Being a Long Distance Wife.

For the last few weeks, I haven’t necessarily been living on earth. I’ve been living on the planet in which all newlywed couples thrive — Planet Just Married. It’s a reality swept up in wedding gifts and honeymoon souvenirs, where one finds themselves crying tears of joy as they flip through their wedding album for the tenth time that week.

Since returning to Manhattan, I’ve moved into a new space. It dons the costume of a woman whose recently exchanged I do’s. My cabinets boast a set of Mr. & Mrs. mugs, my dresser shows off an 8×10 picture frame of me and the groom. Beside my bed is a night table with a jewelry dish, where I promptly remove my rings at night. On the other side of the bed is another night table — only it’s empty. The space beside me at night is also empty. My husband is still not here in the United States, still halfway across the world, still not allowed to be with me.

Last week, as I emptied space in the closet for Mr. Blagojević’s belongings, I began to violently sob. It occurred to me that this closet — our closet — will be empty of his things for many months. It just isn’t fair. We’ve done everything right and still cannot be together. Not until everything is legally processed. Sometimes, our wedding feels like some distant fever dream, a party I attended in another timeline — not my life. It’s only when I’m rewatching our video or revisiting photographs that I feel calmer about our situation. That I can wipe away my tears and remember yes, this happened to me. This wonderful thing happened, despite what is happening now.

Since returning home, I am naturally asked, “how do you feel?” now that I am a married woman. My response is bittersweet: I am both happy and heartbroken. I feel both like myself and also like someone else. As though I am just existing right now, watching some married woman set up a home for a future spouse. The bathroom has a hook for his robe, the bar cart has a space for his glasses — but he’s not here.

This is supposed to be a period of cheesiness and romantic shenanigans. We’re newlyweds — we’re “supposed” to be licking brownie batter off of spoons and dancing in our living room or something like that. Instead, we are both neck deep in paperwork and phone calls with our lawyer, back to Facetime calls and different sleep schedules. To put it bluntly, we have been robbed of this delicate time in our lives. And it hurts. I can’t imagine anyone would want to go through this, to have the most beautiful wedding and magical honeymoon only to still wake up alone. And not just for weeks, but for months. Indefinite months. Of course I’m happy to be married. It was always going to be Aleksa. But I am equally sad. And I need people in my life, including myself, to allow space for that right now.

I’ve discovered that when it comes to weddings, there seems to be plenty of expectations of what we’re “supposed” to feel. In the days immediately following my wedding, everyone who means something to me kept asking, “so how DO you feel?” They said it with such conviction that I worried something must be off with me. I’d peer into the big bathroom mirror in our honeymoon suite, searching for some sign of a mythical, womanly change in myself. What that was supposed to look like, I have no idea. When I look at photos of my mother from her honeymoon, she has this otherworldly glow about her. Every part of her seems to be smiling. Even her hair. So I kept thinking to myself, do people see that in me? Is my hair smiling?

The closest I felt to this whimsical, wifely feeling was the morning after our wedding. We spent the night at beautiful Hotel Moskva, which some of you know is akin to my safe haven in Belgrade. It was 8 A.M. when my eyes fluttered open: first to the grogginess of the Sunday morning, then to the giant, white wedding down hanging from the closet. And when I looked beside me, I saw my husband. It was the first time I could say that. He had his face squished into his pillow and the sheets wrapped around half of his torso. His yucky socks were on the floor, which meant he was truly, deeply sleeping. And I thought to myself, that’s my husband! That’s my person. All the ridiculous comments we have endured, all the pain and suffering of long distance we have gone through, and now I’m in bed next to my husband. Finally! No one can say anything. No one can take that away from me. He is my husband.

Later that morning, we waddled toward a breakfast of orange juice, croissants, and Serbian deli meats. I began wondering if he felt like a husband, and what I even meant by that. And as the texts rolled in on my screen, “omg, congrats! how do you feel?” I wondered more about this enchanting “wife feeling” that was allegedly going to envelop me. I ordered a latte for breakfast – I can still order lattes, right? — and gazed around me at all the Serbians. Could any of them tell I had just been married the night before?

