Our nocturnal cat stretched, meowed, meowed again. A sign that he wants to walk the land. At 4:20 a.m. No matter. It's dark still, but there are slivers of light out over the fields to the east.
In any case, I need to be up and out of here. The 5 a.m. bus will put me at the Chicago airport at 8:25. From there, slightly less than an hour on the elevated subway and I'm in downtown Chicago. Finally, a fifty minute brisk saunter should put me on the steps of the Polish Consulate. [A reminder: I am there to confirm that, despite lapses in documentation, I am still a dual: meaning I have not relinquished my Polish citizenship.]
It's a beautiful day to be walking from one end of the city to the next.
But I can't pause much. I must be on time for my meeting with the Polish Counsel.
Let me tell you straight away that he and I were not going to get along. Which is saying a lot, because if you are at the mercy of someone, a bureaucrat lo less, you make an effort to get along. At least I do. Kissing up to the men and women of a papered world is, in general, not a bad strategy.
But Mr. Counsel would have none of it. During the hour that we talked, he allowed for no interruptions, explanations or clarifications. He was hell bent on telling me, in as many words as possible, what a total mess I've made of my life.
I have to say that I felt slightly put upon by the process from the get go. I have a Polish passport. It has expired, but it's there. I have a government ID as well. So why, in my quest for a renewal, start from the beginning? Why ask for a birth certificate? Why a twelve page form demanding such essential information as my great grandmother's maiden name? Who is going to check this and for what reason?
Mr. Counsel looks at my forms, my papers. My oh my, this is a very complicated matter! -- he tells me. I smell pleasure in his voice.
Well now, let's go back in time. You say you married. Do you have a Polish certificate attesting to that?
No! I married an American. Here in Chicago!
And you didn't register this marriage in Poland? -- he asks, amazed.
Let me finish. You did not do it. Well, you must do it. And look at your Polish passport! It's full of inconsistencies! You tell me your last name is Camic. Why is it Camic-Lewandowska in your passport?
I really don't know...
Well, you'll have to explain that down the road.
My Polish passport was issued after my marriage. But okay. I did not register my marriage. Can I now submit my marriage certificate?
No. It has no information as to why your name appears hyphenated in one place and not that way in another. And besides, you can't submit anything without proper certification.
But this is the original marriage certificate!
He smiles indulgently. You must certify it nonetheless.
Fine, I get that. International treaties. Certifications. Stamps. Signatures. All that. So I'll certify it!
Not enough. You must then register it in Poland.
I'm not even married anymore!
I see that. You have been negligent in that as well. You must certify, then register your divorce too. Only after you do that can you file papers asking for a verdict as to your citizenship. If they say yes, then you'll be issued a new ID. And then you can apply for a passport. But I don't know how you can explain the incorrect name... He seems genuinely concerned at this point that he can offer no steps for me to follow.
A very complicated case, he summarizes. This is going to take a very, very long time.
I feel a tightness in my throat. It comes to me when someone slaps down my earnestness, my hope for a good outcome.
And then I have a moment of utter clarity: it doesn't matter anymore. My happiness does not depend on this man's support or disapproval. He has no control over the joy I feel when working at the farmette, or when I teach a good class, or when I eat a meal with daughters and their partners, or when I eat breakfast with Ed. I am so incredibly lucky -- none of these things rest on his decision or his smug disapproval of the steps I have taken in my life.
And so I smile, because this realization makes me very, very happy! And I tell him that much as I like being in Chicago on a sunny May day, I do not want to make a habit of making the trip, five, ten or perhaps more times in the next years to secure the proper stamps and signatures. So I'll pursue my Polishness elsewhere, on my own, with the help of my sister, directly in Warsaw.
No you wont! You can't! You do not live in Poland! -- he really wants to squelch any last bubble of hope. We, at the Consulate, we are your representatives! I'm sorry you don't feel happy with the service we are providing.
I don't like inefficiencies, I say, still smiling. I don't need him for a good life! How cool (and lucky) is that! If every American had to make a personal appearance and go through these steps to get a passport renewal, there would not be enough tax dollars in the Treasury to pay for it.
Oh, he tells me, as if in cahoots with all government bureaucrats of the world -- it's coming to that here too! You'll see!
Let's hope not, I tell him and walk out.
At the clerk's booth I do get a "certified" photo copy of my American passport. I need that to initiate the Polishness process on my own, in Warsaw.
That'll be $40 please, smiles the rather pleasant (for a change) Polish clerk.
So they sucked some money out of me after all, but they didn't slap me down and throw me to the wolves. Not yet anyway. Stay tuned.
My little girl, the one who lives and works in Chicago breaks away from her job to eat lunch with me.
It's been a while since I've had the great pleasure of a Chicago meal with her.
I manage, too, to squeeze in a trip to the office where people certify various Illinois documents (my marriage certificate came from Illinois). I just want to see if perhaps I am too harsh in finding fault with the consular office that charged me $40 for the passport certification.
How much? I ask, as I pick up the certificate, admiring the gold seal that has now been added.
The bus ride back to Madison is smooth, pleasurable, in the way that a return ride often is. It doesn't matter that I have accomplished little at the Consulate. It matters that when I alight here, at the farmette, I am so damn happy to be home. The light is mellow, the colors are soft. How good is that!