Darlene for many years has lived alone in a flight-path apartment. She’s as independent as one can be these days: she upholsters her own furniture, takes long solo vacations in her van. She is in her late twenties and makes good money selling medical equipment. She is tall and athletic, with glasses, blond hair, and a quick smile unperfected by orthodontics. Like many people with an assortment of pastimes, hers don't always get along together. Her favorites seem to be jogging, smoking, and drinking. I’ve known her for four years and can say that she is obliging, but not to a fault.
“I met Fitz about eight years ago,” she said. ”I was living in London and working at Piccadilly Circus, and he used to come in after football matches and laugh and make noise. From the minute I saw him I liked him. He was a blue-collar worker and I had just finished college and I thought it was cool to go out with someone who wasn’t so much like myself or the people I’d known. Also he had a good body; a hod carrier he was, I think. Yes — I know he was. He worked outside carrying bricks up and down ladders at a construction site. Most of the men in England are paper-colored, but he was tan, maybe five feet eight, slightly built but strong, and he had blue eyes and blond hair, very long. He always wore a sleeveless shirt — like a tank top — and the team he rooted for was from Yorkshire, though he himself was from Australia.
“I worked in the pub to earn a little money, but mostly as a way of getting out in the evenings. In the daytime I was a governess for three kids. It was an avant-garde family, which was a pain: my job was to keep the kids from killing each other. They owned a bed-and-breakfast place in Kensington, three or four stories; in the morning I fixed breakfast for the boarders and made beds in the afternoon, and between times took care of the kids.
“In the evening, as I say, I worked in the pub. In England the customers don’t tip but they buy you drinks. You end up working for shandies, which are a mixture of beer and lemonade. I usually had Carlsburg with lemon in it. I’d say the best part of working there was the food — the Scotch eggs and shepherd’s pies — plus I liked the people I worked for. They hired me illegally, which meant they had to change the name on my employment papers every week. One week I’d be Ursula Something from Norway; the next week I’d be Consuela Something from Spain.
“I think my name was Consuela when Fitz came in. He was thirty-one or thirty-two at the time and I was twenty. He was older than I was but also crazier than the people my age. I was with him once on a bus when he went whistling all the way down the aisle, collecting money in his hat so that he’d have enough for a drink at the next stop. He seemed to live exactly the way he liked, and he often said that he was a person who never had to lie.
“One day I invited him back to the house when I knew no one would be there, and we fooled around. We weren’t together very long after that but we were always friendly. I quit my jobs at the house and at the pub and went to work for a publicity agency that was trying to test the market for American-type foods: TV dinners and corn, that kind of thing. I left Kensington and took a flat in King’s Cross. Since I didn’t go to the pub anymore, I didn’t see Fitz. And then one day in May I was sunning on my back porch when I heard someone call my name. I looked up and there, in the building across my back fence, Fitz was standing and waving. We were neighbors. At night we used to shine flashlights into each other’s flat. We went out again together, had fun. became real friends.
“After I got back to San Diego I took a job in an animal hospital, and the next I heard of Fitz was that he’d gone to Israel to work on a kibbutz. We exchanged a few letters; his were always from some new place — Lebanon, Germany. Then four years ago I got a phone call: ‘Hello, Darlene, this is Fitz. I’m here on holiday and thought I might come round to see you. What would you think of that?’
“Talk about a voice from the past. I didn’t even know how he’d gotten my number. But I was glad to hear from him, and invited him over, then let him stay for about six weeks, platonically, after which he moved out and got an apartment of his own in Hillcrest, near the Mandolin Wind.
“He loved that place; that and the Squeeze Inn nearby. He loved to hang around bars and talk to people; he made a group of friends wherever he went. Also he made contacts for getting work under the table, usually in construction.
