The last 24 hours have been… moist. I actually didn’t know that I could cry so much. I even have a washcloth full of snot and tears in the hamper because I actually went through our entire supply of toilet paper. Disgusting.
I’m sorry, Leo kept repeating.
You don't need to apologize, I told him, for what was simply our reality in the States; we lived within it until we saw an out.
I’m sorry I’m not more upset, he said later. I’m just used to this. I’m used to everything being impossible.
I have never actually experienced not getting something I desperately wanted. When I set my sights on anything – Smith; various jobs, internships, and programs; my Fulbright; and (or so I thought) UBC – it happens. I’ve never had a Plan B and often joked that someday it would come back to bite me, but I never believed it.
That I might confront a situation in which there were forces at play larger than myself just never entered into my consciousness. In my naïveté, I saw no reason why my privilege (and immunity to the word “no”) wouldn’t just count for both Leo and me.
My life is straight and purposeful. When it bends in on itself, it has only ever been to touch back to a previously untested lead – like (I thought) UBC, which I had visited during my high school college search before honing in on Smith as the one and only option. I, of course, went to Smith.
Leo’s experience has been the opposite, running through a self-referential circuit of disadvantaged catch-22s for essentially his whole life. Born rural and without money, he’d never get an education; without an education, he’d never get money; without money or an education, he’d never have opportunity; without opportunity he’d never have money or an education; without money, education, or opportunity, he’d never get out; if he didn’t get out, he’d never get money or opportunity.
When this is your template, slipping across a border and paying your dues in dignity becomes a legitimate option. Once you get to the US, everywhere you turn, there’s a tripwire: you can own a car, but you can’t drive it; you can marry, but you can’t stay; you can establish a home, but you might not return to it one day…
The narrowing shaft of light at the end of the tunnel is why we left; everywhere in the United States is approaching Arizona; just being makes you a criminal if you’re undocumented. We knew that staying would only compound inadmissibilities and impossibilities; we thought we’d made it out unscathed.
That, of course, is why I wasn’t prepared for the FBI letter. I am aware that the Canadian consulate owes us nothing; they can approve or deny at their discretion. Unlike our home countries, I don't believe that they have any responsibility for us. But I didn’t think we’d give them a reason to deny us!
The worst part about this whole affair is feeling like a liar. I am honest to a fault, and I’ve never hidden anything about Leo’s status (certainly not from the Canadian consulate, which has his very visaless passports) or its ramifications on our lives – like the ridiculousness of trying to obey laws like driving without a license (what Leo would have given for a US license!).
At issue is that we were completely unaware that this traffic stop rose to the level of an arrest! We wholeheartedly believed that Leo had a clean record, thanks to his State of Massachusetts background check! We made every attempt to fill out all Canadian visa application forms to the best of our knowledge given the information available to us.
I entered into the process so determined to keep our application short, simple, and sincere. I’ve heard so many stories about would-be immigrants getting caught trying to pull a fast one. I also know immigrants who made it into the US with documents under less than honest circumstances. Both such stories leave me incensed. First: you don't lie. We all know that. But also on a very practical level: why would you run the risk of lying?! Any short-term gains would be at the expense of long-term stability! That’s why Leo and I married in the US even though we were told over and over again that getting married in Brazil might facilitate a spousal visa by making it appear that we met here. There would be absolutely no way, we said, that we would build a life in any country on a foundation of lies.
And here we are, looking like liars. And stupid liars, at that. It’s humiliating.
The second worst part is the letdown; why did so many factors line up just right if the whole process wasn’t “supposed to” happen? Why would UBC have the perfect program and the perfect professor? Why would I receive my acceptance only days before leaving for Brazil? Why would my award be the exact amount to ensure our financial stability in the eyes of the Canadian consulate? Why would we have an apartment at our disposal practically on the doorstep of UBC for the duration of the school year and for the precise amount we’d budgeted for rent?
Do I really chalk this all up to cruel coincidence?