With my family still in Belgrade, we decided to all take a Sunday morning stroll through Knez Mihailva — which is the downtown area just left of Hotel Moskva. We strutted past old men selling sunglasses, kiosks filled with cigarettes and bubblegum, and a violin duo playing the waltz from “Eyes Wide Shut.” I scanned each passing crowd for couples, wondering if anyone else was “just married” and if I could tell they were just married. But I couldn’t tell the difference among any couples. Which made me wonder more and more if the whole thing was made up — if I would ever have the mythical glow of a married woman. Because catching my reflection in the window of Hleb & Kefe bakery, I didn’t “look” like a bride or a wife. I just looked happy with a twinge of exhaustion in my eyes.

I see, in hindsight, that this was all anxiety about leaving my husband. Countless times in this relationship, we’ve been invalidated. Whether the comments are coming from the “long distance doesn’t work” lecture or the “it’s a green card scam” xenophobia, whether it’s the government telling us we aren’t technically together until we prove our case — I’m exhausted. And if just for a minute I know it’s real, that I know we’re really husband and wife, that I can feel like a wife — I can rest. Because in every honeymoon photo I see, my hair *is* smiling, and I look overjoyed to be next to him. And now that we’re apart, I feel separation anxiety. I wish I could just call him up any time of day, I wish we could have dinner together. But we can’t. Those things still don’t belong to us, despite the rings on our finger.

Regardless of our circumstances, I found myself relating to brides in a way I didn’t imagine I would: post wedding blues. I couldn’t believe it. Running around and organizing events for our big day was probably the least fun thing I’ve ever done. I’d imagine it’s fun if you’re the maid of honor or mother of the bride, but being the bride herself, it was a constant headache. My phone pinged everyday with frivolous news: the venue doesn’t have enough candle holders, eucalyptus leaves aren’t in season for your bouquet, your husband said to go with pink napkins but we wanted to check if you meant blush napkins. We drove to dozens of bakeries and had plenty of meetings just planning out our Serbian-American dinner menu. Not to mention, again, that the majority of this information was exchanged to me in Serbian, which was a language barrier hurdle to overcome. Try preparing a destination wedding in a language you aren’t well versed in. It’s hard!

And yet there I was, a few days after our wedding, sad that it was all over. The months of preparation, the search for the dress, the makeup trials, all done! I understand, now, why people go on honeymoon after their wedding. It certainly is a luxury, but it’s incredibly special to spend that one-on-one time with your new spouse. It’s a time to celebrate your new chapter together as well as decompress from the mountain of stress that a wedding brings.

We had so much fun in Greece that I will have to dedicate space to its own blog post. But I can say that our NYC studio is scattered with a few evil eyes, a Santorini blanket, and a photo of us basking in front of the infamous blue domes.

Until Aleksa arrives in Manhattan, this will be my version of married life. It’s not ideal, but it makes me excited for the future we have together. It’s not just the big things, like excitement for Aleksa to see the city during Christmas time, but also the little things, like excitement for Aleksa to see our coffee table.

In this way, I suppose I feel like a wife. Picking out bedspreads and cutlery — it’s not the shopping that’s exciting, but the thought that in the near future, Aleksa and I can use it together.

If it isn’t obvious by now, I just want my husband here with me.

Yet even though some days feel incredibly hard — hard to get up out of bed and know Aleksa has been up for 6 hours already in Serbia, sad to make a cup of coffee for just myself — it appears our situation is starting to get somewhere.

The first round of paperwork is done, and next, we have interviews to attend. It’s hard explaining to others that this is a legal immigration process at this point. I take pity, sometimes, when explaining the seriousness of it to others. “But you’re married!” they say with wrinkles in their forehead. “Why can’t you be together?” The short answer: it just doesn’t work that way.

But if you want a longer answer, here’s a brief story about our time in Greece that sheds light on what we are facing.

Remember when I said that I was waiting for the Universe to grace me with this alleged “wife” feeling? Well, it did happen. And it was momentarily glorious. The day that Aleksa and I boarded the plane for our honeymoon, the man at the check-in counter asked each of us for our paperwork. We handed him our boarding passes and vaccine cards. None of this is out of the ordinary in 2021.

