I like to think of my life as of a wonderful novel, full of depth and adventure and drama, but if I’m honest, it’s rather like a soap-opera. When I read ages ago the Marquis de Sade’s Justine, I was furious. I don’t remember much about the novel apart from thinking that the heroine was an absolute idiot who had brought all her misfortunes upon herself so blatantly that she ended up deserving them.
Well, many times I feel exactly like her. I must hurry and clarify, before you make assumptions: my misfortunes are not so saucy, not at all, for better or worse! But sometimes I can hardly believe so much tragedy and I get mad at myself and know I am just as stupid as Justine, who I really don’t like at all. Thank God I have such wonderful friends who are kind and polite enough to call me a dreamer, an idealist. But even they sometimes, in my worst moments, have despaired and asked me: ‘Who the hell do you think you are, Joan of Arc, to put yourself always on the path of fire? And for what, can you explain?’ Mark also calls me Adri Calamity, but even him, used to see me knocking down everything every time I move, falling down unexpectedly or crying like a Magdalene over a new cosmic tragedy when he comes back from the office was very shocked when he saw last Wednesday the Home Office letter asking me, his wife of nearly three years, to leave the country as soon as possible.
Oh yes! I have been living in this country for exactly (I think to the day) 8 years. I have lived with Mark for 4 years and we’ve been married for nearly 3. Yet, I overstayed my leave to remain for three bloody weeks, three bloody weeks I was late to renew my visa and apply for my married visa, a mistake the causes of which I explained to the Home Office when I sent my application, on grounds of financial problems and ill health, and it seems I am deported. What’s worse: with no right to appeal.
And now the obvious question comes, the so embarrassing question that shows my stupidity in all its glory, so embarrassing that I didn’t dare to tell anyone, not even Mark, that I made my application three weeks late, hoping all would be well: why on earth was I late?
To explain, justify or simply show how much my life is like a Mexican soap opera, I’ll tell the whole story, as briefly as possible: I came to this country to recover from a moment of awful emotional tragedy on which I will not dwell here. I was recovering from a nearly fatal pneumonia, I had no money, and I came here. I know: only an idiot thinks she can recover from grief, bad lungs and dire straits coming to one of the most expensive cities in the world, where she didn’t know a soul, and famed for being very damp. But then, I had always dreamt of London, since I was little, and I thought its literary past and atmosphere would save me. Ah, how poetic!
The worst of all is that to this day I claim it did save me. To this day I love this city in an ecstatic way and manage to find its mystical, Blakean nature in spite of London transport and Tesco stores. For years and years my friends back in Mexico despaired, thinking it was suicidal: furthermore, I’ve been poor as a rat. They begged me to go back, but no, no, I was living my dream.
Most of these years I have lived as a correspondent for several Mexican magazines and newspapers, and as a translator for Mexico as well. Everyone knows that with what you earn like that in Mexico it’s very hard to live back there, but if you turn those pesos into pounds and pretend to live in London, well… that only can mean your brain is soft. During those years the Adritragedies –too embarrassingly frequent and weird to tell here– accumulated, including very bad health, and the debts accumulated as well. But I persevered, writing back to every journal in Mexico about how this is the most wonderful city in the world, revealing, or so I thought, its many mysteries.
Then I met Mark and love shone through; we started living together. Most of the time we had to rely on his sole income, so he started accumulating debts himself. When I renewed my visa they gave me leave to remain for three years and now I’m allowed to be a freelance writer and translator, which means that even though I cannot be permanently employed, at least I can accept translations here or in Europe, which has been very good. Of course, I pay taxes for whatever income I receive like that. So things were getting better. Establishing myself as a freelance translator here has taken some time and it has been tough, as it is, but things were better. Still, we had quite too many debts. So that’s why we didn’t apply for my married visa immediately after our marriage. We married with no money whatsoever. Clara, one of our very dear witnesses, was my “wedding dress godmother” when we went to choose a dress in Camden Town (we could not afford it); our party was in The Gatehouse pub, where our guests had to buy their own drinks and even bought many of ours, and our honeymoon was in our dear friend Rosie’s house in Whitby, because we could afford no B&B.
And it was a very beautiful wedding and a very beautiful honeymoon. Many friends say it’s one of the most beautiful and happiest weddings they have ever been to, and I agree. But the idea to pay for the visa right then was absolutely out of reach.
At least, we thought, we still had nearly three years to pay it. Those nearly three years, though, have passed very quickly and the way time was passing before: struggling, struggling, with difficulties to keep up with the rent of our studio flat, this very loved and very crammed room where we live (where would we be without our wonderful, understanding and generous friend and landlady Ruth?), with debts and debts, me looking for freelance jobs here and in Mexico, taking on board more than is humanly possible whenever there is work to take, while Mark keeps on working in Samuel French every day, struggling, struggling. In 8 years I haven’t had a real holiday: wherever I go it has been carrying a laptop to keep on translating (and that includes –please don’t laugh—our honeymoon). These years have gone by trying to keep the boot of financial hardship off our neck. That’s the absolute, naked truth.
We did go to Mexico in 2005, and of course we loved the trip. It had to be done anyway; I had to arrange things there regarding the official invoices demanded by the Mexican Inland Revenue, or else I would not be able to receive any more payments from jobs or royalties from my country, so the expense of that trip was unavoidable. And yes, by the way, poor as we are, I pay taxes in two countries. I might be able not to do that, but for that I’d have to hire an accountant, something we can’t afford.
You must be now reading beside the Kleenex box, but wait: it gets worse. And don’t get angry: yes, we did try to save for the visa. I put the odd 20 or 40 quid in my savings account now and then, but it always had to be used later on for simply eating, paying bills.
