Well, in just a few short days, Matt and I will move into our new apartment in Davis. I cannot help but be super nostalgic–maybe superstitious would be a better word— and remember two years ago we were boarding a plane to London, England, getting ready to start a “new life” there.
Yep, I feel like its time to write down this story. Many of you have heard it, so don’t feel obligated to read. However, I look on this story as one of those surreal events that movies are made of. It started on August 15th 2008…
So, the background and peripheral events of this little narrative are interesting, but I’d rather save the bulk of detail for the more exciting part. Here’s what you need to know: Matt and I had a rather ambitious dream, namely, to go to grad school in England. We talked about it for a very long time, and actually decided to pursue it. We both applied to several schools, got accepted, prayed a bunch, and decided we would go ahead and live there for one year–both getting an MA at two prestigious colleges in the University of London.
Then I got pregnant. We re-negotiated everything, and went round and round about what to do. We took a preview trip out there, looked at the hospital, went to our schools, and came home determined to move in August 2008. Of course I was freaked out, of course we had no idea of the scope of what we were willingly getting ourselves into. Nevertheless, we packed up our things and went headlong into the unknown.
Here’s where the story takes an interesting turn. We boarded the plane from LAX to Heathrow, London. I remember Matt and I looking out the window at smoggy LA and saying something to the effect of, “I wonder when we’ll see it again.” Sheesh.
After taking narrative theory I would term that an “anticipation,” or clue to the reader that the brainless characters will probably see it either A.) never again, or B.) very soon. Moving on. It was a long flight–13 hours, to be exact. I was 27 weeks pregnant, and didn’t sleep a wink on the way there. But it was ok, because we were embarking on a real adventure. Our itinerary for the following day included meeting with several landlords and hopefully getting a flat. We had booked a hostel for about four or five days, and everything was just waiting for us to sweep in and settle into life.
And then we descended over London. I can remember seeing the Thames looping all around those old buildings, and thinking, “I can’t believe I’m going to live here.” Dummy anticipation #2.
It really didn’t feel real to me. And then we landed. We got our bags and headed over to customs anxious to get out of our stinky airplane clothes and eat something. I think at this point I had been awake for maybe 20 hours, and I hadn’t eaten for quite a while.
We stepped up to the counter and looked over the little division at the most evil customs agent the world has ever known. He was of Middle-Eastern descent, tall, trim, and had dark, mean eyes. Really, I made that judgment before we even spoke to him. I had seen the way he handled a previous traveler and thought, “I hope we don’t get him.” Well, we did. And that’s when our fate shifted. He asked for our information–why we were in London, where we’d be staying, and most importantly, when would we leave.
Problem #1. We didn’t have a return ticket. When we told him we would both be students and leave after our term ended he just raised his bushy eyebrows and repeated, “So you don’t have a return ticket.” Matt and I laughingly explained (I think we were hoping to endear ourselves) that we would be students and would definitely leave their precious country once we had our degrees. Then he asked for our student visas.
Problem #2. Back in April, we met with our counselors and they ensured us that once we arrived the Students Union would assist us in getting our visas. We relayed this very important detail to Mr. Mean Customs Man. At this point, he again raised his horrid brows and then walked away. Phew!
They explained that they would need to go through our bags, and we foolishly thought that maybe it was because we were staying for such a long time. They were still smiling, so we were still smiling. They took things out–underwear, books, photos–they asked about the pictures and I started getting a little freaked out when they wanted me to identify my family members. I mean, why should they need to know my mom’s name? I think the next thing that happened was one of them got a phone call and they sort of lost the smiles at this point. After he hung up, he looked at us and said we would have to board the next plane back to LA.
My knees just buckled and I sat right down on the floor, too dumbfounded to even care. They then explained that we couldn’t come into the country without our visas and it was really a “simple” matter. Just go home, get a visa, and come back. But we sold our truck to pay for airline tickets. But I’m 27 weeks pregnant and this is the last possible week I can fly. But…man, the room swam with all the sickness of a lost dream. We both knew that if we got back on a plane home, we couldn’t come back. There was no more money, and I wouldn’t be allowed on a plane again. If ever there was a “closed door,” this was it.
I was starting to get really sick, and felt like I was having cramps. I blurted out that I couldn’t get on a plane again because I was pregnant. Woops. See, they didn’t know I was pregnant—I wasn’t really big and I had been hiding my belly underneath my sweatshirt ever since we first met that customs agent. You would have thought I told them I had a bomb strapped to me the way they looked at my belly. He got all angry and started lecturing me on not withholding that information when I move to another country. I was so done with this individual that I mouthed off, “Ok, next time I get deported I’ll try and let you know how far along I am before you fingerprint me.”
Not really a good answer to give to someone who holds your immediate future in the balance. Matt begged them to take me to a nurse at least to make sure that I could get back on the plane. Osama (that’s how I will refer to the customs man from here on out) then took us to the nurses station and had us wait outside while he went in to speak to her. I saw the nurse peek through the blinds at me, and that’s as much of an evaluation as I ever got from her. After talking for about ten minutes, Osama came back out and said, “the doctor is happy.”
Stupid British people and their euphemisms. “Happy?” I asked. “Yes, the doctor is happy for you to get back on the plane.” To which I responded, “Well, I’m glad the doctor is happy but they haven’t even seen me so how do they know I’m ok to get back on??!” “Well, you’re 27 weeks so you can still fly.” No crap, you idiot. That was the quote my doctor gave me before I had made a 13 hour flight. There was nothing more we could do. They just wanted us out of their airport and back in LA.
Our two escorts, looking very conspicuous in their orange vests, sat with us the whole time. I was too tired to be embarrassed when people would look at us with distinct curiosity. I remember getting a violent urge to laugh when a pregnant girl and her husband walked up to the counter and explained that she was 25 weeks pregnant and would need to be accommodated with an aisle seat, blah blah blah.
Oh brother! I wanted to scream at her, “I haven’t slept in over 24 hours, I haven’t eaten in 15, and I’m about to fly another 13 hours after being marked as a security breach. I think you’ll be fine!” I didn’t, of course, but maybe if I were writing this as a screenplay I would allow that little outburst. I mean, come ON!!!!