Eyes on the Prize, Violet
By: Bec Fordyce
Image: Angie Oko
“Eyes on the prize, Violet” has always been somewhat of a mantra of mine.
Perhaps because Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was performed ad nauseam in my elementary school speech and drama classes? That little excerpt wiggled its way into my subconscious– and it informed one of the ballsiest moves I ever made.
From early childhood, it was my dream to live in the United States and work as an actress. I didn’t know how it was going to happen, but I knew that it was my destiny.
In 2009, I began to make that dream a reality. I had agreed to go over to New York City with a former classmate from the acting conservatory I had trained at in Sydney. I didn’t really know why I agreed to going with her. She was downright horrible to me the years we trained together, and she wasn’t really the sort of person I wanted to hang out with, but it seemed like it might be a way into the United States.
When I arrived, I was absolutely mesmerized by New York City. I had visited with my family in the mid nineties, but it isn’t quite the same thing. I was determined to stay there, and I was determined to make friends with as many people as I could. The last person I really wanted to be around was my former classmate.
One fateful night, I went to a speakeasy on the Lower East Side. I was waiting in line at the bar when a young guy that resembled a Disney Prince looked over at me and smiled.
He was getting up to no good, and I was getting up to no good. We were both flying high on cocaine. We both were well aware of that, and it became a nice conversation starter. It turned out he was celebrating his twentieth birthday and had used a fake ID to get in.
Normally this wouldn’t be the sort of guy I would talk to, because he seemed way too clean cut for me. He dressed like a dork, but he knew where to get coke. And he wasn’t my former classmate, so I was willing to make friends with him.
I didn’t have my American number set up at that time, so I exchanged Facebook information with him instead. His friends came over and they offered us all a round of drinks.
My Australian friends that I had come to the bar with thought these guys were the biggest douchebags. (They weren’t wrong!) We decided to finish our drinks and sneak off to another bar. I felt a bit mean for running off, but I’d message the guy on Facebook at a later time.
I wish that that had been my warning sign there and then, in some respects– because the next part is where the rollercoaster ride begins.
The Disney Prince with dorky clothes and I struck up a friendship. I suspected he might have had a bit of a crush on me. I wasn’t really interested in a relationship with a guy five years younger than me, but he did everything in his power to win me over.
I initially considered this guy to be my new, cute younger friend. He really was an incredible tour guide. We went on a lot of adventures together and got into all sorts of mischief.
Booze was a very big part of our adventures. One drunken night out, we finally kissed. I wasn’t very happy about it, apparently. I pushed him off of me and yelled, “You wear masks! I fucking hate it!” before passing out in bed next to him.
Drunk me can sometimes be incredibly perceptive.
I suddenly started finding myself attracted to this younger man. I didn’t really know if there was going to be much of a future between us, but we sure had fun. He took me to concerts, parties, art galleries, restaurants and made sure I had the most authentic experience instead of a cheesy tourist one.
I did not want to go back to Sydney.
One afternoon, he suggested something wild. He offered to marry me. I was so excited and elated. He knew that I really wanted to make living here a reality, and this would make that possible.
It was a huge thing that he was offering. I kept asking him if he was sure he wanted to do this. I would understand if he wanted to back out of this, and I told him he always had that option.
He reassured me by saying “Worst case, I have married my best friend– best case, this works.”
I wanted to have both. I could not believe that someone was doing this for me. This gesture meant everything. I was also very determined to make the marriage work.
My parents got engaged after dating for one week and they have been married for forty years. They didn’t tell my sister and I that until we were a bit older. It makes sense. They didn’t want to fill our heads with any idea this was normal.
I thought that maybe this could be the case for me, too.
I made the announcement to everyone back in Sydney that I was getting married. I’ll never forget one of my friends laughed when I broke the news to him. Half-jokingly, he asked, “Who are you marrying – a drug dealer or a stuntman?”
He was incredibly disappointed to learn that the man I was marrying was on his way to becoming a real estate developer. He was the last person on the planet you would expect someone like me to marry. I didn’t care though. This man believed in me and my dream. I also was madly in love with him, and genuinely wanted to make this marriage work.
My tourist visa expired, and I had to go back home for a few months. The dorky Disney Prince came out and met my family. They were so won over by him. He told them about the neighborhoods we would move to. He’d check in with them through chat from time to time. He seemed like the perfect fiancé.
I tied up all the loose ends of my life in Australia. I sold all of my furniture and saved every dollar before I went back to start immigration and wedding preparations.
I finally returned to the States in the spring of 2010. I was so excited to start a new life and start making strides with my career.
It all came to a screeching halt about one month in.
My fiancé asked when I would be moving out of the apartment he was sharing with his friends. He said that it was violating his lease.
I was horrified.
I thought I was staying here until we marry, and then we’ll move?
What was with all of the property listings in the West Village you were showing me? What was that all about, then?
I didn’t really know how to process this information. I felt shocked and betrayed. Then came the big reveal– his parents had no idea about this. To add insult to injury, he also revealed that his parents were fully financially supporting him, and they would not be ok with any of this.