“Where’s your form?” the man asked me. He was referring to a negative Covid test as well as a health travel document for Americans. Here’s the thing: I would have happily done this paperwork. But I didn’t have to. Serbian citizens do not need a negative Covid test or travel document to enter Greece. And because Aleksa and I are married, that makes me legally family. And the legal family of Serbian citizens didn’t need to do this paperwork.

“We’re married. She doesn’t need it,” Aleksa replied. He pulled out our marriage certificate to verify our status. And sure enough, there was nothing they could do. Aleksa and I are legally family, and the family of Serbian citizens didn’t need to do this form.

It was the first time, in the history of our relationship, that we felt untouchable in the eyes of higher authority. Between visas and passports and green cards, there’s always been something stopping us. Different rules for different countries, different realities for two different citizenships. But that day, we couldn’t be touched. We were legally family.

So, that was my moment. Finally being validated, finally having an undeniable connection to one another that couldn’t be dismissed. It was liberating. For so long, we have been under the authority of our countries rules. Now, we finally have a bit more say in our lives — we’re finally able to overcome some of the very rules that keep as apart.

But we’re nor entirely there yet, nor are we completely untouchable.

As we were leaving Greece to head back to Aleksa’s home in Belgrade, we ran into a new hiccup. Despite our Covid tests, despite our paperwork, despite my shiny hair and wedding band — the woman working at the check in counter did not allow me to board the plane. “So you’re an American married to a Serbian citizen,” she pestered.

“Yes.”

“But you’re not a legal resident of Serbia?”

“No.”

“And you don’t have a Serbian passport?”

“No.”

“Then I’m sorry, but we can’t let you on the plane.”

We tried everything we could. We pulled our marriage certificates and called up people we knew at the Serbian airport. We even had two different families fighting for us at the check in counter to allow me on the plane. We didn’t even fully understand why I wasn’t allowed on the plane. What it boils down to is this: we just happened to get a miserable person, and miserable people like to make others miserable. It had nothing to do with paperwork, because I had all the right documents. It had to do with the fact that this person did not want to understand us and our circumstances. And after much back and forth with the counter, after reluctantly being given my boarding pass, and even making it to the gate, the woman sent security to retrieve me. “But why?” I asked. “You’re separating me from my husband.” It was four in the morning and I was crying. It was our second to last day together before I headed back to New York.

“Because,” the woman said to me. “You’re American. And you can’t board this plane.”

And just like that, reality shifted around me yet again. I realized that for a while, life is going to be like this: having to prove our marriage to others, having to defend our countries of citizenship, having to go through legal demands as this. Even if it doesn’t make sense, even if it’s not fair. It’s just how it is.

If you’re wondering how things turned out, Aleksa had no choice but to board the plane, and yes, there were other Americans on the plane who presented no documents and still were allowed on. I happened to have all my documents, but we just happened to be unlucky with who we had at check-in. I drove six hours back to Belgrade through Greece, North Macedonia, and southern Serbia. In the end, it wasn’t the worst. But at the time, it felt soul crushing. Just when I thought we were finally recognized by the Universe, we were yet again dismissed.

But what I’ve realized throughout all of this is that I am strong. And that other than this current legal process I must endure, I am not proving my marriage to anyone. Not to judge-mental classmates (who are never happy for you!), not to opinionated family members, not to jealous friends or nosy coworkers. It’s sick to think this way, but sometimes, I swear that when people learn my husband and I are still apart, it makes them happy. As if it’s validated some weird part of their ego, that I’m sad.

What they fail to understand is that I’m sad to be away from my husband — I’m not sad in my marriage. Even though it’s not the typical experience of a newlywed couple, we are so happy and excited to be married. We have something undeniably special that people only dream of. We had a beautiful wedding and we have a beautiful connection with each other. I can deal with FaceTime calls for now if it means he gets to be here soon.

I truly am looking forward to the day that Aleksa will get to use his bed side table and drink out of a Mr. mug. Until then, I think I’ll be existing on this little planet of Just Married limbo. It’s not so bad — there’s still plenty of wedding gifts I’m unpacking.

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