I’m sipping on a glass of champagne as I prepare to tell you a story, filled with horror, disappointment, a life altered and a choice that wasn’t my own to make. For the travelers there, especially the long-term trip takers and the expats, prepare yourselves. This is the stuff nightmares (or sleepless nights at the very least) are made of.
The night was a cold one. February in Paris. Winter had the city wrapped in her icy fingers, yet it hardly dampened our spirits. I had just moved to Paris for a four-month study abroad program in interior design. And what do you do as a design student in this incredible art-oriented city? Mais bien sûr… you visit the famous Eiffel Tower. At night, when it’s all lit up and sparkles on the hour. It’s a magical experience for those just arriving in this amazing city. Can’t you see the joy of the moment in my face in that photo? I actually took a half-decent selfie (before the days of Instagram, mind you). That’s gotta count for something!
Fast forward now, two-and-a-half years later. It’s a warmer day, in the month of June to be exact. I’m at my tiny (yet well-loved) studio apartment in the 11th arrondissement, just off rue Oberkampf. There are hardly any tourists in part of the city. I have a letter in my hands, and it’s in French. Luckily, I have spent the last several months taking French classes at one of the most well-known institutes in town: Alliance Française. Which meant, fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it) I could read that letter. And understand what it meant. Because it said that my visa application had been denied. I was given 30 days to leave France, my city and my life, on pain of imprisonment if I was found in the country past my expiry date. Now that’s a way to ruin a perfectly good morning. And a warm, sunny day to boot.
Now, when you receive this sort of news, you go through an emotional process that has striking similarities to the psychological stages of loss and grief: Denial and Isolation, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. And while it’s true that no physical person was dying or being lost, life as I knew it was. Paris had become my home. My friends all lived there. I had a routine, a lifestyle. An address, bank account and phone contract (dear lord… how was I going to get out of THAT?). Just as college student everywhere graduate and start their lives somewhere other than their hometown, I had done the same. Only I had done it in another country. One in which I was not guaranteed the right to stay. A minor inconvenience, up until this point. It had just gotten a whole lot more inconvenient.
Now I mentioned the psychological stages one goes through when faced with loss and grief. I had lost my life as I knew it, and I really had only a week or two to go through these range of emotions so as not to spoil my last precious days Paris. There really was no denial; I had the letter as proof should I ever forget. Anger, check. Bargaining, sure. Until the prospect of fighting the French bureaucracy on this sounded too akin to pulling a 50-pound bowling ball up a mountain made of sand. That only took about an hour to come to that realization. The depression and the acceptance sort of came hand in hand. It was sad to have to face saying goodbye, but in the end there was nothing I could personally do to change the circumstances. To be glib, it was what it was and what will be, will be. For the record, I hate those phrases. Both of them.
I had gotten used to this. That, pictured above. The girl who had been so excited to see it light up at night for the first time as a resident of the city had become blasé. I lived there, of course I see the Tower everyday. You see the damn thing from almost every vantage point in the city. And no, I don’t picnic at it every weekend. But, just because it had become my normal backdrop, that didn’t mean I didn’t love it. It was part of the fabric that made up my everyday landscape. And THAT was pretty cool. Plus I could see it sparkle every night, several times a night, if I felt like it.
That would be no more, once my grace period expired. Although, that didn’t mean I didn’t retain a little bit of my stubborn nature, or my sense of humor. Oh I left alright, well within the time period allowed before I would be in trouble. And then I came back. Yep, you heard me right. I went home to Florida for two weeks, and then jumped right back on a plane back to Paris to stay for my full, lawfully granted mind you, 90 days as a tourist. Take that, prefecture. That meant I had three months to go back to my city, wrap up loose ends, say goodbye to all the friends I had made and would miss terribly, and not have the prospect of another visa renewal process hanging over my head. Because there wasn’t one. And that alone felt liberating.
And I went and saw the Eiffel Tower. Because you know, it’s not everyday you get to see the most famous Parisian monument a lit up at night. And did I mention that it sparkles?