Saying Goodbye: A Day of Departures

When I sat down at the desk in our bedroom and opened up the computer, I had planned on writing an entire post about how we got here - to Birmingham, England. What decisions we made, the actions we took, and the unbelievable amounts of stress that we endured trying to get where we are today.  I'm sure that post in its entirety will come eventually, but I realized that I'm not quite ready to relive all that drama yet.  In the weeks leading up to our departure, despite our planning and best efforts (and copious amounts of money thrown in), we still had yet to receive our visas and - with those precious documents - our passports. We had to call our state senator's office for help with that. Sure, we could travel there without a visa for a certain number of days, but we couldn't leave the country without our passports. I'm getting stressed out just thinking about the mess of it all, and the result was definitely one very stressed-out couple.

As a physical manifestation of that stress, on the morning of our biometric appointment, I had pains in my stomach so bad that I couldn't stand up straight and I could hardly breathe. Mere days before we left, I had an ear infection and it was all I could do but lay around for two days - NOT what you need to do 72 hours before you leave the country for two years. That's just a teeny picture of the shape I was in before we left - the result of months of trying to fight our way through the process of getting to Birmingham TOGETHER, in once piece, on time. Forget trying to find a place to live. Ugh, that's a different and equally frustrating story. 

By the end of it all, I stated, "I'm pretty sure the British government does this so they can filter out the idiots. We're both smart, resourceful, responsible adults with college degrees, and we can hardly get this crap accomplished!" I know that I don't know what the process is like for those coming to live in America long-term, but I have a new appreciation and empathy for those who do. What a nightmare.

So, with that very brief overview, I'm going to leave the details of that saga for another time... a time when I can sit down to relive it all without my chest tightening as I type. Seriously.

Instead, I want to recap the start of it all - the real start of this journey - when we had to say goodbye to everything we knew in order to say hello to our new reality.

- - - 

September 1st, 2015

Packing Up

The morning hours came far quicker than they should have. It was 6:30am, and I had 40 minutes of sleep under my belt. Yep. Forty minutes. We were close to being all-the-way packed, but not close enough. We were supposed to pack up the van at 8:00am for the trek to the Dallas airport if we were going to check in by noon for our 3:40pm flight. Pack up the van at 8... ha!

There are so many problems with packing and moving abroad that I won't go into on this post, but I cringe at thinking about how much STUFF we were trying to take versus how little weight we were allowed on the airplane. I thought we had done a really good job of paring down everything we needed to fit into our minimal amount of luggage, but we were still over our weight limit and I was throwing things out of our suitcases left and right that morning.

The space bag of my pajamas? Gone. They can be shipped later; I have a pair to last me a few weeks in my carry-on.
My bible, journal, Walks Around Birmingham book, other paper-based essentials? Gone. They weigh too much. (Oh, how it pains me!) Again, we'll have our parents ship them later.
Spare toiletry items? Gone. BARE MINIMUM, GIRL.
Socks? Ha! You have a few pairs. Suck it up and wait! Gone.

The truth is, I don't even remember what else I left behind at the last second. I was beyond tired, and my best planning had failed me due to nearly two days of having zero amounts of energy. Dang ear infections always ruin everything and make me so... blah. I get nothing accomplished when I have them.

Eventually, it was time to start packing up the van. It was a little bit after 8am, and my mom was on her way. I was okay with that, because I needed a good 15 minutes to make sure everything was set. It's all a bit foggy, but somehow everything was ready to go for the trek to Dallas. Patrick's parents decided to take a trip to Florida to visit Jonathan, Rachel, and Greysen that day, so the luggage of 5 adults was loaded up into what I affectionately like to call the Gargantu-van. Big James left before we did, so we made sure to say goodbye to him as we were packing up.

Leaving Our Baby

Thinking about saying goodbye to my fur baby makes me cry every single time. Oh, how I miss that sweet ball of fluff of ours. I feel a bit silly saying that I miss my cat so much that I cry, but the truth is that Chloe is the sweetest little thing, and I miss her constant companionship when I feel so very alone. She is truly a people-loving cat, but she only loves her people.

