This week I fly into Heathrow Airport.
I am a traveler by heart.
I was always destined to travel. I think I wished it so deeply, that eventually it became an innate part of me. I left England when I figured out I could. The leaving part was easy. Making it permanent was a little harder.
The last time I visited London, it was under completely different circumstances.
I hated being there.
I was 24 and had been in the states for almost a year; living with a family in New Hampshire and working as a nanny. I’d only been issued a six month visa, with an optional six month extension.
So – the clock was ticking. Loudly. I knew that I would have to make a decision about what to do next. Should I try and stay in the states? Or should I return to England? It was an easy decision to make. I drove to the beach, watched the ocean and realized I couldn’t leave. I needed to be in America.
The only realistic option was to apply to college and change my visa to a student visa. Initially, it seemed like a simple thing to do. Yea, Like – I’ll just go back to school. It’s actually not that easy. You need a financial sponsor, you need to apply and be accepted into a college and then you need to go back to your home country and apply for the visa change.
It is anxiety provoking, to say the least. I left the states not fully knowing if I would be allowed to come back. Do I half pack? Leave some things, take some things? I went back to my hometown, and for a few weeks lived in limbo. The feeling of not being fully in control of my life was especially hard for me.
I traveled by train, to London, with my mother. We would be there for the day, to attend my interview. It would be fun (ish).
I carried a small bag stuffed full with the necessary paperwork. And I could have literally thrown up at any given moment. Like – full force vomit. It was not a fun day. We waited in line, took a number and sat – in a hot room, for hours. I spent most of the time rehearsing my lines. Things I thought they would like to hear from me. Things that I thought if I said, they would like me enough to let me go back.
If you have never dealt with the I.N.S, you have no idea the power they hold over you. It’s frightening. Even when you’re doing everything by the book, it’s an overwhelming sense of powerlessness.
One word, one nod, one stamp in the passport and your life changes.
Someone with a government-issued badge can change the trajectory of your life forever. And there’s little you can do.
When my number was called I don’t recall how I felt. I remember going up to the window. Giving a young woman my papers, her reading them, her making a comment that her father was an instructor at the college where I would be attending. And her stamping something. Then she smiled. I have no recollection of anything I said to her. Nothing.
I do remember leaving the Embassy, and walking down the street with my mother.
I was a visitor again. I didn’t live here. I would be going ‘home’ soon.
In hindsight, it would have been nice if we would have had the desire to do the tourist things: see the sights, buy overpriced cheap crappy souvenirs that will end up as landfill. But, I couldn’t. I was emotionally stripped raw. We headed back to the train station and prepared ourselves for the three hour train ride back.
When I fly into Heathrow this week, I arrive as a tourist. A visitor to the Motherland.
And my journey continues on.
(Insert catchy ending phrase here)
Diane aka The Paint Factory