Seven years ago, two women’s lives were changing forever. They both had just made commitments with men who were a persona non gratas, undocumented and unwelcome in the United States, the women’s own nation. One of the women stayed in her home country in the hopes of finding a path to stability, to live without fear. The other left and moved south, into “exile,” with the same hopes as the first. They did not know each other at the time, nor that the life paths on which they’d embarked  would eventually cross.

Seven years later, they know each other. Paths have now crossed. The first woman finally moved south, just as the second one was considering when she’d ever possibly return North. Seven years have passed and not much has changed, except for the birth and growth of their daughters, and some deaths — not the least of them the passing of many hopes from those early days.

Nicole and Krystal

Nicole and Krystal

This past week, we welcomed Krystal and her family into our home. Krystal is a longtime blogger (currently posting at LoveMyHusbandMoreThanTheUSA, previously at A Year in the Life of Krystal) now newly fellow “exile wife,” to use the term she coined the night of our first meeting in person. It was a quick stop for them on the way to their own new home in the Central Mexican Highlands, not too far for where we live.

Our meeting was surreal in many ways — first because Krystal is someone I have only “known” virtually for just over a couple years, since around the time when we began writing Amor and Exile. Secondly, Krystal’s arrival to exile is something that I’ve been “watching” her prepare for for some time now — via her public postings of her family’s struggles. As a U.S. Iraqi war veteran and mother dedicated to justice for her family, she long resisted and tried very hard to make it work for them to stay together in the United States. And so it felt somewhat monumental that one of the warriors, a legendary character from our loosely organized but broadly cast net of immigration-affected families was finally “surrendering,” and making the move into exile.

A few days ago I hadn’t actually expected to meet her. I was aware of her family’s impending move south, the vague details of the approach, and where she’d be arriving. But I know how these trips go, having done one myself. When you have your whole life riding on four wheels plus the emotional momentum of a spouse only a few hours’ drive from reuniting with a family he hasn’t seen for years, your forward motion is unstoppable. Side trips beyond a brief foray at the beach seem frivolous, unreasonable even, given the main purpose of your viaje. I also assumed she’d be taking a more southerly route given her destination. So I expected to continue to wish Krystal well virtually, and mourn the inability of yet another one of us to obtain the rights to stay back home with our entire family intact.

But as fast as data flies in the interworld, another member of the network tagged me in a comment that Krystal would be driving through Querétaro. Suddenly, my virtual propriety dissolved and social pressure tactics emerged. I commented that I’d be hurt not to see her — half joking, but also aware of the unique opportunity her drive through our town posed. After a flurry of Facebook messages throughout the day and finding the geographic coordinates of my house so she could locate us (we have no physical address), I discovered I would have house guests that evening after all. I quickly set about making sure that Krystal’s family’s stay would be a moment of comfort in what can be a emotionally grueling journey, having left behind everything they knew and held dear.

The truth was, I needed Krystal’s visit probably as much as she needed a safe place to stay. Despite my abundant blessings, I’d become somewhat depressed recently about the lack of progress in many things I deem important in my life — all related in some way to my state of exile. Combined with a cold winter and my family being sick during the holidays, my mood was worse than blase prior to my friend’s arrival. I was trying hard to pull myself out of my funk, but it wasn’t quite working.

Part of me doubted they’d actually arrive. I surmised they might either get held up in traffic a state away, or decide to push through and make it to their destination by that evening. Later Krystal confessed that her own husband had his doubts, compounded by the fact that I couldn’t give them a house address. We laughed about it once they’d arrived safely, but my husband probably would also have questioned his wife’s wisdom for taking a winding rural route on the outskirts of an unknown city in the dark night, trying to find the town of a friend she’d met on the Internet and who she was Facebook messaging with to find.

But every message I received showed a location a few kilometers closer to my house, and my own husband had offered for their girls to stay in our daughter’s room so they could be comfortable (a rare move of generosity on his part, as he is often more reserved than I), an offer which I extended through the cyberwaves to her. I added that our property was gated and safe and that their dogs were welcome, after intuiting the stress that builds at the end of a ten-hour drive across a foreign country.

Suddenly “they were here,” i.e. in my town, but I was still at work, and the cell phone connections weren’t working. She had thought she was lost but I told her she did better than most local friends at finding the place. I got home as fast as possible and found them at the local convenience store and they followed me home. Luckily, they’d found a taco stand across the street to grab a bite while they waited.

