Another step forward in the Visa process – Fingerprints

“I don’t want you to freak out,” I cautioned the constable, watching with minor concern as he pulled on a pair of latex gloves in preparation to take down my fingerprints, “but I’m missing a couple of fingers.”

He paused, and shot a barely concealed glance of surprise down at my hands. Probably wondering if this was my idea of a joke. It wasn’t. “Uh. Should be all good…” He mumbled, turning away from me momentarily to retrieve what I could only assume was the Queensland Police Fingerprint Manual for Mutants. Constable Roberts was a big guy. Not in the ‘I eat McDonald’s three times a day’ type way, but big as in he looked as though he could bench press a paddy wagon without breaking much of a sweat. A brown shrubby beard covered his boxy jaw, and he was at least six foot. A stark comparison to my petite barely-five-foot-three physique. But still he somehow suddenly managed to look awkwardly uncomfortable in my presence.

“Don’t worry,” I smiled, “That’s as far as my superpowers go!”

Const. Roberts didn’t get the joke.

Over the other side of the room, another officer looked up, “It’s probably good that you warned us!” He grinned, “Roberts would have run straight outta here if you just sprung that on him!”

Const. Roberts shifted his solid weight from foot to foot and muttered  humorlessly “Probably. Just because it’s a break in procedure and I wouldn’t know what to do.”  No bedside manner at all, this guy.

I guess before I go any further I should stress that I’m definitely not a criminal. Apart from the odd parking ticket, and that one time I stole a Cherry Ripe chocolate bar from my grade 3 ballet class fundraiser (age six, I showed budding promise as Victoria’s youngest chocolate thief) (Mum, if you’re reading this I swear it wasn’t me), I’ve never been in trouble with the law.

The fingerprints were needed for the final stages of my U.S. Visa application, one part of which requested a police and fingerprint check. Even so, as the officer began to awkwardly cover my hands in thick, black, foul smelling ink, I couldn’t help but feel kind of nervous. “Why don’t you guys use digital technology?” I squeaked.

“S’not protocol for visa applications.” Came the short reply. “But for you, would’ve been easier.”

Oh. Okay then.

“Where are you going?!” The second officer jumped back into the conversation like an excitable puppy wanting attention. Everything he said ended with a giant exclamation mark  and a wide, happy smile. I tried to work out whether or not it was because he felt sorry for me, or he just really, really loved his job.

“America.” I supplied readily, “I’m getting married.”

“You might as well stop the process now,” he said grinning, “they don’t accept immigrants who’re missing fingers!”

THANKS FOR THE VOTE OF CONFIDENCE, QUEENSLAND POLICE.

Const. Roberts remained silent, except to begin grunting commands at me. Roll my fingers this way, press my palms that way, more ink, less pressure, it was obvious he wanted to be back at his desk reading the newspaper, or getting cheeky with the receptionist I’d seen him chatting up as I’d first entered. (If Constable Roberts knew how to be cheeky. I somewhat doubted he could.)  I complied dutifully, because, you know. This was a police station. Regardless of my spotless track record with The Law, I didn’t want to somehow end up on their bad  side.

As we came to my unfortunate right hand, he paused as he flipped through the manual, grim mouth moving silently as he read through the instructions. He coughed awkwardly, and said, rather apologetically I felt, “I’m….I’m going to have to ask how it happened.”

“The proposal or the fingers?” I joked.

Officer smiley over at the desk guffawed appreciatively, but Const. Roberts looked at me like I’d insulted ten generations of his family and replied flatly, “The fingers.”

I’ve had the same question so much sometimes I take to making up exciting stories because the truth – that I was born like that – is so terribly boring. Instead I’ll tell them that I was mauled by lions on an African Safari, or my fingers were shot off by Hungarian warriors in Budapest. Ridiculous scenarios that push the limits of believability – but because people can’t seem to handle any sort of physical defect without getting flushed and awkward, they’ll stare at me in awe and breath “Wow. Really?!!!”

Somehow, I didn’t think now was the time to start telling tales, so I replied in the traditional airy fairy sing song voice I adopted when answering a much repeated question: “Oh, I was born like that.” The constable nodded, and diligently recorded this down in the empty boxes where my prints should have gone. Once this was done, he straightened, and grunted toward a large tin of foul smelling lanolin. “We’re done here. You can clean your hands with that.”

Before I got to ask any more questions, he’d disappeared to file the paperwork, returning only briefly to make sure I could find my way out.

Officer Smiley waved from behind his desk, “Good luck in the States, mate!” He called after me. I waved awkwardly in response, hoping that if ever there was a chance I’d need another set done, I might somehow miraculously sprout two extra fingers. The whole experience was terribly, terribly awkward.

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The Things I Lost in the Fire

Piece appears over at XOJane’s “It Happened To Me”

In the winter of 2008, my house burned down.

