When I was a spotty teenager longing to meet a girl, I would sometimes picture my wedding day with my future wife, and think about it being the best day of my life. That it would be fun and memorable, and romantic, and hilarious, and that all of my friends and family would be there and everyone would have an amazing time. On October 20th, 2007, when I married Farah, that dream came true. However, that’s not what happened the first time I got married.
Before I continue, I should explain that this is a period of my life that may be harder than any other to write about. Not because it was a difficult or unhappy time, far from it. But because I’m very happily married and in love now, and I just don’t talk or think much about previous relationships. So it’s difficult because, unlike when I was kid, or my brother passing away, which I think about often, this week I had to revisit some memories that I have not thought about in a very long time.
Also, as I mentioned in the Introduction, I have been writing this story so far without any concern about who was reading it, or what anyone might think about it. That’s the only way I can ensure it is honest. But in writing this chapter, I found myself wondering what my wife Farah would think about it. She knows the story, but maybe not all of the details. I also thought about what Kristy would think, even though we don’t speak any more. So it is what it is. It’s a work in progress.
Anyway, after living in Australia, and after a few months in London, my girlfriend Kristy and I moved to Edinburgh. A family friend rented us a small apartment on the 4th floor of a building in the Grassmarket area of Edinburgh’s Old Town. From our window we could see the top of Edinburgh Castle, and down below us was the site of the old gallows where public executions had taken place in the 17th and 18th century.
Kristy had arrived in the UK from Austin, in May of 1999, on a six-month visitor visa. After a few months in London, we went back to Edinburgh and I found a shitty temp job editing science journals in the New Town. I was totally broke but not unhappy. Some of my best mates were living in Edinburgh at the time, I was 24 years old, and I was still feeling positive about life after finishing the screenplay earlier that year. I felt like I could do anything I wanted. I had dreams of producing and directing the film of my screenplay or of becoming an international mediator and bringing about world peace. Seriously. I felt invincible.
Kristy was originally from Kansas City and had lived in Austin for 3 or 4 years before she decided to fly to Scotland on a whim. I couldn’t believe it when she told me. I’d never really had a girlfriend, and here was this girl flying half way across the world to be with me.
She would have been 22 when we first got to Edinburgh in August 1999. I was very happy to be back in Edinburgh, but I can’t say that Kristy felt the same way. We didn’t have a computer or cell phones or social media to connect with loved ones like we do now, and so she missed her friends and she missed her family. She missed having a car. She missed having her own money. She missed having vegetarian options. She missed Tex-Mex food. She missed the ease of life in Austin. More than anything I think she missed the sunshine. And to my great frustration, there was nothing I could about it.
I spent a lot of time thinking about how to make her happy. And not because she asked me to, but because I wanted to. I really wanted to make it work. I really wanted her to be happy.
My other obsession in 1999 was the end of the millennium that was approaching. It wasn’t that I thought the world was going to end, (although some people did), but all the talk of the Y2K bug, and movies like ‘Strange Days’ and ‘Until The End of the World’, had convinced me that something bad was going to happen. So I’d come up with a plan to rent a cottage in the middle of nowhere and spend New Years Eve 1999 away from the inevitable chaos with a few close mates. Somehow I was able to convince 7 friends to join me in this plan.
By November 1999, Kristy and I were living together in this flat in the Grassmarket, but Kristy’s visa was about to expire. She was homesick, but we decided that we didn’t want to be apart. We’d heard that if she just went out of the country for a few days then she could re-enter on a new visitors visa. We couldn’t afford for both of us to go on a European trip, so we booked her on a cheap solo flight to Paris for a couple of nights, and then she got on a flight back to Edinburgh.
When Kristy tried to get back into Scotland she was stopped by the immigration officers at Edinburgh Airport. They detained her for hours and scared the shit out of her. They were able to pull up her bank accounts and threatened her with deportation. Eventually they let her in with a short-term visa, but basically she was told that they would be watching her closely, and if she was caught working then she could be arrested or deported.
When she made it home, hours later than scheduled, she was a wreck. Understandably so. I remember sitting on our couch consoling her and thinking about what I could do. We just wanted to be together. So really, I reasoned, there was only one thing we could do – we had to get married immediately. I suggested that as a solution and that was it.
But I had another thought: everyone is going to think that we were only getting married for the visa. While the circumstances certainly accelerated the process, at the time I truly believed that Kristy was ‘the one’ and I wanted to be with her. However, I also wanted that dream wedding with family and friends, and there was no way we could pull that together in two weeks.
So I had an idea. Sometimes in moments of high pressure and heightened emotions, I think that I am able to think clearer than ever and come up with some astute and incredible ideas. This was not one of those moments.
The Edinburgh registrar’s office was actually on the same street as our apartment. My plan was that we could pop in there one morning, get married, and no one would know about it. Then we could announce to everyone that we were getting engaged and have a big wedding in the summer. I even thought it through to the point where at the big summer ‘wedding’, we could just smudge over the ‘I now pronounce you man and wife’ bit. The visa situation would be sorted, we could have the big wedding, and no one would doubt our reasons for getting married. Foolproof.
Just writing that last paragraph makes me wince. I can’t believe I even considered that as a plan. I don’t think Kristy was all that keen on it, but unbelievably, that’s what we did. The next morning we filled out the forms for our marriage and scheduled it for two weeks later. We didn’t tell anyone.
As the ‘big day’ approached, I started to second-guess my plan, and I thought that I should at least tell my parents what we were about to do. So we took the train through to Glasgow and invited ourselves round for dinner. They must have known we were up to something. After dinner, I told my parents we were getting married. They were pleased. Although I think that initially they were just happy that we were not pregnant.
