Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Seven New Friends

The other day I wrote the following to an internet friend:

“I have been invited to Rachel's wedding and plan on going, but am very nervous. It will be the first wedding I will attend totally on my own. As in, I don't know who else is going. I can't ask someone to save me a spot, or walk in with me, or hang out with me for all those hours between the ceremony and the reception. How her and I got to be friends is a mystery ... she's 20 years younger and a whole lot more energetic and talented and passionate. Part of me is tempted to stay home but the 'embrace new experiences' - 'it's not all about you' part of me is telling me to suck up my insecurities and go celebrate with Rachel and Joel.”

She, who has never met me, responded:

“If you get there with a smile on your face, I'm sure you'll make a friend right away.”

But of course she doesn’t realize how hard it is for me to smile. All this flesh. On my face. These jowls. The skin-that-has-lost-its-youthful-elasticity that hangs from my cheekbones to my collarbone. It takes a lot of muscles to lift all that for a smile that doesn’t come from my heart or make it all the way to my eyes.

Anyway. I’m still going. And I’ll aim for ‘pleasant’ …or at least ‘not grumpy’.

Which was not the look I was planning on wearing today. Today, my pre-determined facial expression was going to be ‘presently occupied’. When Larry and Willy started talking shortly after 6 this morning, I shut them up by hitting the snooze button. Honestly, sometimes they ramble on and on like two old ladies. (Sincere apologies to old ladies.) But in the nine minute interim, instead of sleeping, I had an avalanche of negative early-morning-thoughts tumble through my brain. I really hate mornings. Especially ones that start at 6. Especially on days that I’ve booked off work.

When the radio came back on again, Larry, or maybe it was Willie, was mentioning the weather, “Morning showers, tapering off at noon. Sunny breaks in the afternoon.” Which isn’t exactly what I was rejoicing about yesterday (“Rain on Monday morning, then clearing in the afternoon. Warm and sunny the rest of the week.”) Hearing about the weather with my ears, didn’t mean I actually heard the weather with my brain.

I hopped in the shower, washed my hair (another activity I despise doing first thing in the morning) dressed casually (Yay! Jeans! T-shirt! Runners!), made myself a tuna sandwich, added some cookies to my backpack, confirmed that I had all the necessary papers, doubled checked my reading material for the day (8 magazines, my camera’s manual, a fluffy book, a sudoku book, a notebook to write lists in), my reading glasses, a pen, highlighter, pencil, camera, #3 SPF sunscreen, and a Cadbury Cream Egg.

I put on a hoodie, locked the front door, took the L off the back of the truck, put my CD in the player and pointed the truck in the direction of the Passport Office. I came to a complete stop a number of times on the freeway and didn’t make it to Whalley (aka the bowels of hell) till 7:50 am. Parking was not straightforward as all the ‘free’ spots on the side streets were taken (and besides, those were only good for 2 hours). I ended up paying $10 for the privilege to park in a less-than-successful back lane business’s employee lot. By the time I parked, paid, gathered my things (including BY TOTAL FLUKE a new ‘literary’ umbrella I bought on Sunday at Chapters for only $5) and added my body to the line-up, it was 8:23 am. And raining.

Raining hard.

There were approximately 650 people in front of me in the lineup. They process, on average, between 700 and 800 people a day. The commissionaire predicted that I would make it into the building at 3 pm, and then take another hour to hour and a half to be processed. This is how much I love Drew. 10 hours and $60 worth. Getting Clint, Max and my passports two years ago was inconvenient but not life-sucking like it is now.

Did I mention what I was wearing? T-shirt, hoodie that doesn’t zip up, jeans and runners. Have I mentioned the weather? Rain. And wind. And a 5 degree temperature.
Did I mention what was in my backpack? Sunscreen.

Not in the mood for anything, I pulled my big green umbrella down around my head hoping it would act as a barrier toward anyone who might be thinking of being friendly. The two East-Indian-looking guys in front of me were staring straight ahead, and the dark-skinned gal who moved into the line behind me looked like she’d be ESL, making communication difficult, so I disappeared into myself and made a mental list of all the reasons I should receive a sainthood trophy for my sacrificial demonstration of love today.

