Monday, January 5, 2009
Twenty Years in America
How can it be that twenty years have gone by already? It does not seem possible, yet here I am staring at the beginning of 2009, twenty years to the day after I landed at JFK. I was alone in a new country. And I was hot. I had just left a snow covered Sweden, dressed in a turtleneck sweater, a heavy winter coat and gloves and here I was, shuffling through the airport with my carryon and not a snowflake in sight. In fact, I think there was a heat wave. Or, it was unusually warm for the season, as they might have said on the weather forecast that day. Personally, I was having a heat wave. Then again, it could have been the fact that I was tired, nervous, and hot from wearing too many layers at a crowded airport right after the holidays.
I came to the U.S. with the intention of getting an associate’s degree in commercial art. That’s what my school called it back then. Commercial Art. I was going to study art and design for two years and then go back home again. Or so I thought. My studies went well, in fact, I graduated top of my class that year, in May of 1992. I got the cap and gown, walked the walk and attended the graduation dinner. My mother, her husband and my brother flew over for the occasion. It was grand. Then I spent the summer back home in Sweden and had some time to think. We were in the middle of a recession, what was I going to do?
Three weeks before classes started back up again, I called the college and said I was coming back for my bachelor’s degree. I remember there was a scramble to get all the required paperwork ready to renew my student visa before I could return. All went well and I studied some more. And did the whole cap and gown thing again the following May, receiving my Bachelor of Arts summa cum laude. I also had the honor of being the valedictorian and receiving awards for outstanding academic achievement and outstanding achievement in commercial art. More than I had ever hoped or dreamed. After all, I just came here for a two-year degree.
With my BA in hand I was entitled to a training permit, giving me permission to stay in the country for an additional twelve months. Looking back at that year, I vaguely remember goofing off and getting closer to the end of my visa. A few weeks before the dreaded date, I realized I had better get a job or start packing. Not ready to return to my home country yet, I started looking. Two weeks before the deadline, I landed a job at a company that for the next seven years became the only entry on my resume, even though it appears under three different names.
I didn’t work my way up as much as get a new position or title each time the company was bought out. I was fortunate to stay, when others were let go. Every two years, I had to hire an attorney to renew my work visa—and pay big bucks for him to do it. My life was lived in two-year increments, with trips back to Sweden every year or two, usually including a visit to the American Embassy in Stockholm to get a new visa stamp in my passport. Every time I walked through immigrations on my return to the U.S., I was just as nervous as the first time, but they never turned me away.
A few years went by—two or three work visas I think—and then I met a man. I had met men before, but this man was different. I could usually tell if a relationship was going to work within two weeks of meeting someone, and usually I determined it was not. And it didn’t. Yet, I tried to make it work. So much wasted time. This time, I knew within two weeks that this was the man for me. I had recently given my life to Jesus, and in return, Jesus gave me a man. Well, I like to think so.
This man and I were married in May 1998. It was bliss. Why wouldn’t it be, we were married in Sweden and honeymooned in Paris. He was my best friend. We shared a lot of laughs. We cried, too. We had a similar sense of humor. We were both very sarcastic. We were as compatible as a man and a woman can be. We were happy. For a few years, at least.
Along came a little baby girl and a green card. I stopped working and became a stay-at-home mom. My little girl and I spent our days taking walks and recording milestones, but something didn’t feel right. I didn’t realize how much I missed my job until I was forced to go back to work two years later. Our finances were bad and getting worse. Our marriage was heading in the same direction. But, there was still a lot of love there. And I enjoyed being back at work at my old company with a new name. My spirits were lifted and I was back in my element.
Then another baby came along. I took some time off work to care for her, before returning to my little gray cubicle to design my heart away. And to lose the love of my man.
The last three and half years have gone by quickly. I have survived a heartbreaking separation and divorce, been blessed with a new job, sans cubicle, and raised two beautiful girls on my own. There are days I want to run away from the responsibility of being their main provider and then there are days when I count myself so fortunate to have two such smart little girls. Strong-willed, independent, headstrong, willful, beautiful girls. They are the fruit of my love. They are the reason I am still here. Even though it would be so much easier for me to pack up and move back home, where I have family who can help out, I don’t want to take them away from their father. This is their country and it has become mine. Twenty years. How time flies.
*1989 with poodle perm in Helen, Ga., 1994 with hair down to my butt, 1998 on my honeymoon in Paris (at the Eiffel Tower), Elisabet and Malena at our old house, 2005 after getting too skinny during my divorce, today in 2009 … mostly happy, especially with the short hair!