Sunday, January 27, 2013

Dark and lonely place

When my parents came to America for my graduation three years ago they saw me broken. Broken, defeated, lost and scared. Every trip to the mailbox was a terrifying  dreaded task, a routine I would do every day. Turning the key felt like a ritual I needed to brace for. Like a painful injection or an awful tasting medicine, something you know you'll have to do eventually, but you really don't want to. If it's there, it's there- the rational part of my brain would say, but any excuse to put it off would suffice. No word yet? I guess it buys me another day. Why is this happening- I would ask myself every day. Why can't I convince these people? Does it make sense how I'm struggling, nobody seems to get me at all and truth be told I have begun to second guess myself as well. Why am I pursuing this, if clearly they don't want me, if nobody can see my worth, well then maybe I am worth nothing. Three years ago I was waiting to hear from immigration. It was a dark and lonely place. It has changed me. I arrived in America as somebody determined to turn his life around. To be happy. To be fun, sociable and curious, to reinvent myself in ways I could never be in Poland. I was here always legally of course, I came in as international student on a visa and never violated that status. Then, I wanted more. It felt like somebody showed me this bold new world of opportunity, but then was to cruelly yank away from me. James Klausner, a UF professor and a Director of a local cerebral palsy foundation heard my story and saw it as a chance for the both of us. I guess it was pretty rare  for someone with my disability, with my extent of disability to be as independent, as driven but most of all as functional. He offered me a job and I accepted. He felt my story can inspire parents and children, while my advanced legal degrees where something his organization could actually use for the new programs he had in mind. I felt like I had a new lease on life. I won't bore you with the details of our immigration strategy- what were some of the things we filed for and what were there responses. I was denied. Again, again and again. Today I have a green card and everything is solved, but those months of second guessing myself and being angry, angry at myself will forever be with me. And forever I was changed. I feel I will never get that carefree person I was when first got here. It took me many weeks after it was all resolved to sleep well again. Back then, I'd wake up in panic in the middle of the night. It wasn't anything specific,  it wasn't just one thing, it was something indescribable taking a hold of my life. And when you're so stressed, so stressed for so long it becomes your lifestyle. Getting back to reality is challenging as you try to remember how you used to be and feel before it all happened. I got my green card, it was as easy easy as somebody signing off on a piece of paper to undue all the fear and doubt? Consider how you have to worry about your future, how your fate is determined by someone who has never met you. You will never meet them, you will never learn their name, just a number. What are they thinking? Are they getting what you are about and trying to do? Do they read into these things or do they just want to get through the stack on their desk by lunchtime? Immigration is hard for everyone as if trying to figure you own life out wasn't difficult enough. And for some people it may be too much to take.

 I've decided to bring this up for a reason. Not too long ago, I've met with a friend who also was an international student. Their situation was seemingly better than mine, but they were much more stressed and scatterbrained than I ever was. But a .lot of feelings and doubts I've recognized. Perhaps not everything as it felt to me that they were already drifting away in their mind, but then it hit me. How a lot of the internal process of being a foreigner in America trying to figure yourself out must be common to a lot of the international students. How they are things your American friends, as sympathetic as they are and they will nod their heads will never understand. You feel really abandoned in this and your mind is a really lonely place. How you feel guilty, that your here, your family is over there, you don't want to see you struggle so you put on a happy front when you call home always. Is it fair to burden them with your tuition and living expenses just because you have a dream of going to school somewhere. Shouldn't you be more together and not more lost? Are you not failing everyone for not having the answers? What are you doing? What is the end game. It's difficult enough living in a strange country, far from home. All this institutional red tape doesn't help. Your friends: they'll take you to parties, but they are not your family. Come holidays you are forever alone. America can be hard on anyone, even if we are not as culturally different. I remember going to the International Center all those years ago looking for somebody to talk to, a sympathetic ear. A bit of humanity. And I found it. "Just breathe. This is a safe place. This will all pass" the ladies would say and for that instant that's all you need. To think someone's got your back. My friend was Baker Acted the day after we met. Could this happen to anyone?

1 comment:

  1. This happens to everyone... well, not in the exact same way, but nonetheless our spirit and resolve is always being put to the test. I'm not in the US, but the one month I spent on vacation wasn't much of a vacation. There are no words I can say to uplift your spirit, but you mustn't bring yourself any lower than life will. Search your heart, keep your faith. Life is hard enough as it is. We're all in the gutter but while some of us are too focused on the dirt and filth around us, some others look to the stars.