The final months of 2006 came with a reality: now we had to pay for the visa very very soon. And as is usually the case with freelancers, I wasn’t receiving any jobs in those pre-Christmas months. To make things slightly more complicated, Adri’s way, my health has been increasingly lousy and during those months I was holding a battle with the NHS begging them to send me to a specialist, and wondering every other day when was I finally going to collapse. None of the payments I was expecting came through –we had been dreaming that with those payments we would pay the visa and then would go to Mexico to the christening of my godson Claudio, but not only was there no Mexico and I became the first virtual godmother in history; there was no money, period. During January and the first weeks of February work started coming through, thank God. I took everything on board, everything, thinking all the time: the visa, the visa, apart from the rent and the innumerable bills coming through the mailbox. I worked on weekends, I worked mornings, afternoons, evenings, quite heroic because I’ve been feeling like shit. In the end we had to recur to a further loan. And then, finally, payments started coming through and we are living a rare period of financial beautiful relaxation and we have paid for the visa! But, a bit too late. Three weeks late, to be exact.
And while we entered our documents, I let Mark go on thinking the expiry date was on April, even though I had by then known it was not, and I didn’t tell one single friend I was late, because I felt just too stupid, too cornered by circumstances. I felt too much like a cornered animal and that embarrassed me. I just thought that the Home Office would understand if I explained: that the months approaching the expiry date of the visa we had been under lots of financial stress, that none of the expected payments came through and we had been living on only one income (Mark’s), and I had been so ill and exhausted I could hardly think properly. I thought they would understand. I keep on telling my friends how authorities here are as not as arbitrary as in Mexico, so I feel doubly stupid now.
While we were waiting for (we thought) our visa, I finally got an appointment with the specialist at St Thomas Hospital (very cool: you go out and can see the Houses of Parliament and the Big Ben; if it’s foggy and bitterly cold like that morning, it’s exactly as in the movies). Last week I was diagnosed (finally!) with fibromyalgia and the appropriate tests are being run, given the multiplicity of my symptoms, to check for other possible conditions, none of them very pretty, which may be lupus, confirmation of previous diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis, MS, diabetes, thyroid problems and a long and unpleasant etcetera. They took so much blood it was like a Hammer horror film.
And until last week I thought my biggest problem was that, though the doctor said he’d want to see me in a few weeks, at the reception they gave me an appointment until June. I thought my biggest problem was to keep on feeling so ill and scared about my health for three months, without knowing the results of my tests and with no treatment, and I felt angry that it had to be so in a country where I have struggled so hard and where I pay taxes. Little I knew what the post was bringing a week later!
So this is it: another sad chapter in Adri’s soap opera. The day I received the letter telling me to leave immediately I couldn’t sort anything out because everywhere I called in the Home Office they couldn’t help because “their system was down”. I had to wait till the following day. They gave me a number to call for immigration advice… and that telephone number does not even exist. Yes, you read right: in the letter where they tell you to fuck off, they give you a telephone number that DOES NOT EXIST.
I called the Law Enforcement whatever it’s name is where my passport is supposed to be, according to their letter, but they don’t have it, know nothing about it and tell me to call until Monday, which is of course very scary because I’m being asked to leave as soon as possible. And they did not return our marriage certificate. At Law Enforcement they don’t know if it will come with my passport or not. No one tells me how many days exactly does “as soon as possible” mean. No one tells me why I have no right to appeal, even though I’m married to a British citizen. No one tells me if I have a right to appeal once outside the country; whether if I have to go to Mexico or I can arrange things from a consulate in Europe. No one tells me if it’s only my overstay that is the problem but that can be fixed, or they want to throw me out of the UK for good.
I’ve spent the past few days on the phone, looking up things in internet, sending faxes. I have received prompt help from our MP, Lynne Featherstone. I am going early on Monday morning to an independent immigration advice office. I’m terrified, I don’t know if in 3 days I should be in Mexico visiting my godson Claudio quite sooner than expected, or visiting my dear Mercedes in Barcelona, but in either case with my heart in my throat sitting at the UK consulate, not knowing when will I see Mark again. Terrified to think that the recent loan’s money and our very well deserved income after so much struggle will all vanish in the air paying for more applications or lawyers. Of course, any idea of looking after my health is ridiculous now: my symptoms have quite intensified, I spent the first 2 nights without sleeping at all, and I swallow far too many Kalms a day, supposing that at least you cannot overdose on herbal remedies. (That would be the top Adritragedy of all! She died of a Kalms overdose! How uncool, how unlike Jim Morrison or Virginia Woolf…)
Ah, what I would give for a good old Tafil just now!
Hopefully all will be well by Monday; hopefully I will have been told what to do next, that things are not that bad, that I can fly over to Barcelona and have it fixed in a couple of weeks.
If not, my friends, I’m afraid I will have to ask of your kindness to support my case, though I still don’t know how do you do that exactly. Maybe just to be willing, if necessary, to bear witness to the fact that I’m simply a writer, and not a terrorist or a threat to the nation, and that I have not taken anything whatsoever from this country. I’ve never claimed benefits, I pay taxes, I keep on saying London is the best place on earth and writing about all British literary heroes, and, well… I’m just a writer with a tendency to tragedy.
I know I have pestered some of you before asking for signatures and support for all sorts of causes, for the Mexican oppressed people of Oaxaca, etc. I know I can be a downright pain in the ass. What can I say! If all goes well, I promise to throw a wonderful party in Hampstead Heath, where we will stay eating, dancing, drinking and reciting poems to the sun and the moon from noon till they kick us out, which is the Mexican way.