The people in the waiting room had taken the American government’s vague requirement to be “properly attired” in a fascinating variety of ways. There was a diminutive, aged Indian woman in a pale blue sari with silver embroidery. There were men in suits. There was a Rastafarian in his best dreadlock-covering hat, his best leisure wear and silver chain. There were women clearly dressed in their “good” dark-denim jeans with a plain sweater and clogs. There was Sunday-best and dressed-for-work. Some people kept their important documents in a plastic bag, some held manila envelopes. Mine were in a green cardstock file folder.
Mostly people came and went through the heavy door at the back of the room without expression, without incident. I read my book and tried to ignore the 24-hour news channel exploring an unimportant incident in far too much depth, from all the wrong angles. A young black woman bounced out of the room, smiling and making jubilant motions in the direction of her husband, who was minding the baby. She had obviously dressed with care: her tiny frame sported a shiny, teal, drainpipe-legged pantsuit, finished off with bright white bouncy sneakers. Her long cornrow braids shook with triumph as she kissed her little boy.
I had gone through at least three outfits the night before, rejecting the trousers that don’t really fit any more because it was eight years and two babies ago when I used to wear them to work, and ended up in the exact outfit I wore for my mother-in-law’s funeral last February: purple dress, teal slim cardigan, black boots. I was comfortable and felt like myself, not some other version of me that’s not around any more or never was. And I looked as if I’d made an effort, which is all that “proper attire” turned out to mean.
My name was called. I followed the lady back to her room, where she shuffled and hole-punched and checkmarked pieces of paper as she asked me rote questions in a routine voice. First I had to stand up and promise to tell the truth, as if that would make any difference to an unscrupulous person. She wrote with her left hand at right angles to the pages, initialing and circling and numbering in red ink as she went, checking a whole row of boxes at once to catch up to what I’d already answered. I remained calm and collected and was a model student, getting all my civics questions right first time, even that elusively random number of Representatives in the House: 435. I wanted to say “Guam. Ask me the one about Guam. And that Benjamin Franklin was the first Postmaster General of the United States. Those are my favourites,” but I didn’t, and she didn’t.
Then she asked me about my family, and whether I’d ever been in prison, and whether I’d ever conspired against the goverment, or been a Communist, and some other questions. And then told me that she’d be recommending that I be granted what I had come for. I could take the Oath at two this afternoon if I liked.
I didn’t like. My town has a Naturalization ceremony once a month and I’d assumed I’d do it at that; I hadn’t planned to be away all day. Beyond that, I wasn’t ready to seal the deal just yet. One step at a time, without thinking too hard, is the way I’m doing this.
Midway through the questions, I had almost started thinking about what I was doing, as she leafed through my Irish passport looking for stamps and dates. There’s no requirement to give up my Irish passport; I’m allowed to keep it. I’ll never not be Irish. I just don’t like that one line that goes “I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen…” That’s a lot to take on. That’s a lot to ask.
I’m just going to say it and not think about it, which I’m sure is exactly not what the people intended, but there you go. It makes sense to do this, it’s the practical thing to do for our family, to make sure we can stay here, where we’ve made our home, as long as we want to rather than finding ourselves chucked out at some sudden date if things go wrong and funding goes away and the letter of the law must be adhered to. I’m a sensible person. In the end, it makes no difference to my day-to-day life. America needs me, I tell myself, to be a sensible liberal-leaning democrat-voting, atheist, lactivist supporter for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
I’ll say it, and I’ll do it.
But always and forever, if you cut me, I’ll bleed green.