Saturday, December 3, 2011


It took me a long time -- for many reasons -- to decide to come back to Spain this year. In the end I made the decision because, quite simply, I had work here and didn't have work in the United States. My boss at the Ministry of Education had been emailing me all summer, asking if I'd come back, and saying he was worried I wouldn't. After a long and complicated application process, he assured me I would have the same grant I'd had the year before, and that I would be able to continue in the same school. So the first day I was back in Santander I wasn't surprised in the least to get a phone call from him saying I should come in for a meeting. 

I expected it to be an informal affair, just to sign some paperwork and catch up with my boss, with whom I had a very good professional relationship. So imagine my surprise when I found three other grant recipients -- who I knew to have been here for quite some time, some even longer than me -- waiting in the hall. I knew the news couldn't be good if we'd all been called in together. I'd had no official confirmation of my grant, but since I trusted my boss and he had done similar favors for me in the past, I wasn't worried about not having the necessary "invitation" in hand. I thought I'd get the paperwork when I arrived, and then I would be able to renew my residency, which expired the 30th of September. (It didn't matter that I arrived in October because I had 30 days to renew my residency after the expiration date). 

They took us all into a little conference room. There were three women who I didn't know, who had begun their positions that summer because of the change in the local government. My boss was there, too, but it was clear that he had less control than he did with the previous government -- he did very little talking and seemed to be there mostly because he knew all of the grant recipients personally and had been in charge before. They told us, through lots of political jargon, that they could not give us the grant, as we'd been promised. There was a clause in the law that said "If you have been the recipient of a grant in the province of Cantabria for two years or more, you are not eligible to receive this grant." This would have been my fourth year receiving the grant. It's not clear if they had just turned a blind eye to this clause before, or if the law had been changed -- they cited both of these reasons at different points in the same meeting -- but they made it very clear that they would not be giving us the grant. 

I was absolutely floored. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I had struggled to make the decision to come back, had very, very personal reasons tied up in the decision, and was looking forward to going back to the job I loved in the school I adored. I needed that comfort and familiarity. I needed to be busy with something I was happy doing. I needed to be with my closest Spanish friend, who works there and is my mentor. I needed the distraction of my wonderful students and their enthusiasm, mischief, energy, and innocence. Mere days before I had had my world turned upside down in terms of my most personal relationship -- what gets pulled out from under you when the rug has already been yanked away? -- the floor just suddenly disappeared and I was floating in mid air, my disbelief the only thing keeping me afloat. 

Eventually I crashed. Everything was happening at once. I spent days crying alone in my apartment. What was I going to do? Making money wasn't the biggest problem: I can work under the table at the private academy and doing English tutoring. But being denied the grant denied me of residency, legal status, a national ID number, and health insurance. I have never felt comfortable with the idea of staying here illegally -- it would be totally fine, I know people who have done it and have never had problems, even when traveling within and outside the European Union. But I don't want to feel nervous and worry about deportation every time I go through passport control when I travel. I don't want to have to answer questions at the bank when they realize that my national ID number has expired. I don't want to have to give up work opportunities because I don't have a visa or residency to be here. 
I was constantly facing denial, but strangely enough it wasn't just my own in reaction to everything happening. I was being denied things left and right. I had been denied, in both personal and professional spheres, something I had been promised. Something I had been counting on. Something I needed and trusted would be there. Something that had been an integral part of my life, that I worked hard at and loved with all my heart. 

But my own denial, with regards to the grant, couldn't last. I had to get moving, find a way to make money, find a way to stay in the country legally at least until I went home for Christmas, for which I already had a plane ticket. So I sent out emails. Asked everyone I know for help. And it all has worked out, even better than I dared to hope. I'm still at the academy, teaching three afternoons a week. I have a lot of private classes, and have more prospective students lined up. And best of all, I was offered and accepted a job with the dad of two kids I've been tutoring for three years -- they are the most wonderful, kind, dynamic family. I'm there three mornings a week, and should be getting paid for my first month of work in the next few days. I'll write more about the details of that job another time. 

I have never been even remotely religious. But I think of the line in The Sound of Music (that many people, Spanish and American, quoted to me over the last few months) that says "When god closes a door he always opens a window." I don't know if I opened those windows, or if god did, or if Fate or the Universe or whatever else did. But I worked my ass off to make options for myself. Asked for help. Depended on friends. Was persistent. I denied myself the option of giving up -- and denied with everything I've got that this would bring me down for good.