étoiles

| stars (feminine plural noun) | /etwal/

I remember those first days back in the United States: the immensity of it all; those wide, open spaces dwarfing me. At night, the sky seemed infinite. I grew dizzy as I spun around counting silver stars and listening to the constant hum of crickets and bullfrogs. And I loved driving on those winding mountain roads whose twists and turns were as familiar to me as the ridges on the palm of my hand.

I have missed home…

You see, I’ve never been a gifted student of the sciences, but as an immigrant, I’ve become painfully aware of Murphy’s Law and Social Darwinism. Murphy’s Law: Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. This is especially true in a country that has been infamously labeled a “bureaucratic nightmare.”

I realized this, not for the first time, as I stood in line at the Office of Immigration in June. I had first arrived a month prior to verify that I could still renew my visa in Lille, even though I had accepted a job in another region of France. The woman assured me that I could come back two months before the expiration of my current visa, no problem.

However, I arrived weeks later with my proper documents and realized that I no longer had any free pages left in my passport. I had already waited in line for thirty minutes, so I chose to speak with someone anyway. I explained that I was applying to renew my visa, and I was met with confusion and incompetence. First, the bureaucrats said I could not renew my visa in Lille. They told me to try the prefecture in Nancy, my new city. (However, I did not yet have a permanent address there, which is required in order to renew a visa.) They then said they weren’t sure what to do, but that I should come back in a week.

I immediately applied for a new passport, which arrived from the embassy within a week, and travelled to Nancy to find an apartment. Once there, I went to the prefecture and realized there were no appointments available to renew my visa. I then figured I could simply apply for a new visa in the States. But once reviewing the online schedule, I saw there were no available dates until September.

For weeks, I obsessively checked online until someone cancelled their appointment on Aug. 5th. I booked it immediately and thought my problems were solved.

Today, I arrived at the French Consulate in Atlanta (a five-hour drive from my home in Tennessee) only to be told that my employers never sent my work contract to the Office of Immigration, and without their literal stamp of approval, I could not apply for a visa. Sucks to suck. Screw you. Next!

I stumbled out into the sun and wept. I emailed and called my contacts at the university to explain my emergency, but France is on vacation until August 16th, so I received nothing but automated responses.

In addition to Murphy’s Law, Social Darwinism has taught me that only the strongest immigrants will survive the intricate and endlessly infuriating bullshit of French bureaucracy. And despite my anxiety, my lack of sleep, I have surmounted every obstacle. I have always found a Plan B and C. I have told myself, “Okay, if I can’t renew my visa here, I can do x or y or z.” I don’t give up so easily, but I admit I’m exhausted and angry. There’s a sense of betrayal that accompanies this resistance. Perhaps it’s my narcissism, but I ask, “How dare you? I chose you. I gave up so much to move to your country.” And…why?

I feel so impotent. There is literally nothing I can do, and so I am left screaming profanities in my car and begging the universe to heed my plea: “Please, please, let me get back to my life!” I have a fucking life there!

So what do I do? Must I wander aimlessly across this vast, dusty, beautiful continent of mine? If it comes to that, I’ll take my dog, and together will pierce that infinite sky. And I’ll drive days and days until I’ve driven through Texas, Oregon, Alaska, New York, and Michigan, until I’ve wrapped my arms around all the wonderful people sprawled across this wild, gorgeous nation.

About Gabriella

I'm a twenty-something insomniac with a caffeine addiction and chronic wanderlust. I recently graduated with my M.A. in French, and I've spent the past two years living and working as an English teacher in France. I now work as an English professor at a university in Lille, where my students are learning to never omit the Oxford comma.
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