented the adventures and creativity and freedom that I really, truly wanted for my twenties. I recognize that this is insane as there are billions of other places I could go to work, travel and explore if this visa fell through – nothing is actually trapping me in Ireland. But without the visa, nothing would be inviting me to leave.
I have no intention of “leaving” Ireland in the grand sense of the word. It will always be my home, my base-camp, my life HQ.
But now, for the next two years, I have the opportunity to explore a little bit more of America than I had the chance to before. I have the opportunity to gain new skills, new experiences and new talents that I can add to my arsenal of career tools that I’m admittedly not ready to use yet.
I have the freedom to take my time, and to do this whole “life” thing on my own terms. And not just because that is what a visa typically grants, but because that is what it represented to me.
I am still highly unimpressed with how the entire system works, and as a human being having gone through this extremely stressful year I would still advise other human beings to prepare for the dangers and pitfalls of signing yourself up for it. It is expensive and stressful and hard and puts immense pressure on more aspects of your life than you could ever anticipate.
But having finally gotten it, and finally feeling that validation that I craved, the anger of the last year is starting to soften and dissipate. Now the next two years are wide open ahead of me, and I plan to make this whole experience worthwhile.