Monday, we picked up our tarjetas de residencia (residents cards) at the police station in Gijon. Given all we have gone through to get them, we expected a bit of fanfare when they were presented. Fanfare was not what was on the mind of the harried government employee who handed us our cards after checking to make sure our finger prints matched what they had on file.
While I’m sure she had planned to shout, “Felicitaciones y bienvenidos a Spain!” (Congratulations and welcome to Spain!) at the last minute she was distracted by a co-worker and only managed to grunt, “Es todo,” (that’s all) as we lingered a moment too long at her desk.
Not deterred by the lack of a surprise party in our honor, we high-fived in a near-by park and took a selfie, a more low-key covid-inspired celebration. Then we stopped by a café and ordered a coffee which arrived in a cup that said festively, “Y Ahora, soy feliz.” (And now, I’m happy.)
Being a legal resident of Gijon is a big deal. First of all, we can now register to get our COVID vaccines at the Centro Medico. We can have our own account at the utility company instead of having to pay the landlords back each time. (Imagine being excited about that!) We can enjoy the ease of using Bizum, the European equivalent of Venmo, only available to residents. We can leave our cumbersome passports at home and carry just our tarjeta which is the size of a U.S. driver’s license. There is also something less tangible about being recognized as a resident, a feeling of belonging that we did not have before. We finally feel Real, like the Velveteen Rabbit.
To quote the beloved children’s book, “By then, Velveteen Rabbit was shabby and gray. The boy had loved off all of its whiskers. The pink lining in the ears had long turned grey. Its brown spots, once fresh and bright, were now faded and hard to see.” “It is time now for me to make you Real,” said the Fairy. “I think I remember Real,” said Velveteen Rabbit. “Now, what was it Cowboy Horse had said? Ah yes. When you are Real, you can move when you want to move. If you are loved, you can love back.”
This past year has been a marathon of hoop jumping in order to move to Gijon. We started with being fingerprinted and having our background checked by the FBI and later had more fingerprints done by the Spanish police. We were then photographed for our visa and our tarjeta de residencia. We had complete physicals to prove our health. Prepared bank statements to prove our financial health. Gathered original copies of our birth certificates and marriage license. Submitted letters explaining our reasons for wanting to move to Spain, and then had each of the above documents apostilled (like a notary on steroids) and translated to Spanish by a Spanish government authorized translator.
All documents had to be prepared and submitted within 90 days of our visa application being sent to the Consulate. We had to open a Spanish bank account and apply for private Spanish health insurance last fall, even though we didn’t get our visas till the end of February. Even our pup Wilma, had to have a complete physical and an 8 page international pet transport document approved by APHID (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) ten days before we arrived in Spain. Naturally each step had a fee and a tricky timeline associated with it.
Taking all of these steps proved even more challenging during COVID because many of the government offices we had to rely on, including the Spanish Consulate, had reduced hours, killing any efficiency they may have had prior to the pandemic.
All this to say, Rocky and I felt every bit like the Velveteen Rabbit before becoming Real, when we first arrived in Gijon: shabby and gray with all of our whiskers gone and our color faded from a lack of sleep, and too much worry.
Over the past two months we have slept better than we have in a year, eaten delicious food and walked everywhere, ensuring we were feeling our best. But we still didn’t feel Real. We kept hitting road blocks where we were reminded that we could not do this or that because we were not legal residents yet.
Today when our waiter asked us where we were from, I could finally say, “We are from Gijon now.” The same sort of shift happened 34 years ago when Rocky and I first got married. We had lived together for a year before we got married so it surprised us that anything felt different after the ceremony. There was a stronger sense of belonging to each other. A new level of commitment that we did not know was possible but that we felt strongly as we looked at each other as husband and wife. As the Velveteen Rabbit said so wisely, “If you are loved, you can love back.”
“If you are Real, you can move when you want to move”…and where you want to move. Gijon decided it was finally time to make us Real.
Y Ahora, soy feliz. And now, I’m happy… and Real.