Nicole with Krystal and her family upon their arrival.

Nicole with Krystal and her family upon their arrival.

Meeting someone you’ve only known virtually, I’m starting to realize, is a really amazing experience. I remember when it first happened for me last summer when we went to D.C. to deliver our book and I met another Crystal, from PA, who’s also part of our network. So many dimensions emerge that are impossible to ascertain via Internet — and a knowledge of someone, and their heart, becomes whole. My first impression was to be deeply impressed that she found my place in the middle of nowhere in the dark, with only a pair of GPS coordinates to go on. Next, I saw a couple that was tired, but still propelled by the weight of their journey. I then saw the two young girls who were along for the ride, and loved and cared for very much. And then the four of them walked up our driveway, across our doorstep and into our home.[/caption]

At one point, Krystal and I were sitting at the dining room table chatting a mile a minute. She had mentioned that her younger daughter understood Spanish but refused to speak it, and I responded that it’d happen naturally, eventually. As her elder daughter, who had thought I was named “Michelle” at first, sat with us sipping Lipton cup-a-soup, she asked her mom a telling question. We’d been spilling terms like “retired” and “exile,” and the eleven year old wanted to know what the e-word meant. I smiled, and let Krystal take that one. “It’s when someone has to leave their home against their will,” she explained. End of the discussion. It hit me then that the girls were aware of the journey but not fully aware of the implications of what was happening — but how could they be? Even though they were every bit a part of the collateral damage of a policy that’s in effect declared war on immigrants, these two precious, displaced souls were happy just being my daughter’s playmates for a night. And that was just fine, because in my opinion, the less you understand of the reasons behind this nonsensical forcible exodus, the better. Afterward, the girls were playing board games, reading picture books, and running joyfully about the house until bedtime could be extended no longer.

After catching each other up on the various latest details of legal laments, family feuds and professional pinings, the parts that don’t get shared in Facebook statuses, we soaked in a moment to just be. Two sovereign women who, despite a lot of fear for having to leave behind something so integral to our identity — our home country — and despite having to become a part of a machisto culture that often fails to nourish our souls about us as much as our own cultures under-appreciated our partners, were still in this for the long haul, come hell or high water.

Her approach to exile will be different than mine — less bound to one location, and will take a proactive stance to try and make the most of it by traveling. It’s an admirable approach, and I truly hope it brings even more satisfaction than we have found in our situation — we are truly lucky to have the house and land we do, but we are essentially bound to it until we have the means again to loosen the legal/economic ties that bind us to this location.

Aside from the simply lovely aspects of having our families meet and hang out, I was struck by the nature of our reunion. How we ran to take the Facebook picture and what an achievement it felt like. How we recounted the meetings among “our kind.” When I met Crystal, when Krystal met Jennifer, when Raquel met Giselle, and so on. It’s as if every meeting is special — and it is — as we know, without articulating it, that we’re a burgeoning demographic, a movement without a leader, a spontaneous organization, allied without really wanting it — who asks for a sisterhood that is defined by a loss of autonomy? — but also absolutely needing it, growing bonds where they’ve been forcibly severed, by our own country.

This kind of alliance is the kind that reminds me of spontaneous healing, where the body patches up a scratch or a cut, where positivity takes over pain without thought or intention. I saw this in my daughter’s total welcoming of strangers in her happy Spanglish and when I heard the younger one finally responding in her own adopted tongue as naturally as I assumed she would. I saw this in my daughter’s stuffed animals I found among the bedding where the girls stayed, the ones she’d lent them so they could feel a little more “home” along their journey.

It was a positive force that brought our families together in the first place, the urge and instinct to unite with love rather than ostracize with hate. It’s what I wish more for our daughters’ world when we are no longer. This kind of encounter helped renew my faith that I’ve done the right things in a time when the results are sometimes so hard to live with, it’s so easy to question my own wisdom, question what the hell kind of world we are exactly living in, anyways.

Krystal and her family on their way to their new home in exile

So thanks for stopping by, Krystal. Blessed be your journey.

One Response to Where Exile Grows

  1. nancy says:

    Absolutely lovely and heart-felt. You put the front-page congressional wrangling into perspective. The people involved in this struggle are real people, not numbers and headlines and bills– but you and your young daughter welcoming strangers. Thanks, Nicole, and good luck. I have to believe the US will wake up one day, but I don`t know…

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