A cheery conversation behind me caught my attention, so I turned around and saw that another woman had tagged onto the tail end of the line and she was being very outgoing.
Ginger was a sixty year old redhead who loved small talk. She had both Rosietta and I engaged in a shallow conversation immediately. Eventually they both made calls on their cell phones that were painful to overhear, especially Rosietta:
“Hi. I’m in a line up for a passport.”
Pause. Other person says something.
“In Surrey.”
Long pause.
No, in Surrey.”
Pause while she waits for other person to finish talking.
“It’s raining and I’m cold.”
(She is wearing a full length down-filled duffle-style coat, buttoned up to her chin, fleece-lined gloves and boots.)
“No, I forgot a scarf.”
“I wish I had a scarf.”
“I took the skytain.”
“No, I don’t want to go back home to get a scarf.”
“I took the skytrain.”
“It’s very cold. It’s raining. I wish I had a scarf.”
“No, I’m here now. I’ll stay.”
“No, I don’t want to do this again tomorrow. I just wish I had a scarf.”
“That’s silly. Why would I drive out here? I’d never find it. I took the skytrain.”
“I don’t know how to get here by car. What road would I take? Where would I park?”
“I think I’ll get in today. I have my forms all filled out…”
and then she went into detail about each box on the form and what she wrote in it, all the while, complaining about the cold and her need for a scarf.

No lie. That phone call lasted 20 minutes.
And Ginger’s was just as excruciating. However, after hanging up (at around 9 am), she decided to drive back home (to Port Moody) to get some socks (she was barefoot in silver-beaded slip-on shoes) then go over to the Richmond Passport Office because she had heard the line-ups weren’t as bad there. I was looking at shear stupidity in the face and I was speechless.

Earlier in the year, Maxine camped out at the Passport Office for a day and came back with stories of wonderful line-up companions who made the time fly by. I was not having that kind of day. My twenty pound backpack was not going to get unpacked. Shivering there in the rain, I was not going to try to juggle reading a magazine and holding an umbrella. By Richard the commissionaire’s estimation, I would be in this line, sandwiched between these people for the next 5 – 7 hours. I could be a bitch. Or not.

I turned to Rosalina and asked her where she was going to be traveling to.
“Cuba. To see my brother for the first time.”
I assumed he must be years younger than here, or maybe even a half-brother, born after she left home. “You’ve never seen your brother?”
“No, I never knew I had a brother. He’s older than me …”
“What’s your story?” I asked.
“I was born into a political family in Cuba. And in 1962, when I was nine years old, President Kennedy rescued a bunch of us. Nine hundred kids, under the age of 10, got on three big airplanes and he and his brother Bobby met us at the Miami airport. They treated us so well… we were cleaned, given medical attention, new clothes. And he and his brother were so kind. I will always remember him as being so generous to us.”
“Wow. I had no idea the States did that. I was only a year old in ’62 – but my mom remembers it as being very scary. So then what happened?”
“An organization called Catholic Charities took over after that and placed us all in foster homes. We were separated and sent all over the States. I ended up in Ellensburg, outside of Seattle. Do you like history?”
“Yeah, sort of. This reminds me of a book I read recently called Kindertransport. It was about the relocation of thousands of German and Polish Jewish kids to England during the second world war…”
“There’s a book out about us too! It’s called Operation Pedro Pan, like, you know, Peter Pan? A few years ago, a lady who went through this whole thing too, got a list of all of us and did some interviews. Our stories are in the book. It’s a sad book, because so many, well, most of us, ended up in abusive, unfit homes. From the time I was 9 til I was 17 I was in seven different homes and they all were bad. I was separated from everyone I knew and placed into English speaking homes and schools and I only knew how to communicate in Spanish. I never met another Spanish speaking person til I was in my 30’s and by then I’d lost it all.”
“Oh, my goodness you’ve had a hard life, haven’t you? Are you married?”
“No, I’m divorced.”
“So am I …”
“I don’t think I ever want to get married again …”
“Hey, same here! That’s what I’ve been saying ..”
“yeah, I like my solitude…
“and freedom!”
“Yeah, that too. I’ve been married twice and both times were not good. I really like my life right now.”
“Married twice? Did you have kids with both of them?”
She pauses and looks at me with those huge eyes that are being magnified with her thick, big glasses. “I had three kids. Each one has a different dad. I got pregnant at 17 and was forced to give him up for adoption. Then I got married and had a daughter. She lives in San Diego and isn’t married and has a daughter. After my divorce I got married again and had another son. He died 12 years ago when he was 16. Bone cancer. The exact same kind as Terry Fox. He even had his legs amputated.”
I put my hand on her shoulder. “You have had your share of heart ache, haven’t you?”
She agreed that life hasn’t been easy for her, but of all the grief she’s had, losing her son was the hardest.
“Did you ever get to meet your oldest son?”
Yes, she had. Years ago. “But he wasn’t raised by me, you know? So he’s a little different. Very selfish. Self-centred. Thinks only of himself. I love him though, and he wants me to live with him someday, but I think that would be a bad idea. His girlfriend is pregnant, so he’s going to be a father soon. That will change him, I think.”
I agreed. Having kids pummels that selfish bone to a fine powder that is blown away in the first strong wind.
We talked for quite awhile about the upcoming reunion with her long lost brother in Cuba, when suddenly she said, “What about you? What do you need a passport for?”
“I’m going with a group of people to Mexico in the summer to build some homes for families currently living in cardboard boxes…”
She quizzed me further, and finally I told her I was going with our church.
“What denomination are you?” she asked.
“Mennonite Brethern” I answered, assuming she’d have no idea what that meant.
“Are you a Christian?” she asked excitedly.
I nodded.
“Do you believe in baptism by submersion?” she asked.
“Same here! I’m a Christian too! I’m pentacostal, do you know what that is?
“Oh, yeah. I’ve got some friends…”
“I always tell people, God will meet you where you are. Don’t get all worried about having a perfectly pure and sinless life. You don’t have to clean up for God. Cuz – you know, really, you’d never get clean enough. Just call out to Him, He loves you, you know?”