My quiet little shadow followed me wherever I went, silently moving from room to room so she could be with me. The same was true for Patrick. When both Patrick and I were home but in different places, she situated herself so that she could see us both at the same time, no matter where we were. If Patrick was in the bedroom and I was in the bathroom, she sat in the hallway. If I was in the kitchen while Patrick was sitting on the couch, Chloe was in the dining room. If both of us were on the couch or bed, though, she was right there, usually situated so she was touching both of us at the same time. When we were out of town and left her at home, she would cling to us even more when we got back; it was as though she was trying to soak up all the love and affection she missed while we were gone. Chloe became lonely without us there, but she was extremely wary of anyone (even my mom, who she lived with once upon a time) who came over to take care of her.

So, you see, when I think about how we had to just leave her at Patrick's parents' house without being able to explain to her what was going on, that I was sorry for having to leave her behind, that it was better for her to stay, that I wished more than anything that we could bring her with us, it tears me apart.

There's a scene in the movie Sweet Home Alabama where Reese Witherspoon's character is talking to her dog at his grave, and she is crying, apologizing to him for leaving him behind, and I can 100% relate.
"Like when everything went pear-shaped, you never left my side. And then I just left you. I bet you sat there wonderin' what you done wrong."
Guys, it tears me apart knowing that my sweet fur baby, who is so incredibly loving and attached to us, was left alone to wonder when we were coming back, not knowing that we aren't coming home for a very long time. I know that she is in extremely loving hands with my wonderful in-laws, but my heart hurts just the same. I've contemplated paying the outrageous cost of a plane ticket to go home and snuggle her in the coming months, but I'd probably never come back. Not an ounce of me is kidding.

That morning, all of those feelings were rushing at me as we had to say goodbye to our sweet little companion. Chloe knew something was up; she didn't hide like she normally does when we're flying around, trying to pack and load the car. I picked that little ball of fur up and held her close, muffling my sobs in her soft, warm coat. "Our baby," is all I could say to Patrick, and, by the tears in his eyes, I knew that he was just as upset as I was to leave her. We set her on the bed, grabbed our backpacks, and got into the van.

The Trek to Texas

Charlie (my father-in-law) was driving, Bernice (my mother-in-law) was in the passenger seat, Patrick and my mom were in the seats behind them, and I plopped myself onto the row of seats in the back and tried to catch a few minutes of sleep while we made our way from OKC to Dallas. It was probably for the best, too, because I was trying my hardest not to break down and cry at the prospect of leaving the place that has become my home, so sleeping proved to be the best option.

I remember turning my phone on airplane mode during the drive to save battery. I remember receiving so many loving thoughts, prayers, well-wishes from the best people in the world when I turned the reception back on. I remember being extremely uncomfortable, trying to situate myself around baggage and vehicle fixtures. I remember being hot to the point of sweating (my airplane outfit had me wearing the bulkiest items, including my lace-up boots, wool socks, long-sleeved shirt, hoodie, and knit scarf on that 95 degree day; we'd get off the plane at 6:55am the next morning and have a 30 degree temperature drop).

I remember the five of us trying to navigate through the Dallas/Fort Worth airport entrance... ha! That was funny. Our flight was through FinnAir, but American Airlines operated it... but it was an international departure... via American Airlines. By the grace of God (seriously), we just so happened to end up at the exactly-right curbside drop-off entrance. I remember unloading our suitcases, hyper-aware of everyone around us, careful not to let anyone near our items as we got organized and said our goodbyes. I remember being at this extremely weird crossroads of emotions as we had to hug Patrick's parents, say words of love and thanks that fell so short of what we wanted to express, at the same time that I was trying to stay focused on our task of getting checked-in and through airport security, all while being both excited and terrified at what was about to come (something I'm sure my sister-in-law Rachel can completely relate to).

