Eight months ago I was kicked out of Europe. Told in no uncertain terms that I had to leave and my continued presence in Austria was illegal. This was all told in Deutsch so the only things I took away from an intimidating meeting in a 1970’s era building was the words ‘nein’ ‘no’ and ‘illegal’. There is nothing worse than being completely helpless to control your own life.
Since then it has been a long, frustrating, confusing, emotional and stressful series of efforts to get me back here and able to live in Vienna. First I had to clear 3 months outside of the schengen zone, kicking around in London, working the UK & Ireland tour route 3 TIMES to wait out the allotted 3 months. Once we did get into the nitty gritty of getting my paperwork together and trying to figure out the contradictory information given by the Austrian government and Australian embassy it was a constant battle against misinformation and racing against time. Aussies are only allowed 90 days in the schengen reigon. Not a lot of time to meet all the requirements. The deadline provided a constant ticking clock of doom everytime we experienced a setback; My documents were originals, but not official enough. Our appointment was booked 2 weeks ago but not locked in. S had his passport as proof of citizenship but not his birth certificate. An endless round of roadblocks not outlined in any dot-point guide of how to apply to stay here.
To say it was stressful was an understatement. The process and chance of failure, the vision of being denied again, to be sent home and seperated haunted us both.I don’t think either of us had cried as much as we did in March when we realised there was absoloutely nothing we could do about my needing to leave.
The worst was the complete lack of concrete information, the feeling of helplessness, the sheer blindness with which we negotiated this process. We’re Gen Y kids, used to being in control, presumptive of our own importance in the world and right to a Happy Ending. The kicker was, we weren’t doing anything wrong, but at every turn it felt like we were in the wrong for proceeding to apply. Maybe it was my not understanding German, the intimidating buildings and endless forms that created this but it felt like we’d fallen down the rabbit-hole of Beauracracy, with no one to tell us whether what we were doing was wrong or right. Or crucially, whether it would work.
8 tortuous months. Days upon days of uncertainty, and limitation on the things I could progress with here – being unable to work sentanced me to days at home, researching jobs I can’t apply for.
Finally, today, I got the phone call. 11:09am. Requested to return to the magistraat office with passport and money. Building shuts at 12pm. Fastest shower of my life. S was at work in a meeting but this was too big to restrain from calling him. I gathered our coin collection – not knowing how much they wanted me to pay, and S having all our credit cards. Literally last person to enter the building at 11:47. The same blonde young woman who had collected my documents and created my file with all its difficult requests sat me down and (in German) explained the forms I was signing, checked my passport and finally, thankfully, miraculously, handed me my Red-White-Red card.
I thought I was relieved when Obama won. This was a different kind of relief. The months of stress, hard work, worry and endless unanswerable questions had led to this moment. Finally, finally I was free. Free to work, free to stay, free to start my integration meetings, free to travel, free to learn German, free to celebrate this with the man I love and did it all for. I still can’t quite believe it. To top it off, Vienna is shining today, the winter fog has lifted and the sun has been out for the last few hours.
I left the building after thanking this nameless woman for the mercy of letting me stay, and was last out as they locked up for the weekend. 12:03pm. In less than an hour my life had turned round. The despair I felt this morning about what the hell to do with another empty day had gone, to be replaced with endless opportunity and thankfulness at this chance. To learn, to be a resident of two great countries, to grow, to work, to change and embrace all the challenges coming my way.
But for this weekend, before the stress of finding work and learning German begins, I’m only going to enjoy the sheer relief of it all, and revel in the hope that it has given me. Aaaahhhhhhhh…….