By now it’s about 10:30 am and I figure my mom must be up, so I call her.
“Mom? I’m cold. Frozen actually. Can you drive past the line up and bring me a hot chocolate?”
“Do you want me to bring you a coat too?”
“No just a hot drink would be good. And, I’ve got a new friend here, shivering beside me, can you bring her a tea?”
“I’m on my way…”

After our hot beverage break, we started talking to the folks in front of us in line:
Mary – a feisty, opinionated, retired flight attendant who was going to write a letter of outrage regarding he inhumane system of standing outside in the rain for hours for a passport.
Harshoop – a Canadian hindu engaged to an Arabian muslin. His parents had an arranged marriage and are trying to arrange one for him. After 5 hours of standing in line, he pulled out his papers so that Mary could take a look and she noticed that he was missing his second photo. So he went home. He was going to try again another day.
Marshoop – a hindu from India with an accent so thick, all I could do was smile and nod. I hope I didn’t agree to an arranged marriage.
Chris – a machinist from Romania who used to be a boxer in the old country. He too was speaking with a strong accent. This was his third attempt at getting a passport. He and his son had stood in line for 6 hours last month, and they cut the line off right in front of him. His son’s forms got processed but not his. He was told to come back the following day, and was given a ticket that would have promoted him to the front of the line. But he had just started a new job and his wife was worried he’d get fired if he didn’t show up for work two days in a row, so she filled out the forms and sent them in. But they were returned 3 weeks later, she had forgotten to check off a box. So here he was with us, standing in line again.
Candy– a sweetheart from Alabama with the greatest southern accent you could imagine. She is on mat leave from her job with YFC. Yes, we had a lot of mutual acquaintances…
Pete – her tall and slim, dark haired, quiet and gentle husband who spent most of the day in the car with their 2 month old son, Noah. He is a graduate student at TWU and was studying while their son kept warm and slept.

We stuck together as a group all day, holding each other’s spots in line as we slipped away for bathroom breaks, nursing duties and coffee runs. I so very badly wanted to ask them if I could take a group photo of us … but chickened out in the end.

I got home before 4:00 pm, earlier than predicted, stiff from shivering in the cold, wet from the never-ending rain, and mentally exhausted from all the conversation. Being nice takes a lot out of me.
I came home and slept for 2 hours.

I’m guessing I’ll need a nap between the ceremony and the reception on Saturday at the wedding. I better pack a pillow. If I put the seats down in the back, my truck can be quite comfy…


My Thots said...

Candy is one of Dean's favorite co-workers to tease. She and her husband are great!
Isn't God amazing to give you some 'family' in line.

Anonymous said...

Wow, that was the mother of all blog entries. I was almost late for work!
Glad you got your passport and made some friends along the way. It's neat to look at someone and then hear the story behind them...