“One day he came to my place after bragging to his friends about what a great person Darlene was, and he told me that he invited them all over for dinner. ‘Great,’ I said. ‘When are they coming?’ I thought it might be sometime the following week, and he said, ‘Oh, around seven or eight.’ That was an hour away. I just looked at him: the classic situation where the man brings friends home without telling his wife — only we weren’t married. We ran out to the Mayfair and bought stuff for creamed tacos and salad, and I came home and fixed it in time for the friends to arrive — but when they did, it turned out they’d already eaten. Fitz had not only neglected to tell me about the dinner, he hadn’t told his friends either. They thought they were just coming over for drinks and music. It turned into a good party, as those things go, but I had to eat creamed tacos for two weeks. That was the kind of thing that Fitz could pull without thinking; but friendship was there too, and I had it in my mind that he was a good person, and whenever he seemed inconsiderate, I went back to my original, positive feeling about him, which, for me, is always the right thing to do.
“He left after a few months to take a construction job in Palm Springs, then he moved to a job in Florida, then to a factory job in Germany, in the Black Forest. I received maybe two postcards from him during the next three years. He loved the social life in Bavaria, especially the pubs, but he couldn’t take the weather and the fact that he worked indoors on an assembly line, so as soon as he could, he moved back to San Diego.
“He returned unannounced, in March or April of last year. He called the way he’d done before and asked to stay at my apartment until he could find a place of his own, and soon was working construction and going to the pubs at night. At about this time I met a Marine named Donald, who was going to be posted to Hawaii in a few months. Donald and Fitz got along like brothers. They liked to drink together, they had the same outlook on things; when the three of us went out, we were like a little family, all bonded together.
“One night we were half smashed somewhere and Fitz was saying how much he dreaded going back to the factory in Germany where he knew he could get work, which he would have to do as soon as his visitor’s visa expired. Just before that, Donald had been talking about having me come over to visit him in Hawaii — he'd made a joke about calling this trip our honeymoon. And then Donald said, ‘Hey, how about this? Why don’t you two guys get married?’ — meaning Fitz and me — ‘and then with that, you, Fitz, can get a work permit to stay in the States and — here’s the deal — you pay for Darlene to come see me in Hawaii. That’s what she gets out of it. It’ll be like her honeymoon, only she’ll take it with me instead of you.’
“Everybody laughed. It was a joke for the rest of the evening. Fitz and I get married; Donald and I take the honeymoon. But as time went on it got more serious. Fitz said he really did want to stay in the States, and Donald said he really did want me to visit him after he was posted. And I thought. ‘Dynamite — here is a way I can increase my esteem in my boyfriend’s eyes, and get a free trip to Hawaii. And while the idea was still new to my mind, it sounded like a typically ‘Darlene’ thing to do: crazy, get married for a free vacation. I told myself that it would fit in with my image, which sounds like a stupid reason, but I have to admit it was there.
“And finally, I think, I told myself that the people I’d met in England had been good to me: not just Fitz but lots of people had taken me in, and gone far, far out of their way for me; and I felt that if I ever had the opportunity to help them in return, I would.
“And I did. I mean I began to think seriously of the proposition, or the proposal, or whatever it was. The three of us went on going out together, and every once in a while the subject would bubble up as a joke. I remember my question to Fitz one time: ‘Did you find out how long we would have to be married?’ And he said, ‘No problem — it takes ninety days to get the work permit and a little while after that we can start the divorce.’ We were still in April at this point; figuring a six-month period for the divorce, I could marry and be free again within the year, so as not to screw my taxes up.
“So — on two occasions, at two parties, Fitz promised me, in front of other people, that he would pay for my vacation to Hawaii and be responsible for all the legal and financial arrangements for the marriage, his immigration, and the divorce. I felt that the marriage was not a big priority in my life, and that if this marriage were legally handled, and if I were not emotionally involved, then it would be okay. I took it strictly as a business arrangement. My friends, when I told them, said it sounded like a far-out thing to do, but, you know, are you sure you really want to? Can’t he marry somebody else? Can’t you marry somebody else? Sure it’s a joke — but think about it.
“I did and decided that my initial feeling about Fitz was right, and we went ahead and set the date of the ceremony for early May.
“We went around getting blood tests and a marriage license. Fitz, in addition, had to get a complete physical because he was a foreigner. Then we asked about fifteen friends to be present at the chapel on a Wednesday evening at eight-thirty. I bought a white summer blouse to wear to Hawaii, where Donald had already gone.
