One-Woman Exodus

Back to the story. So it’s July 31st. I’ve just been informed by email I’ll owe money at the closing for my house happening later that day. Due to a six hour time difference, there’s no way I can get hold of my realtor. My five bags (six counting my backpack) are packed, and we’re ready to head to the airport an hour away. Stuart and I are both feeling extremely meh. We’re numb with sadness over what must be done…the very thing I was for some reason trying so hard to avoid…life in the states.

We arrive. I get in the ticket line. I am then informed I missed my flight which actually left two hours ago.

“Say what?”

The airline employee pointed to the customer service desk. We made our way over.  They couldn’t get me out again until August 6th at the earliest. Did I want that ticket?

Now, my visa was expiring August 4th. What would happen if I overstayed two days? Anything? Would I get grilled leaving Amsterdam? Have to pay a fine? Be forbidden to return? So we held off on reserving that ticket and went home to sort things out.

As soon as we were outside, Stuart and I looked at one another and burst out laughing. I don’t think I’d ever felt so much relief in all my life. So, we rolled my enormous luggage back to the car and went home. How did this happen? How did I mess up? Was I sabotaging myself?

When we got back, I checked my email. Sure enough, it stated that my departure time was 10AM, just as I had thought. This wasn’t my screw-up. Apparently, the airline had changed the flight time, but somehow, I missed the notification.

Stuart said, “You’ve got to call and ask for a refund!”

So, I called. But I wasn’t offered a refund. Instead I was offered the same flight out, August 6th. I wanted to grab it, but there was this visa issue that needed to be resolved first. I explained that and said I’d call back.  Stuart and I were both over the moon that we would have another week together.

We then began the “investigation” about my visa. The first thing I did was call my friend who happened to be in France and happened to be French. I asked if she’s help translate our situation at the police station. We needed to ask if I could get some kind of visa extension by explaining my situation. We drove into town with my friend on stand-by, pressed the buzzer outside the police station and were bruskly told to drive to the next town another fifteen minutes away. It was lunch time after all.

Fortunately for us, we spotted a gendarme on the street a block away speaking to someone. We parked the car, made our phone call to our translator, handed the phone to the officer, and waited to hear his response. He was very helpful (I’m not being sarcastic) and suggested we go to the airport to speak to the police there. We weren’t really up for another hour drive, so we went home again. On the way, we had a now familiar conversation about how challenging life was proving to be for us in France. Even with speaking better French, situations like this were so complicated, we’d still have to rely on translators.

Once home, I called the airline again, and that’s when I was told they had a flight out “tomorrow”.  “What about the 6th?” I asked. No longer an option. They had a seat tomorrow. It was the only one they were offering. Did I want it? Ug! All that sweet relief and joyous irony suddenly turned sour. I had minutes to make a decision. All my bags were packed. It was either go now or stay in France and go through the residency procedure there, which once started would have meant I couldn’t leave until I got my carte several months later, or it was pay $2000 for another plane ticket, or leave Stuart the very next day, going through the whole airport drive and luggage thing all over again. And remember, there was the question of whether or not my house would indeed close without a hitch. I didn’t like any of my choices. With the pressure on, I surrendered and took the flight.

The following day, we packed the car and off we went to the airport. It was one car ride I never wanted to end. I kept hoping the car would break down or something, but of course, we got there with no problems. We got in line and when I approached the desk, I was informed that I was flying to Washington. Thinking she meant Reagan Airport, I explained to the desk agent that I was flying to Dulles. No, she said, Washington. But my original flight was for Dulles! I have a hotel reservation a block from Dulles! She checked her screen.

The only flight is to Washington.

But…but…

So, Stuart and I were back at the same customer service desk where we had an identical conversation with two more desk agents. By this point, I was shaking and quite broken down. Reagan and Dulles were at least an hour apart, maybe more. I was already arriving at midnight. I was sleep-deprived from the week’s other stresses. Not only was I flying to the wrong airport, I was flying through Atlanta instead of direct. That meant I’d have to claim my massive luggage in Atlanta and recheck it. Did I mention I’d hurt both my right knee and left toe several weeks before and was having to limp? Now I’d have to take a costly taxi to my hotel too? I could not do this. I didn’t have the strength anymore. Over several months, I had been burned to a nervous frazzle.

Stuart and I roamed the airport pushing my mountain of suitcases around trying to pull an answer down, “Does this mean I stay or does this mean I  go?” I was so confused. I was beyond confused. I was angry. I was sick to my stomach. Everything inside said that I wanted more time in France…just a little more time. I had given up so much to be there…everything! Now I was leaving? I felt like a complete failure and a total idiot. Why was everything such a mess? And where was I going? I didn’t even know. My guts were wrenched. I was beyond decision-making ability; so was Stuart. With the clock ticking, always ticking, we just looked at each other with blank faces, not knowing what to do. I got in line again, then got out again. More time passed as I sat on the cold airport floor unable to move. Finally, five minutes to boarding, some energy flooded me and took over. If I didn’t know what to do, then I’d do something. I’d get in line. If I was meant to be on that plane, I would be. With nails clawing the walls of the airport, I made it to my gate, the last one to board, eyes full of tears. But I have to admit, I felt some relief just to have made a decision.

France is indeed a beautiful country. Exquisite, in fact. I love the way time moves more slowly there and how soft the light is. It’s a great place…to visit. And visit I will. Living, on the other hand, was proving to be quite a challenge. At least, it was for me. Maybe in different circumstances, at another time…

…as it stood, I had bitten off way more than I could chew.

Stay tuned for my arrival story featuring “Crabby Cabby”.

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