When I got married to John, back in 1989, they didn’t declare national holiday, and 21 years later the system has seen fit to annul our marriage.
Until recently we’ve been living in a small town where there were no prospects and where I never really integrated. All this was supposed to change when we returned to London.
At long last, I might get around to apply for British citizenship, integrate fully into society so that I could join my politically-inclined friends in their Facebook banter. After all, I’d arrived back home.
What followed is a shock: I can’t remain in the UK unless I work.
I haven’t had a job since shortly after the treaty changes came about in October 2000 which wiped out my past. Before then it had never occurred to me to ask for a residence permit or indefinite leave to remain as these formalities were regarded as strictly voluntary.
Surely this could not be right. I showed the woman at the citizenship checking service my 21-year-old marriage certificate.
“That means nothing,” she said.
Turns out that she is right. Being an EU citizen married to a Brit means nothing. John is not regarded as an EU national because he is not exercising his treaty rights in his own country, and therefore the EU convention on human rights does not apply to him (or by extension to me, since I’ve also not been exercising my treaty rights).
I don’t want to hear the snorts of incredulity, the “what, really?”s, the bleating of the young ones who wonder where they, or their girlfriends, stand. I’ve been here since deep time, spent half my life here—so much of it that I could only ever hope for it to be a quarter at most, more likely a third. I’ve grown up in this country. And now I have to do it all over again.
I may be 46, but I put 24/11/2010 as my birthday on my application form, as if I would only be born the day after the TEFL interview, once I’d been offered a place. And that is how it feels: all fresh and pink. Raw and unable to make any sense of the language, the country, the food, or the fact that, in Spain, the almond trees will blossom in January.
It’s not like I’m going to a Gulag, or even to prison. It’s just the separation that hurts.
Right now, I’m not quite sure how I will introduce myself to the bright young things waiting for me to join them on the forum and, in a few short weeks, on the course in Barcelona.