"Then on the day of the wedding I got a call from a guy I’d met about a year before on a trip to Olympia, Washington. His name was Dewie; a big guy, six-seven, really sweet. He said he was in town for a business meeting at 8:00 p.m., and I said, ‘Great, why don’t you meet me and some friends at the Hungry Hunter in Mission Valley at nine or nine-thirty? He said fine and we hung up.
"The wedding was held in a room by the swimming pool at a big hotel. It had sliding glass doors and a curtain which was drawn during the ceremony. We stood in front of a hearth which had plastic logs and an orange light bulb in it, and were married by a sweet little lady who gave us a quiet, short talk. I did feel a little guilty at that point; I thought her speech was pretty.
“When we got to the Hungry Hunter, Dewie was waiting outside in a cab. I had a minute alone with him while Fitz and the rest of them went in. I said, ‘Dewie, there’s something I have to tell you and it may sound sort of strange, but I don’t want you to get scared because I really want to be with you tonight.’ And then I told him that I had just been married. I explained the whole thing but he still looked kind of blown away when we walked in.
“As the night went on we all loosened up. After dinner the best man took Fitz home while Dewie and I went dancing at the Reuben E. Lee. Later that night we were in some bar across from the Naval Training Center, necking furiously, when the waitress came up to give us the last call. She said, ‘God! I’ve been standing here for five minutes and you two ain’t come up for air.’ I said it was my wedding night. And she said, ‘Really? Oh, how wonderful; congratulations!’ And then she congratulated Dewie, and he said, 'Thanks a lot, but I’m not the guy she married.’ “
Fitz, having married a U.S. citizen, now was eligible to become a permanent resident of the United States, possessing all the rights and privileges of citizenship. In the code of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, he could adjust his status to legal permanent resident from that of B-2, a temporary, unemployed visitor.
To accomplish this adjustment he would need to fill out an application for status as a permanent resident, a biographic information sheet, produce a birth certificate, color photograph, a health certificate, and have his present wife, Darlene, fill out an affidavit of support, making her financially responsible for his welfare — to the extent that, should he ever apply for unemployment payments or other forms of public assistance, the federal government could hold her reponsible for repaying any money it disbursed.
An arrangement like that conducted between Darlene and Fitz is known as a marriage of convenience. It could incur criminal actions against them both — the INS could turn their cases over to the U.S. Attorney’s office for prosecutions seeking fines or jail sentences or both (the maximum for violation is five years’ imprisonment and $10,000) — but in practice the couple would be such small potatoes that the government might not even press criminal charges. The INS would likely arrest Fitz and try him for deportation; but the strong pursuit of criminal charges is more likely to follow the professionals in marriages of convenience, “the brokers," as INS district director James O’Keefe calls them.
Detecting a marriage of convenience — whether one arranged by a broker or one that occurs privately, as with Fitz and Darlene — is difficult, owing to the nature of marriage. People get married for all sorts of reasons. The circumstances of legitimate marriages are so emotional and so diverse that the INS must treat each case as singular, as a unique arrangement between two people. For example, say an alien marries a citizen, then leaves only two weeks later to take up residence with a cousin in another part of the country. Though it looks like a marriage of convenience, it may be legitimate. Perhaps the alien's presence was needed in the cousin’s home: the cousin was sick and required care. Or perhaps the newlyweds were really incompatible: they were married two weeks and hated each other. According to O'Keefe, it is often the case that an alien dupes a citizen into a marriage with promises of a home and family, so that the marriage is false on one side, but legitimate on the other.
These complications put the INS in the delicate seat of judgment. Indeed, the people who examine the cases are called adjudicators. Most of them work in a suite of offices on the second floor of the Federal Building downtown, in cubicles, actually, separated from one another by bright partitions. Together with checking through the paperwork brought in by a pair of newlyweds, the adjudicator looks to satisfy two questions: Have these people been truly married?; and have they behaved as husband and wife?
A marriage license usually satisfies the first question. The second question can only be satisfied by more questions. How long has the couple been together? When did they meet each other? Where? When did they decide to marry? As regards sex, the adjudicator can only ask whether the couple has consummated the union, since an unconsummated marriage may indicate fraud.