Then I told them we were getting married two days later, and that they were not invited. They were not pleased about that. Actually they were very quick to let me know that they thought it was a ridiculous idea. Of course, they were right. I remember my Mum telling me how she was very upset that her son was telling her she couldn’t come to his wedding. But my mind was made up.
So on November 30, 1999, I told my boss at the science journal that I had an early morning dentist appointment. We walked up Victoria Street from our apartment to the registrar’s office. Kristy had asked a girl she just met to bring a friend and be our witnesses. I don’t remember their names. We went in, we said what we needed to say, and we went outside. It took about 20 minutes. There was no one there to cheer us, or throw confetti, or even take a photo. In the afternoon, I went back to work as a married man, and nobody knew. The civil servant that administered the vows took one photo of us. It wasn’t until we got the film developed weeks later that we realized her finger was over the lens.
As you might expect, it was weird being married and nobody knowing about it. We started telling people that we were engaged but neither of us felt comfortable living a lie.
A few days before the millennium we borrowed a car and drove down to the cottage we had rented near Melrose in the Scottish Borders. Nelly was with us and Stu came up from England too with his mate Miles that had visited Austin in 1995. There were 9 of us altogether. It was a pretty chilled time and everything that I had wanted for a millennium party. About 15 minutes before midnight, I was sitting outside with Kristy. We’d had a few drinks and she said to me that she was tired of lying about our marital status. She wanted to tell everyone what we’d done. I said ‘let’s do it’. So we went back inside, made a little announcement to our friends, drank more champagne and celebrated the millennium as a married couple.
Back in Edinburgh in January, we then had to figure out how to explain to everyone what we’d done, and we had to start planning a wedding that would not really be a wedding.
I got a new temp job at Scottish Widows as the editing work had ended. I was also trying to find a more permanent job somewhere but it wasn’t happening. The Scottish Widows work was depressing. Scottish Widows is a large financial company in the UK. At the start of the year they hired about two-dozen temps to help them process applications for some sort of pension account. It was basically a data-entry job and I had to enter something like 200 of these requests each day. It was mindless, repetitive work, and I got paid £5 an hour.
At the same time, I was trying to get into mediation and I found out about two mediation projects that were accepting volunteers. I applied to and was accepted on to both of them. One focused on Neighbor Mediation and the other mediated between victims of crime and persons accused. I’d studied mediation while I was at UT in Austin and it was probably the best thing I learned in law school. At that time in Scotland, mediation was not very well known, and so I saw an opportunity to make a difference. The training programs for both projects meant that I was out about 3 or 4 nights a week and most weekends for 2 months. I loved it though. Less than two years later I would find a job as a full-time mediator in the field of special education needs, and I chaired meetings of the Scottish Mediation Network.
But those early months of January and February 2000 were tough. I was getting on the bus at 8am every morning to work in a pensions conveyer belt at Scottish Widows, and then going to mediation training every night until 10pm. Kristy was working as a nanny but still very homesick. It must have been hard for her too because I was gone a lot and she didn’t really know anyone in Edinburgh.
I barely remember anything about my time at Scottish Widows except for the day that the big boss called all the temps into a meeting room to tell us how we were not meeting targets and how we were taking too many bathroom breaks. He basically told us all how shit we were, then he asked if anyone had any suggestions as to how we could be more productive. I put up my hand and said, “maybe you could say something nice to all of us?” I think most people laughed then quickly hid their smiles. The big boss was not smiling. About two days later he called me into his office and told me that I wasn’t needed anymore.
I got another temp assignment at the Bank of Scotland doing more data entry. It was a nicer office though on Queensferry road and I liked the people I worked with. I used to love to go and eat lunch by myself down in Dean Village or by the Water of Leith and watch Edinburgh pass by high above. My boss at the bank was a good bloke too and he would take me for a couple of pints at lunchtime every Friday. He was the captain of the Bank’s ‘Project Finance’ football team. I got into the team and scored a few goals. I actually think he kept me on the job longer than normal just so he could keep me on his team.
But yeah that February, in the year 2000, was when I announced to the world that I was actually married but that we were planning a big celebration in the summer. I don’t know if it was because I was busy with work and mediation, or because the motivation was no longer there, but in the end, we never did have that big summer wedding day. I did have a bachelor party though.
On our first anniversary in November 2000, we had a fancy dinner in Glasgow with family and friends, and my parents hired someone to take formal photos. The photographer was using a new camera and when we got the photos back, almost every picture came out blurry. I don’t mention that because I think that it was foreshadowing. I don’t believe in foreshadowing or fate. But it happened.
Kristy and I were together for about four years. We moved to Austin in 2002 and we separated about a year later. I can’t say our break up was amicable, but it was mutual. I have no regrets about what we did, and no blame either. She is a part of my story and I’m sure I will come back to those years in later chapters.
In 2012, I applied to be a US citizen as my ten-year green card was expiring. I went to the citizenship interview in San Antonio, and everything appeared to be in order. Then when the bureaucrat saw that I had been married before, he denied my application pending further review. He said that because my first marriage had ended so quickly after I had arrived in the US, that he would need more proof that it was not a sham marriage.
Think about the logic there for a minute. In order to stay in America with my newborn daughter and with Farah, at that time my wife of 5 years, I had to prove that my marriage to Kristy was real while it lasted, even though it ultimately ended in divorce.
As ridiculous as that sounds, I was able to pull together photos and bills and letters that convinced them, and my application was approved. Though we had not spoken in 8 years, Kristy helped me too. She didn’t have to but she did.
Looking back now, I realize that I learned much from that failed marriage that has actually made me a better husband to Farah. For example, I learned that you should never stop wooing your wife. I learned that you should never go to sleep angry with each other. And I learned that when you want to get married, you shouldn’t do it in secret.