This–like me, today–is in fragments.
These things happen.
The email informing me that I had been offered a place to study theology from the St. Mary’s School of Divinity at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland arrived on 9 February, 2012, at 7:57 AM Central Time.
1:57 PM in Scotland.
They accepted me when they got back from lunch.
I marked this detail in a notebook, along with three ideas for short stories, two of which are inscrutable in retrospect: letter, The Heathen, wheelchair. (“The Heathen” would go on to win first prize from the CCL that spring, the ideation of the other two was lost in the fragment notations.)
Acceptance began an immediate fight for stasis within me.
Life is a search for a lexicon of metaphors to describe our condition—a pretty way to describe clichés.
Bird in a nest being pushed to fly, but doesn’t think ready. Flap wings with the best of them, make a show of how to take off, but never leap.
(And I hoped that I wouldn’t have to.)
Everything is greener on the other side.
I should clarify what was truly at stake: moving to Scotland was a beautiful opportunity.
There was nothing particularly wrong with going—except that it meant going.
It meant leaving those loved well, pulling up roots to walk as orphan child a little bit longer.
Fear of being abandoned. I have written about it before.
I made a rosary of praying that I would not go. The next day, I’d reverse the prayers. The next, again.
Knock on wood.
There were questions about whether I would secure a visa.
When I lived in China during the Olympics in 2008—which amounted to staying in a flat a few kilometers from the event site, watching fireworks from our balcony, repeated series of bulb flashes through city smog—I had been issued a five-year visa.
I learned this level of clearance meant when I applied for my first visa to the UK the following year I passed certain checks automatically. I was issued a five-year visa as well, under Tier 5, religious or nongovernmental worker.
I lived in England a summer, went back to visit the next.
It was on the next that there were complications.
A clerical error. Home Office under the impression I had lived in the UK for the past year. Never left. Red flags.
They detained me, along with a family from Pakistan.
They revoked my visa, but admitted me for the brief stay of my trip.
(I was instructed to do “nothing religious worker related.” I wondered if it was the appropriate time to communicate how ridiculous that statement was, but Holy Ghost held my tongue for me.)
When I sent my application to the British Consulate in New York for a student visa, I wondered if the revoking would be enough to stop the whole thing.
I received an email twenty-six days before I was to board my flight: your visa requires additional processing and may take up to fifteen working days to secure.
This, I was convinced, was my out.
Stuff that dreams are made of.
If they denied my visa, I had made some arrangements.
God, with the Go and I shall show you, I, with the Just in case, here’s this.
I would move back to Waco, take a flat downtown. I would write my books.
In October, I’d fly to Italy, meet a friend working on archaeological dig, co-author something—article, manuscript—about the mosaics in Ravenna.
Christmas with family in Houston, January in California with a friend in the midst of having her screenplay optioned. By that time, she would be close to pre-production. Maybe on set.
In spring I’d fly to Paris, head south to the coast, meet one of my best friends on similar holiday. I’d drink wine. I’d write on Crane stationary. I’d do the one thing I have absolutely never done in my life–smoke a cigarette–once and only once, just to say or write someday that I went to France, drank wine, wrote, and smoked.
(This, a very French identity of the author. Much of this version of events was dictated by the need for identity as author.)
I’d return. I’d go to Duke the autumn after, where many of my friends would be, the rhythm of a more ordinary life resumed.
I confirmed with the team in Italy, called my friend before she left for California, inquired about tickets to Paris, researched the cigarettes: I’d smoke a Gauloises.
I recognize these alternatives seem extraordinary; I recognize these circumstances are not average.
Notice, nonetheless, how ordinary they are: the consistent desire is to control.
I shall live here for such and such a time.
The exercise was about control.
The bird claims it shall leave the nest just when it’s ready. Only then.
Out of the frying pan.
Your UK visa has been issued read the email that arrived exactly two weeks before I was to board the plane for Scotland. It was a Wednesday, 10:25 in the morning CST, 11:25 in New York: they had decided to issue my visa before they went to lunch.
I noted the parallels.
I lived in shock between February and August. I lived in denial that I was, in fact, getting on that plane.
There was nothing wrong with going—except there was everything wrong with going.
The clichés are true; that’s what I’m getting at here.
The baby bird being pushed from the nest, unto death or unto flight, is true.
(Though, perennial grief, we are all, ultimately, pushed unto death. Even if but for a time. Kick the bucket. Another cliché.)
I made arrangements. I called the team in Italy. I researched Gauloises.
I changed all my clocks to 24-hour time. I changed the weather app on my iPhone to show degrees Celsius.
This, I told God, was a step toward acceptance.
That is, I think, a true cliché, too.
I leave in five days.
[photo: austinevan, Creative Commons]