Suspecting a marriage of convenience, the adjudicator may ask one of the persons to return to the waiting room for a while, then put some detailed questions to the remaining spouse: What color is your newlywed’s toothbrush? Where is the television in your home? Where did you go on your honeymoon? The adjudicator notes the answers, calls the absent spouse back from the waiting room, sends the other one out. and asks the same questions to see if the answers jibe. If not, the questioning becomes more intensive, sometimes penetrating to an admission of fraud.
In many cases, however, when the paperwork is complete and correct and when the adjudicator is satisfied that the marriage is legitimate, a temporary authorization for permanent residence may be granted on the spot, in the form of a stamp in the alien's passport (in red safety ink that will not photocopy), together with a slip of paper that may be used in place of the permanent authorization — the so-called green card (it is currently white), which takes about three months to be processed and sent from Texas.
“After the marriage,” continued Darlene, “about a month went by before the trip to Hawaii. Donald had invited Fitz to come over, too. We arranged for tickets and I got time off from work; but by the time we were supposed to leave, Fitz didn’t have any money. He’d been working as best he could, but he’d been laid off a lot, too. and when it came down to it, he hadn’t really planned for anything. I said no problem. I’d pay for his ticket and we’d consider it a loan; he could pay me back for both tickets after we returned.
“So off we went. The trip was a disaster. Donald was not the same person we had known in San Diego, nobody got along, even Fitz and Donald didn’t have a good time together. I still haven’t figured out what happened. Donald was simply not happy to see us.
“Back here again. We settled into our old routine. Fitz had been staying at my place since April and here it was July, so we had our moves down pretty well. He was, after all, a good house guest; he washed his own dishes, left the bathroom dry, slept on a mat in the craft room next to the kitchen. For a man in his late thirties, all he owned was some clothes and a few things he needed for travel. He was in excellent shape for his age. I’ll say that for him. He lived simply: got up in the morning, washed, made breakfast, went to work, went to the pub, came home; crashed.
“A month went by before he got his things together enough for us to go to the Federal Building downtown. It was a Friday; I took the morning off from work. Fitz said the office opened at nine or nine-thirty, but by the time we arrived there must have been sixty people ahead of us, all kinds of people, a United Nations, with Vietnamese, Mexicans, whole families with babies and aunts and grandmothers sitting in plastic chairs, all facing a row of booths that looked like an airline ticket counter, where women in blue-and-white uniforms handed out papers, took in papers, listened to people, and gave them information. This was not, by the way, the room in which we would finally be interviewed; this was just the place where you got your paperwork ready.
“We took a number and went in and waited about two hours, then we started watching the counter on the wall and figured how many numbers were being called every fifteen minutes. By that, we thought we had an hour more to wait, so we went upstairs to the cafeteria for coffee, and returned to see that fifty numbers had been passed and obliterated, including ours.
“The next Friday we went down again, earlier this time, waited a few more hours, after which I was beginning to have my first regrets about this marriage arrangement. At last we got called to the counter. The woman looked at the papers Fitz had filled out and said that I would have to come back and bring some financial information: bank statements and my last return from the IRS. It dawned on me that being married to Fitz was more serious, in one way, than I had thought. I was going to be responsible for his debts — not just what he owed me, but what he might owe anybody else, including the government.
“I think it was about this time, in late August, that I got a friend of mine to give Fitz a job, not in construction but in something related, renting equipment out of a yard. Since Fitz had no car, he took the bus to work every morning instead of hitchhiking or getting a ride with a friend, as he had done when he worked on other jobs. Also, I asked him to start paying rent. The couple of weeks he had asked for in April had grown into five months; I figured it was time he paid something. I knew what he was making and I knew he could afford a hundred dollars a month.
“Our third trip downtown ended in a slight scene, when Fitz got up to the window and was told that he didn’t have the right form for his medical examination. He thought he could use the same one he’d, submitted for the marriage license, but the immigration people wanted him to take another examination, and he just blew up. He said they should have told him before; he said he wasn’t going to do it; he said he’d already gone through this once — but it was no use. We’d have to come back again, and I’d have to take another halfday from work.