All the money spent on the gifts and dates we went on was just Mommy and Daddy’s money?
Are you fucking kidding me?
Being someone’s dirty little secret is probably the most hurtful thing. I was unaware of so many things upon returning to New York. Had I known these things prior to leaving, I would never have agreed to venture into this shitshow. But I was here now and ready to do this.
After he dropped the bombshell, he went off to his classes at NYU. I stayed at home and poured myself a mug of vodka. To put it mildly, I was heartbroken. He didn’t make any of this information transparent until now. I felt mislead, and I felt so humiliated.
What on earth had I gotten myself into?
I called my parents over Skype. I was hysterical. I told them that his parent’s didn’t know about our marriage plans. My mother even said “Is it worth staying just for this?”
I lied to her and said, “Yes.”
Part of me deluded myself that love would find a way – and the other part whispered, “Eyes on the prize, Violet”.
I’d sacrificed so much to get this far. Nothing could stop me from staying in New York. I often wonder what life would have been liked if I had just turned back around there and then. What I put myself through seemed beyond sadistic– all for the sake of fulfilling a dream.
By the end of Spring, the gears were in motion to get my Green Card. My lawyer had met with my fiancé and I. We were given instructions on what to do to start documenting our relationship (that was easy, we had so much already). We applied for our marriage license.
My wedding was very much inspired by my parents. They had a handful of guests. The dress was something she could wear again. The rings were understated and simple. The ceremony was brief. Since only my friends knew that we were getting married, it was very easy to pull off. I was never into a lavish wedding anyway.
My wedding day really ought to have been one of the happiest days of my life. It was and it wasn’t.
The ceremony took place near Bethesda Fountain in Central Park. I had a motley crew of guests – an artist I met at a rave party, his girlfriend and my roommate from Brazil. The photographer was a man I met on a cash gig I worked about a week earlier. The celebrant was a man I found off of Craigslist.
My parents were not there, but they gave us a very generous wedding gift. We had a hotel suite on The Highline. The night before was a bit of a bender, so we both woke up extremely hungover for the ceremony.
The arrangements were so haphazard, and I was relying on people I really didn’t know very well. The photographer was late for the ceremony. (I needed those photos for immigration…asshole!) My friend played a prank saying he’d lost the rings.
So much was at stake for that day. It didn’t only represent a union. This also determined my future. I was a nervous wreck.
The celebrant actually laughed at us after he married us. I think he could smell a bit of bullshit. That felt odd, but those feelings were quickly squashed when a group of strangers in Central Park started cheering us on after we said “I Do”.
My post wedding high lasted all of about forty-eight hours.
When we returned to his apartment, his roommates were having a party on their rooftop. I had made a trip to the bodega, and made a passing comment to the guy who worked there that I had gotten married. All hell broke loose when he congratulated my husband, in front of his roommates, when they went down later to buy more beer.
He stormed back to his rooftop and forced me into a corner.
“Do you realize how damaging this information is to me?”
I fell apart and started sobbing uncontrollably. I tried apologizing.
“Do you realize I’m committing both tax and insurance fraud?”
For the record– I would NEVER have gone ahead with the marriage had I been made aware of this. Too late to do anything about it now, the ink had dried on the paper. I was getting that Green Card, even if it meant suffering for it.
And suffer I did.
I hated carrying a dirty secret around with me. I was proud to be married, and even though it was hard, I secretly kept hoping that things between us would go back to the way they used to be.
I always assumed that holidays would be spoken for now that I had a husband. Even if his family didn’t know.
Thanksgiving of 2010 was brutal. I remember my husband had come to visit me on a Tuesday evening to do laundry at my building.
Out of nowhere, he said, “I have a bus to catch.”
A bus to catch? This was all news to me. He then proceeded to tell me that he was off to see his sister in Boston. He’d hate her to be alone on Thanksgiving.
I was too mortified to tell anybody that I had been abandoned on a holiday I assumed I would spend with family. I decided the best thing to do was to chug a couple of Four Lokos with some sleeping pills. I felt so worthless and lonely. I just wanted to numb the pain.
Numbing the pain became commonplace in my marriage.
I was dependent on my husband for so many things. My immigration status fell solely on him. All my mail had to be sent to his address, otherwise it would raise red flags with immigration if they knew we weren’t even living together. There’d be days on end where he’d choose to ignore my calls when he knew I needed money. It wasn’t uncommon for me to show up at his doorstep absolutely loaded and in tears. His roommates didn’t know the whole story, so they just passed me off as a lunatic.
My husband also loved taking unexpected trips. He’d always insist he’d “told me about it” whenever I would mention this was the first I had heard of it. I learned many of those trips were to go and hook up with his ex-girlfriend back in his hometown.
All of this was happening before my Green Card interview.
The one thing I took a bit of sick comfort in was a Cold War analogy, Mutually Assured Destrution (M.A.D). I knew if he sabotaged my Green Card efforts, I would report him for tax and insurance fraud. It made me feel a tiny bit better if things ever had to get ugly.
