When I look at this picture it’s with mixed emotions, on the one hand feelings of great affection, good fortune and happiness, on the other hand feelings of great sadness, confusion and pain.
Let me try and explain this emotional turmoil a little better by introducing you to Grandma.
My partner, Heather, had often talked about her grandma, always with tenderness in her eyes and pride in her voice. I was nervous about our first meeting, over three years ago now, but also anxious to meet this 85 year old lady that I’d heard so much about. I wasn’t disappointed, Grandma was everything that anyone could ever dream of in a grandma, gentle, caring, nurturing and accepting with an awesome sense of humor.
My next dilemma was how to address her. Using Mrs… seemed so formal yet using her name disrespectful, Heather catching onto to my indecision posed the question to Grandma, her response, “Darling your family now, call me grandma” melted my heart. More importantly it took away my trepidation about her acceptance of mine and Heather’s relationship.
We talked about the problems our relationship posed mainly stemming from the fact that I was not an American. My visa permitted me to stay in America for six months at a time after which I had to return to the Netherlands for a period of time in the hope that I would be allowed reentry every time I returned to the States. With every returning visit my fear grew of not being able to return to my love and what had become my home. Had our relationship been a heterosexual one then we would never have been confronted with this situation, immigration by way of marriage would have allowed us to lead a secure and stable life.
Born at the beginning of the last century in the deep south, Grandma is a Southern Bell in jeans. Same-sex relationships were not something to be tolerated, least of all accepted in her time, yet Grandma could not understand her government’s standpoint “Sweethearts I don’t understand your relationship, I don’t have to, as long as your happy together and I can see you are, then that’s all that matters.” Grandma’s offer to march to Washington in protest of the discriminatory immigration laws was a heart wrenching yet amusing picture.
After this initial meeting I was lucky enough to enjoy several more visits with Grandma, each time growing more and more fond of this fragile yet gutsy lady. Then the atrocities of 9/11 occurred and, as for many people, turned our lives upside down. My visa became invalid, the new immigration laws stated the duration of an individuals stay would be decided upon arrival in the states, based on the reason for visiting. It was impossible for me to stay any longer.
After pondering our very limited possibilities we were left with only one option, to move to the Netherlands. So the great move began, we shipped what we could possibly afford to ship and gave away or sold the rest of our household that we had built up over the years. It was with great pain that we drove away from what used to be our home in San Antonio in November for the last time. We’d decided to drive across country to see people and places and say our goodbyes before flying out of Washington D.C. Grandma’s house was our first stop on our road trip. As always it was good to see her but this time there was an underlying feeling of sadness. That’s where this photo was taken. Grandma holding pride bear, Grandma confused as to why we had to leave but knowing we had no choice. Our goodbyes were filled with sadness and the fear that due to Grandma’s age, this would be the last time we would see her.
Now 10 months later we’re still in the process of building a new life here in the Netherlands, a country that affords us the opportunity to marry, to lead a normal life, to be equal. We live with the realization that we are amongst the lucky few who are able to relocate so that we can be together but we also miss our home, the life that we had built and of course Grandma. Next month Heather and I will be married, due to health problems Grandma won’t be here to share this day with us. So now all we can do is hope, hope that one day American immigration will allow us to return together, recognize us for what we are, a devoted, loving couple who simply want to spend their life together, furthermore we hope that Grandma will still be with us to share in what she feels is our right to happiness in the country that she is so proud of but recently so disappointed in.
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