“Finally, after three trips, we were able to make an appointment to see an adjudicator upstairs. We figured we only had one more time to go, and both of us, I think, were ready for this to end.
“Meanwhile, things weren’t going too well at home. Fitz hated taking the bus to work in the morning; he said he couldn’t stand the smell of diesel, and anyway the bus made him late every day; so at last he just quit. I said, ‘Fitz, how can you quit your job when you owe for the tickets to Hawaii, and after you agreed to pay me rent?’ And he said he couldn’t be held accountable for those agreements because he was smashed when he’d made them. And I said, ‘Oh, no — no you don’t. That’s not going to work.’ And he said, ‘Well, what am I going to do anyway? I want to get a job but things are slow, people are being laid off.' And I said, ‘You can hang on to the job you’ve got! ’ But he said the buses made him sick, and so we went round and round, arriving nowhere.
“Not long after that we went for the final interview. The waiting room was at the top of the escalator, on the second floor, and was smaller than the one downstairs, but still crammed with chairs, facing a partition, behind which was a window. We got there and found we had to pay a fee — something like eleven dollars — and since Fitz didn’t have any money with him, we had to rush home to pick some up. At that point I really felt awful; I wished I’d never gotten involved in this; I just wanted to get through with it and put the whole thing behind me.
“In the interview, we were asked how long we’d known each other, how we’d met, and other questions of that sort. I said I’d met Fitz eight years ago in London, and that he'd come to San Diego and had stayed with me for a few months, and that we’d decided to get married, all of which was true. The adjudicator approved our papers, and Fitz got his temporary papers for residence. It was all rather anti-climactic.
“Fitz had gotten what he wanted now, and what I wanted was a divorce. He’d said he would handle all the arrangements, but I wasn't going to wait for that. One day I went down to the county courthouse on Broadway, to the same room where we’d gotten our marriage license, and I picked up a county booklet on how to file an uncontested dissolution. I was standing at the counter, checking through it to see if there was anything missing from the papers I’d picked up, when, at the bottom of page one, in a box titled ‘Special Warning,’ I read, ‘If you are an alien who has become a lawful permanent resident on the basis of your marriage to a United States citizen or a lawful resident, obtaining a dissolution within two years might lead to your deportation. You should consult a lawyer before obtaining a divorce.’
“Two years. What in the world? I looked again: I was going to be married to this man for two years. For two years I was going to be legally responsible for him. If someone sued him, they would sue me too. But if I divorced him right now and the government deported him, what would happen to me? Would I go to jail for my part in the marriage? Is this what I’d gotten myself into?
“I went home and showed the papers to Fitz, who didn’t seem too concerned. ‘We can get divorced before two years are up,’ he said, ‘and if the government comes after me, then maybe I’ll be deported, but they won’t do anything to you; it’s the man that always takes the punishment.’
“As if that was any comfort. I fumed and boiled and cursed myself for always being polite and agreeable, and for letting people take advantage of me, and for being so stupid in the first place as to trust someone blindly with two years of my life.
“Everything Fitz did after that started rubbing me the wrong way. I hated the way he pan-fried everything and left a film of oil all over the stove. I resented not having any privacy in my own apartment, of having to explain, when I brought somebody home, that there was another man sleeping in the back room and not to be alarmed if you met him on the way to the john. I couldn’t believe that he would come home one day with a purple velvet coat he’d bought at the Salvation Army — a purple velvet coat in the middle of summer — and then hear him tell me that he had no money for rent.
“I decided, at last, to tell him that he would have to leave. I wanted to wait for an evening when I would find him sober, because I didn’t want to give him an excuse for forgetting, but two or three nights went by and I saw I’d have to corner him half sloshed or not at all.
“I was in bed when I heard him come in. I heard his footsteps: first to the bathroom, then to the craft room where his mat lay spread on the floor, then to the living room, where, I knew from his habit, he would take off his shirt and sit for a while in the blue velour chair, cooling off from his walk.
“I put on my robe and went out to him, ready with my speech. I could see he’d been drinking, but that didn’t frighten me. Fitz is a happy, affectionate drunk, really very charming at times. He smiled broadly when I came in, and said he was sorry if he’d waked me.