 It happened exactly how you’d imagine it: a burning candle left briefly unattended, an inexplicable draft angling that supposedly innocuous little flame toward a surprisingly ignitable curtain and then within a matter of minutes an entire double story home was alight, a towering, smoking wood and brick monstrosity with the kind of blazing innards you’d see as a ten second space filler on the 6 o’clock news.

 Like winning the lottery, like being struck by lightning or contracting some kind of horrid flesh eating bacterial infection, a house fire is one of those unexplained life altering events that could happen to anyone and no one. Easily avoidable until it isn’t, it’s a personal disaster that’s generally only softened by the mantra you take up in the aftermath. “I’m okay. No one was hurt. It was just stuff.”

 When someone asks how you’re doing, you’ll shrug and assume an air of downtrodden nonchalance, “I’m okay.” You’ll pretend that you’re not crumbling on the inside, you’ll feign strength with every shaking muscle in your body and slap on a self-deprecating smirk, because god forbid you’d want anyone to feel sorry for you. “No one was hurt.” You’ll find yourself parroting the same phrases over and over again until your voice cracks and the words don’t even sound like words anymore. “It was just stuff.” Baby photos and handmade quilts and your great grandmother’s antique vase.

 Just stuff.

 Now, as I stand in my bedroom running a stocktake of the possessions I’ve collected six years on in preparation of a big overseas move, I’m mulling over the effect this house fire had on me, and I’m beginning to think maybe I may have developed a teensy tiny shopping problem. I would have thought that losing everything I owned in the space of 20 minutes would have been a freeing experience. A chance for me to embrace Swedish minimalism! Or to take up Vinyasa yoga and stop shaving my armpits! To realise that my life was not made richer by the totally adorable Marc Jacobs tote I bought on sale for 30% off (plus 10% David Jones staff discount. Oh my god, I miss that tote) but by the people in it. Sadly, this epiphany escaped me, and apart from getting really drunk and crying a lot, I did none of it.

Hell, I didn’t even start up my own Fight Club, and I’ve always wanted to start up my own Fight Club.

Nope. Like a drug addict who’s discovered their stash has run dry, I went into complete withdrawal for stuff. Then I overdosed. Big time. And (jeeze, this is so cliche) retail was my drug. Every time I flicked my card through the EFTPOS machine, I would experience a rush like no other; my heart would thump a little faster behind my rib cage, my palms would tingle for the weight of the shopping bag, my fingers twitching in excitement around the handles as I floated out of the store, eyes glinting with satisfaction of a battle well fought. Or purchased. Whatever.

I developed a game I liked to call “Debit Card Roulette”, whereby I would not check my bank balance before buying something really stupidly expensive and instead just pray to the Department Store Gods that my card wouldn’t get declined. (No matter if it did, of course! I’d just whip out my credit card with a practiced flourish).

 I’d create elaborate back-stories to go along with my completely ridiculous and totally useless purchases, too. That $3,000 gaming PC I probably didn’t need because I was only really into The Sims and the occasional game of Dragon Age? Totally for my (imaginary) boyfriend. Who was currently touring with Cirque Du Soleil in Europe. Why yes I am a great girlfriend and yes he did teach me how to do a triple backflip, by the way can I get a discount on my monitor with that?  The $400 Irish Wedding ring I purchased? A group gift to a very dear friend who was leaving us all to go on a very exciting archaeological dig in Ireland. She totally has the same size fingers as me, thanks. By the way do you have any matching earrings?  The lies were as fun as the purchase, but were also a thinly veiled attempt to stifle the overwhelming guilt that overtook me every time I beamed at the sales person and exclaimed breathlessly, “I’ll take it!” Something I didn’t realise until much later on.

I had no idea that I was trying to fill the pervasive, gnawing emptiness and sadness that was burning a hole through my heart with trinkets and brand names. (I was probably suffering from some sort of minor PTSD too, but hey, I’m no shrink.) Aside from the initial high triggered by the glorious ring of the cash register, it wasn’t really making me happy.  

I’ve since grown a little wiser with my money, and while I often find myself still living paycheck to paycheck, I’m no longer attempting to fill some void in my life with material possessions. In part because I already own everything already, but mostly because I’ve learned to appreciate the people in my life, more than the things. I have a wonderful, supportive group of friends and a beautiful, loving fiancee, and my life is mostly a delight. Now that I’m moving – not simply a suburb away but to an entirely different continent, I’m coming to understand that a majority of these objects in my room just collecting dust? They don’t mean anything to me. And it’s like the sun is coming up.   

 And if I’m being completely honest here, and more than a little sentimental, I’d rather be with the person I love most in the world than have any of this junk — no matter how adorable or great it makes me feel. I’d toss it all out tomorrow if it meant seeing my fiancee a little sooner. I’ll be okay without it. It won’t hurt if I have to downsize because, after all, it’s just stuff.

Don’t worry, though. I won’t be taking a match to any of it.