Arriving and Departing

Somehow, we made it. We were checked-in successfully, our checked bags were under the 50 pound weight limit, and PRAISE GOD they didn't weigh our waaaaay-over-the-limit carry-on bags (we were allowed 17.5 pounds TOTAL for our carry-on suitcase and personal backpack... combined). While we were checking in, I recall trying to joke around with the workers, to somehow make them crack a smile, in the hopes that they wouldn't be so strict in case they did decide to weigh our carry-ons. I had my sob story of "we're moving overseas and this is all we're taking with us" all prepped, but I'll never be sad that I didn't get to use it! We made it through airport security without any hiccups, the prospect of which always stresses me out. However, I was rather bossy when it came to the speed and efficiency of getting our items unpacked, through the scanners, and re-packed, all while trying to make sure no one stole anything.

It should be stated that international travel is not the ideal scenario for type-a people with anxiety issues. Sigh.

We eventually made our way to our gate, and it was only then that I was able to start relaxing. I even got a bit excited. "We're going to London!!" I whispered to my mom and Patrick with wide eyes and a smile. I was the only one of us who hadn't been there before, and I was finally allowing myself to enjoy the prospect. Ready or not, the time had come.

There were a few hours to kill before we were allowed to board our plane, but we had no trouble finding things to do. We came prepared for that and the 9 1/2 hour flight ahead - sudoku, playing cards, magazines, books, etc. were sure to keep us occupied. We found our gate, settled into some chairs near outlets, got some food (and coffee), and waited until the throngs of people signified that it was time to board our plane.

The Long-Awaited Flight

The flight to London was extremely tight - not an empty seat on the plane. Thankfully, we had thought to call FinnAir way back in March or April and had them "request" reservations for three seats together, because I don't know if any of us could have sat through that flight that close to strangers.

It didn't help, either, that the only person on the entire airplane that reclined his seat to full-capacity for the entire 9+ hour flight was the man in front of Patrick - the middle seat of the row in front of us. I kid you not... the ONLY bloody person on the plane. Oh, the rage!! Poor thing, he did his best to endure the claustrophobia for as long as he could, but it eventually became too much and my mother graciously traded seats with Patrick. Even when he got out of his seat, this stupid man left his chair fully reclined. UGH! And when I had to get out (I was at the window), I literally had to climb over the back of his chair to get out - but, rest assured, I was careful to make sure I rattled his chair as much as I possibly could without getting punched in the face. There were a few coughs that I conjured up and sent his way, too, since this man's face was mere inches from mine. Heh... sucks to suck, dude. This man was clearly annoyed but completely oblivious to the fact that he was causing so much distress to the row behind him; his wife, however, made me more mad because she was 100% aware of the situation, but did she do a dang thing about it? Absolutely not. I could have clawed her eyes out, despite the fact that she was at least a foot taller than me. SIGH.

During the flight, I read my magazine, did some sudoku, watched American in Paris (I thought it was fitting, and it was Gene Kelly), and eventually tried to get some sleep. I don't normally have trouble sleeping on planes, and I didn't think I would have problems with it during our flight due to my severe lack of sleep the night prior, but I guess moving abroad versus traveling abroad are different, and this flight had me all sorts of anxious. I would go to sleep (thank heavens for that wonderful sleep mask I bought on Etsy), catch a few z's, and wake up thinking that several hours had passed - haha NOPE. I only slept about an hour at a time, and caught three - maybe four - of these little cat naps before I decided that I needed to wake up. After all, I didn't want to screw something up at customs or have any of our carry-on baggage stolen because I ended up sleeping too long. Unfortunately, yes, this is how my brain works - anxiety much?

As I looked out the window over Ireland, the Celtic Sea, and England, it began to become real to me. Gazing through the dirty window, the reality of what we were doing was settling in, but I was kind of excited about it. After all, what I was seeing was beautiful. Surely, I was going to be living in a beautiful city in the middle of a gorgeous country on which I had never set foot. Talk about a thrill. Talk about overwhelming.

The in-flight breakfast came, as did our forms to fill out for the customs officers. The flight seemed to take so much longer than 9 1/2 hours, but then, all of the sudden, there we were - just outside of LONDON.

And Lord Almighty, was it beautiful!