“And then I just started talking. I said everything I’d been wanting to say for weeks. I said it wasn’t just the money he owed me for the trip and for the rent, but all the other inconveniences, the lack of privacy, the way he’d let me down by quitting the job my friend had given him, the months and months he’d let go by because he didn’t know as much as he’d pretended to about getting his residence card, then leaving it up to me to find out that we’d have to be married two years instead of a few months.
“ ‘I put a lot of trust in you,’ I said. ‘You were supposed to check out the details, and I think it’s pretty shitty to find out after all this that I'm going to be financially responsible for you for two years.’
“He told me not to be daft, since the man is always financially responsible in these cases. He said, it’s always the man who has to pay.’
“ ‘Bullshit,’I said. ‘That’s my name on the paper that says I’m responsible.’
“ ‘Then maybe you should have looked into all of this yourself,’ he said. ‘Maybe you shouldn’t have trusted me. Did you ever think of that? Eh? Maybe you should have known yourself what you were getting into. Maybe you were the wrong one. ’
“ ‘I shouldn’t have trusted you?’ I said, listening to my own voice say it, as though it were coming from somebody else. Did he mean that he had been trying to fool me all along? Should I have not trusted him because of his intentions? Had he known from the beginning that we would have to be married for two years and that I would be responsible for him?
“ ‘Look, Fitz,’ I said, ‘I don’t want to talk about this anymore. I don’t want you here anymore. I want you out, tonight, right now, as soon as you can leave.’ “He said that as long as I had my dander up, he had a few things that he’d like to say about things I’d done. He reminded me about one night in Hawaii, when we’d been out to a restaurant and were headed back to Donald’s place in a cab. I’d left Fitz in the back seat and crawled into the front to talk to the driver, this sweet old Chinese man.
“ ‘What about it?’ I said.
“ ‘You told him all about being married to the guy in the back seat,’ Fitz said, ‘and you said you were there on your honeymoon, but not with me.’
“ ‘So?’ I said. ‘That was the joke — remember? I married you and went on my honeymoon with Donald. We laughed about that all the time.*
“ ‘Not in front of strangers, ’ he said. ‘It wasn’t funny in front of somebody else. You hurt me that time, I want you to know. You hurt my manhood and you . . .’
“ ‘And do you want to know why you can’t keep a man?’ he said. ‘A man can’t stand to hear your language. No wonder they all run away from you, the way you talk. It sounds plain silly coming from a woman.’
“ ‘I’ll say what I want in my own house.’
“ ‘And you’ll say it alone.’
“ ‘Alone?’ I said. ‘But I’m not alone — that’s the point of this conversation. You’re here, and I want you out.’
“ ‘You’ll never keep a man,’ he said.
“ ‘I don’t want to keep a man, I want to get rid of one.’
“ ‘Why don’t you?’
“ ‘Because,’ I shouted, ‘I married him!’
“That night Fitz stayed after all, because, he said, it was too late for him to check into the Y. The next morning he was gone. I saw him again when he came to pick up his things, and a last time when he told me he was leaving for Phoenix, where he had a line on a.good job.
“The last talk was friendly; he called before he came over, and found me working in the craft room on a stained-glass window I was making on commission for a wedding. He told me about his plans to find work, then apologized for the way things had turned out, and I made us some tea, and we talked for a while in the living room, and he left.
“That was eight months ago. I had him sign the divorce papers before he went, and I have them all, still blank, in a box by the front window. I haven’t decided yet whether to fill them out and pay the seventy-five dollars to have them processed. He left with the agreement that he’d pay me at least the rent he owed, but so far he’s sent no money. He sent a Christmas card and has called me twice. He seems to be living his usual life. In his last phone call he said I should go ahead and divorce him, and if I had the money in my hand right now, I might. And then I might not. I do want this whole thing to end, but then, in a calm moment, I don’t feel all that angry for what happened, and I don’t want anyone to be punished.
“Oh, hell — I should divorce him right now and let him be deported.
“Then why don’t I? He took advantage of me. But who’s better off in the end? The trusting or the wary? I haven’t decided yet. I haven’t divorced him yet either. He still might come through with his promise."