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It's All Happening
Moving to Portugal status: imminent
The suitcases are stacked in the Airbnb, all our vehicles (even my scooter) have been sold, and farewells are ongoing. Next week brings the end of 4th grade for Filha, the end of corporate employment for me, a flight to Lisbon for Marido, and another for our dog, Vila.
Marido flies on June 1 with most of our luggage. Vila follows, on her very own Lufthansa flight, in her size XL skykennel, on June 2. Filha and I leave San Francisco the morning of June 5, but we are making a week-long stop at my parents’ farm in northern Illinois before we cross the Atlantic.
Speaking of transatlantic travel, MY VISA FINALLY ARRIVED! Cue the trumpets.
Since Portugal (and much of the EU) is still closed to American tourists, a visa is one of the only ways to gain entry to the country at the moment. (And you need that visa to get permission to establish residency, as well.) Marido and Filha received their visas 5 weeks ago, just 4 weeks after they applied. My application was delayed due to a US Postal Service snafu, and wasn’t submitted until March 26.
The woman at VFS Global, which handles visas for the Portuguese consulate, told me it might take 8 weeks for my visa to arrive. Apparently everyone who wants to move to Portugal in 2021 decided to submit applications at the end of March. But as the days ticked by—week 6, week 7, week 8—with no FedEx envelope landing on my doorstep, my anxiety began ratcheting skyward.
Hello Darkness, My Old Friend
I’m an extremely organized person. In college, I finished my term papers early, before the weekend. I never once pulled an all-nighter for homework reasons. I take great pleasure in orderly files of paperwork, in knowing exactly where to find that thing I’m looking for. So to spend so much time—months, really—meticulously preparing visa paperwork only to have it derailed, first by the post office and then by a busy immigration queue? It was nauseating.
Logically, I knew there was still enough time. But the non-logical portion of my brain is large and well-exercised, and it kind of took over. Friends would say, “How are you doing?” And I’d reply with the green-faced barf emoji. 🤢
I have this thing—a ritual, a sacrament—that I perform all the time. My friend C thinks it’s a holdover from my religious childhood, that all the guilt training and fear of hellfire/damnation morphed into a superstitious expectation of disaster.
It works like this: If I can imagine the worst possible thing, it won’t happen. When I say goodbye to Filha at school, I imagine a school shooting. When I drop Marido off at the airport, I imagine his plane will crash. (I even made a cinépoem about it.) When we board the dog and leave for vacation, I imagine that she suffers a stroke, an embolism, a heart attack, and we never see her again.
It’s morbid and weird. I know this. But it’s also somehow soothing to the jittery, anxiety-ridden part of my brain. If I imagine horror and chaos and devastation, I will protect the ones I love. I think of all the terrible things just so they WON’T happen.
I know some of you get it. I know some of you do it, too.
I practiced this death-and-chaos ritual with my visa. I imagined it would come too late, long after my flight was scheduled to depart. I imagined it would never come at all. I imagined that Serviço de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras, the Portuguese department of immigration, would find my application wanting. That they’d pull out their giant red “DENIED” stamp and pound it all over my gorgeously collated paperwork. I imagined living back on the farm with my parents, alone and bereft—no home, no vehicle, no job, no husband or daughter or bird or dog. No future, bright with hope.
I imagined every dark thing I could conjure, and then I’d breathe it all out. I’d take hold of my brain with both hands and say, “Ok. Now, do the opposite. Unwind it.” I’d imagine good outcomes: the visa, arriving. Our plane, landing in Lisbon; Marido, waiting at arrivals. Vila, greeting us at the door in Setúbal, tail wagging in jubilant circles. I’d picture all the things I wanted. I’d breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in.
Then 27 minutes later, I’d refresh the FedEx tracking page, see that “Pending” status sitting there all immovable and unbothered, and repeat the cycle all over again.
On Tuesday, instead of repeating the ritual and reverse for the 49th time in the same day, I jammed my red helmet on my head and took my scooter out for a spin. I stopped by our old house (which is being painted, primped, and prepped for listing) to pick up the mail. I wasn’t expecting to see the FedEx envelope lying there unannounced, just inside the gate.
I may have started hyperventilating, just a little bit, as I frantically waggled the key about in the lock. I may have started ugly crying, quite loudly, when I tore open the envelope and my passport fell out. The relief was the weight of an elephant, hoisting itself off my shoulders. I slept well that night without the 3am wake-and-worry, for the first time in months. It was delightful.
Now that the visa anxiety is over, we continue cracking our way down the list of last things to do. A list which somehow seems to keep growing as we encounter all the minutiae of leaving a life for good. It includes, but is not limited to, the following:
•Cancel vehicle insurance
•Return the FasTrak pass
•Return work laptop, badge, and credit card
•Make sure realtor has all the good keys
•Sign & notarize the “my kid can travel internationally with only her mom” form
•Get the dog’s health certificate (within 10 days of travel)
•Get above health certificate certified by USDA
•Make plans for airport dropoffs for: hubs, dog, self + child
•Do COVID test results math (Germany requires a test within 48 hour of arrival; Portugal requires a PCR test within 72 hours of boarding the plane from FRA to LIS)
•Schedule COVID tests in CA and in IL
•Buy snacks and drinks for Farewell Shindig
•Buy more compression bags for packing
•Weigh all the suitcases
Last weekend, we said goodbye to my sister and her three kids. It was wrenching. Filha’s oldest cousin was the first kid she met—just hours after she was born. These four have been in and out of each other’s lives on a regular basis since they all began. It’s not a farewell we take lightly.
There are more farewells coming. Tomorrow, we say goodbye to a slew of San Francisco friends. Soon after, my parents in Illinois. And then… something entirely new begins.
Copyright © 2021 LaDonna Witmer