Sometimes, You Just Have to Laugh
Have you ever had one of those moments in life that are so ridiculous, you just have to laugh?
That happened to me last night.
I was on the tail end of a seven-hour bus ride from Venice to Rome, thinking about how I am moving to Spain soon, and so naturally my thoughts turned to my visa. I can't explain what happened next. I must have looked at my visa a hundred times since I first got my passport back from the Spanish consulate, but on this bus ride I suddenly realized that I'd gotten a date wrong. The most important date. The only important date: the 90-day marker by which I have to empadronarme, or declare residency in Spain.
I'm about to get vulnerable with you, so be gentle on this poor California blonde.
You see, dates in the United States are listed as month/day/year, whereas in Europe (and I'm pretty sure basically the entire rest of the world) dates are listed as day/month/year. My visa, of course, was no different. That means that 04/03/2018 is March 4, 2018. Not April 3, as I had been thinking.
I know how international dates work. In the course of my job as a public benefits navigator, I saw passports from other countries on a daily basis as I helped immigrants apply for health insurance. I griped about how the government offices would enter birth dates incorrectly in their system, criticizing them for making the exact mistake that I myself just made. I have no idea why I made the error. All I can conclude is that I got the date fixed in my mind wrong and so my brain bypassed logic whenever I saw the visa. I also have no idea why the lightbulb went off over my head on this Italian bus, surrounded by chattering American exchange students and trying desperately to get some sleep. I pulled my passport out of my backpack to confirm what I already knew to be true: I had gotten the date wrong.
What I do know is that I felt like someone had poured a bucket of ice water over my head. My heart dropped, my stomach flipped, my pulse quickened, and I felt a chill of anxiety spread slowly from the back of my neck all the way down to my toes. This old feeling. I know it well.
A few years ago (maybe even a few months ago) this realization would have thrown me into a panic. I would have had an anxiety attack on that bus, for sure. As it happened, a silent, internal "OH SHIT" flashed across my mind's eye, and I took a deep breath. It's only February 11th, I thought. I have about three weeks, meaning I need to get back to Spain, stat. I texted my mom for moral support, started looking up flights, and by the time I checked in with the front desk at my hostel in Rome (who very graciously shortened my reservation with no extra charges or fees) I had booked my flight back. I left my backpack in my room and went to the hostel bar to order a gin and tonic.
As I was walking from the bus station to the hostel, it occurred to me that I have perhaps grown quite a lot in the last several months, based on how quickly I was able to put this mistake in perspective. Do I feel ridiculous? Yes. Am I embarrassed that made what could have been such a dire error? Very much so. Is it unpleasant to have to cancel the rest of my week in Rome and the following week at my family friend's beautiful winery? You bet. But is everything going to be okay? Absolutely.
I can't help but wonder if the universe is testing me. This and other mishaps I've had have been entirely my fault, so I'm not trying to blame them on the cosmos. It's curious to me, however, that someone as organized, detail-oriented, and to be honest, anxious as me would make a mistake like this one. I'm the sort of person who quadruple checks that the stove is turned off before she leaves the house. I once walked half an hour back to my office because I was convinced there was a slight possibility I'd left a space heater on. I make a checklist of my valuables every time I arrive at a hostel, and again before I leave. I call myself a recovering perfectionist, and I've been diagnosed with mild OCD in the past.
So, Sarah, what the hell?
The only explanation I can come up with is that I needed to learn this lesson. I needed to see how much I've grown. And I need to go back to Spain. Much as I've been enjoying traveling, I missed Spain as soon my plane left the Málaga airport a couple weeks ago. I've been restless and wanting to find a place to live, to settle down and to get serious about my freelancing, since I don't have much time for it when I'm bopping around city after city and country after country. And so I decided to accept this turn of events as something absurd that needed to happen, and as soon as I did that, I burst out laughing. Thankfully I was walking down a darkened street with no one but a gaggle of Roman students filming some avant-garde project, so no one was around to see a weird American girl with a giant backpack falling over herself laughing at nothing at all.
I would be lying if I said I wasn't stressed out right now. I hate canceling plans on people. I'm nervous. I wish I had more time to complete this process. This is not a particularly comfortable situation.
But I'm in Rome, and tomorrow I'll be in Spain, and somehow I'll figure it out. Just being able to say that, to live in this uncertainty, is a victory for me. Being able to laugh at myself, feel better with a cute picture of a dog (the photo choice for this post was very deliberate), and get my shit together is a victory. So, here goes nothing!