Monday morning, I drove downtown to the passport office. I handed off the papers that were my last hope. I spent the rest of the day wasting time in coffee shops and walking city blocks. This free time didn’t feel an earned break after a busy period. It didn’t feel like the relief of a moment alone. It didn’t even feel like the boredom of having too little to do. It felt like when the power goes out in the middle of a movie. Or when your car breaks down on a cross-country road trip. It felt like the whiplash of suddenly stopping all forward progress. All I could do was wait. Unsettled. Wrapped up in my worries.
After my time in purgatory, I returned for my appointment at the passport office. I securely placed the blue booklet they gave me in my purse (no losing it this time), paid the parking lot attendant, and rushed home where I packed an overnight bag.
The next part of this amazing race involved flying to Chicago, the closest visa office. There, I would need to resubmit my visa paperwork and cross my fingers that it could be processed that day. One same-day document retrieval had worked, and I hoped that the next stage would go as smoothly. I called a friend to coordinate staying with her and hopped in a car headed to the airport.
Before bed, I figured out which train I needed to take to get to the visa office. I woke up early and got there right as they opened. There was already a line, but it only turned two corners. It didn’t seem too late. 1, 2, 3…15…32… I estimated that I was about the 51st person in line. I knew from the website that the visa office had a backlog and would only process a certain number of visa requests a day. However, 51 was well within the limit. “I should be fine,” I thought. I got to the counter and once again handed my life away. “Come back after three,” the man said robotically, “we inform people about the status of their application at that time.”
I was off to another day of waiting and wandering. Already feeling guilty about the money I spent on rush fees and airfare, I spent much of day sitting in sweltering heat in Millenium Park. I must have looked as tired and hot as I felt because deodorant market researchers kept stopping by to ask me questions. I sat and read. Or I sat and listened. To conversations about school credits and scenery and parenthood. Finally, it was 2:30. Time to learn my fate.
I waited in line. I walked up to the window. I gave the man my ticket.
“We weren’t able to process your request,” he said. “Next.”
“Wait. How can that be? I was one of the first people here.” My voice revealed my tipping point. Angry, questioning words pulled taught that could snap at any moment to become the disarrayed letters of tears.
He softened, “It’s a lottery system. Anyone who’s here before noon has the same chance of getting a same-day visa. You really should have done this earlier,” he added judgmentally.
“I did,” I stabbed back. “I could’t find my passport with my visa in it. I’m supposed to fly tomorrow.”
The Indian lady behind me looked at me as one would look a small child crying over an ice cream cone on the ground. “You know, it’s okay, ” she said. “Think of all the poor people where you are going. You are really very lucky. You’ll go a different time.”
Of course, she was right. And of course, she was wrong. She didn’t know that this was really about my relationship with my dad. And my fear of disappointing others. And my shame in being so careless. But that wasn’t a conversation for a visa office.
Dejectedly, I called my mom and told her to please pass on the message. I couldn’t bear to call my dad. I took a seat on the train to the airport and half-heartedly pretended to read a book. I didn’t hide my sniffles very well, and the person across from me kept peering over in my direction. I turned toward the window in hopes that the scenery rushing by would blur away my reality.
The next day, my dad and my sister boarded a plane. I wasn’t with them. I was waiting at home for a package. A package that held a little blue booklet. A package that I would bring to the airport the next day to start this together, family journey alone.