The Green Card interview was surprisingly easy. I heard horror stories of people being taken out in hand cuffs. I also heard stories of how you might get asked the most ridiculous questions like “What color is his toothbrush?” (I don’t even remember what my current one looks like.)
The man who interviewed us asked us some very obvious questions– and more importantly, he was really nice– and funny. I got my passport stamped with a temporary green card that very day.
I still had one more huge hurdle to cross. I had to remain married for two years from the issue date in order for the conditions of my Green Card to be lifted.
Christmas that year was even more horrible than Thanksgiving. I spent the holiday with his parents in Upstate New York.
My parents had taken out a health insurance policy for me. The money from our joint bank account was withdrawn on Christmas Eve. The bank didn’t recognize the charges, and we had a freeze placed on our card. My husband discovered this on a last minute shopping trip the following morning. He was livid.
His parents didn’t know what was going on –and since they didn’t know we were married– they didn’t know why the account had been frozen.
My husband took me downstairs to talk to my privately. I was crying and insisted that he speak to my parents. They would do anything to help rectify this situation.
I called my parents in hysterics, again. They had no idea this would happen– but they would do anything they could to help out. They tried to contact my husband but he refused to deal with them.
Meanwhile, his parents were calling all of the family to the tree to exchange presents.
Christmas morning was beyond frosty. My husband and I sat on opposite sides of the living room glaring at each other.
I didn’t have a great income, but I had remembered him talking about how much he loved The Wireand It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. I decided that I’d get him some box sets of each. When he unwrapped his gift he said, “Is that all you got me?” with no emotion.
After the gifts were exchanged, we ate Christmas lunch. My husband was still ignoring me, so I took it upon myself to drink away the pain.
Alas, the booze did not take away the pain. It exacerbated it. I decided maybe I should just end my life.
I remember texting my parents “I love you and I am sorry”.
This immediately set off alarm bells– and my mother had to talk me out of jumping out of a window.
Merry fucking Christmas.
The two years that followed were pretty much a blur. There were plenty of occasions where I was subjected to emotional abuse and neglect. I drowned so much of it out with alcohol and cocaine. The only thing I could focus on was to try to fight through until the conditions were lifted on my Green Card.
Eyes on the prize, Violet.
In 2012, my lawyer reached out to me to prepare my paper work to have the conditions of my Green Card lifted. She sensed things were not going well. She warned me that this was going to be a possible roadblock. She said I should file for divorce.
We took a new angle on my case when we dealt with immigration– and it is all true. I had entered the marriage in good faith, but we were grossly incompatible. I also started seeing a psychiatrist and had references written by close friends of ours.
My husband and I were in and out of each other’s lives. We’d run hot and cold. He was cheating on me constantly– and I started having an affair with a man I met on his rooftop. We really want out of our way to be cruel to each other. I do not feel proud about any of it, but when you get mistreated by someone for so long, you fight back– and you fight back dirty. My jabs at him became as cold and as calculated as his. We brought out the very worst in each other.
I spent the late half of 2012 and early 2013 worrying about my future in the United States. It was a fifty-fifty marriage to begin with. Immigration laws in the United States have always been strict– and what if all of this had been in vain? I was always told that I would probably get an interview with immigration. That kept me awake at night.
A week after my twenty-ninth birthday, I got a letter from immigration. They lifted the conditions on my Green Card. It was a very humble victory.
I wish I could say that it was smooth sailing from there.
Far from it.
The marriage left huge psychological scars. Loneliness has been a very big reality of living here. I have no family here. Many of those years I tried drowning that loneliness out with alcohol and substances. That in itself creates an even bigger set of problems, but I was too self destructive and blind to that for a very long time.
I sought a bit of vindication by emailing his parents about a year after the divorce and Green Card conditions lifted. I sent over a copy of our marriage and divorce papers along with wedding photos. They never replied, but I figured they needed to know the truth. It was cruel and petty– but at least I got the last laugh in that respect. I know he got in a bit of trouble over it.
The whole experience took me years to get over. I lost of a lot self worth from being kept a secret and hidden from his family. Having no self-respect means making some very poorly informed decisions, and I made a lot of those.
In retrospect, I really ought to have walked away from the situation when I was told that his family was unaware of our plans. We also really were grossly incompatible– and my intuition was screaming this at me from the very first night we met.
I can be very stubborn when it comes to things I want. I got my prize, but it came at a tremendous cost. The going price for a Green Card marriage normally is $10,000. I paid with my sanity instead.
Nearly ten years after my wedding day, I have found a healthy relationship. It took years of kissing frogs and a LOT of self-improvement on my end. The wounds slowly healed. I also discovered that I have some incredible people around me in New York City that I would consider the next best thing to family.
I am not proud of a lot of the actions I did to make my dream a reality– but you only have one life to live. I can’t change the past, but I can change myself and my future.
Eyes on the prize, Violet.