Just breathe, I told myself. That's all you have to do. All kinds of corny mantras were going through my head; things like One Day At A Time, repeating it as if I were sitting in the circle of an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. But in moments like these it's the cliche lines that comes so easily, because somehow they're so relevant. So true.
I did my best to remain calm, thinking it'll be OK. You have a place to sleep. You have food to eat. You even have wine to drink. Thank god for the angels that he sends. I'm not religious, but I can't help but think that some sort of divine intervention sent Anna-Lena to me. She will always be my rescuer. Her and Ingalil. And Erica. And really all of my friends who were with my on that wonderful adventure in Sweden. Not the least of whom Dave, my wonderful husband. He was my fiance at the time and we were newly engaged and in that horrible moment we were torn away from each other I felt completely devastated. I could see him on the other side of passport control, but I couldn't touch him. Couldn't even walk in his direction. I was hostage to the situation. I had to sit in those horrible gray chairs in the Stansted Airport as if I were in front of a firing squad - the Border Control Agents shooting daggers and incorrect assumptions at me from their post; whispering to each other from their glass cube. As I sat tired, scared, hungry. And I had to pee. So bad. But all I could do was sit. And the whole time I sat there - staring blankly at the piece of paper in my hand that told me in stark black letters that I was being detained, tryint o decipher some sort of meaning or make some sort of sense of it - I waited in hope. Hope that they'd discover I'm a good person. A decent human being just trying to do the right thing. Yet, sitting in punishment. For what? Volunteering? It just seemed so absurd.
When I was in the third grade, I was put in afterschool detention. I can't remember why. Probably for talking to Carly during class, a girl that I was "friends" with despite not really even liking her. And I'm sure I was meant to be there for 10 minutes. I expected the teacher on duty to tell me when my time was up. And the clock kept ticking. And I got really nervous. Because I was meant to join my Bluebird Troop for an overnight at the big mall in Minneapolis - an event of monumental proportions not just because I was nine years old and that's what trips of that stature are when you're that young, but because we were so poor that opportunities like that just didn't happen. Not to me. So I just sat watching the clock, watching the teacher, watching the clock, getting more and more anxious by the minute but too scared to say anything. Ten minutes turned into 15, 16, 17...half an hour. And then it was over. School done. Detention done. The teacher had to go home. I went home, too, hope like a dark cloud because I knew I'd missed it. Missed my big chance. And for what? Talking in class? Well, the punishment certainly felt larger than the crime. Just like being refused entry at the UK border because I'd been volunteering without a visa - a crime I'd unwittingly committed. The words of the Agent taunting me continuously "ignorance of the law does not make you immune to it."
So eventually Dave flew out to see me and we spent a glorious couple of days together before I flew back to the States, where I spent the next four months. It was a dark time. A difficult time, dotted with bright moments. In the end I was granted permission to return to the UK and have been here now for 8 months. Good things do eventually happen to good people. Sometimes it just takes awhile.