Six years ago, ten years felt like an eternity. Our waiting period. Ten years, and then a request for a “pardon” and a shot at a visa application for my husband. Every year I returned to the States, alone, every time, feeling so sad about having to leave my husband in Mexico. Our hopes are about so much more than a visa. Our hopes are about keeping our family together. For me, having to travel alone for 6 years meant it started to affect me a little less every year than the first time.
Now, on this seventh trip back (one year I went twice), my husband’s the one with tears in his eyes. For the record, I’ve seen Margo with tears in his eyes maybe three times in the eleven years I’ve known him. This time, it was at dinner. Tomorrow, he bids me and his toddler goodbye for three weeks while she accompanies me as a bridesmaid in my friend’s wedding in CA, and my grandmother’s 90th birthday in NY. It’s perhaps not as traumatic a separation as some families experiences when a parent is deported or jailed, but it hurts all the same. I tried to reassure him that we’d call twice a day, and we’d be in good hands, and I’d be as patient as possible with our daughter in his absence (he’s the good cop), but that wasn’t what was upsetting him. “I know, but it’s just frustrating,” Margo said “it’s difficult.”
I started to tear up myself in realizing just how rough this was going to feel for my husband this time around. But then he remembered the one beer I bought him earlier and the mini bottle of wine I got myself a couple days ago. “I want to be able to celebrate the night before we go,” I had said. “Se me estaba pasando,” Margo said, almost forgetting. We poured a glass and I reminded him of the possibility that when 2016 comes we might actually get lucky. “The first lawyer was a lying optimist, the second and third lawyers were truth-telling pessimists, so maybe this fourth lawyer is a truth-telling optimist,” I said, regarding some recent encouraging legal advice we’d heard about our case.
He managed a half-smile, and we toasted. “To 6 down, and 4 to go,” I said. Que sera asi.
Nathaniel and I have been away for a few months hunkering down on our next chapters in the book. But I’ve come up for air for the few days before we enter collaborative editing mode again (hooray!) this Thursday, when we’ll swap chapters and then tear them to pieces. It was a new thing for me, writing a chapter in between work days (I now teach at an English school as well) and at naptimes (previously, I hadn’t honed the fine art of only writing for a couple hours at a time while my daughter napped). Although I’m fairly content with the final product, I’m a little nervous about the collaborative editing process for this one. Not that Nate and I haven’t honed our process (we actually have come a long way in that, and think our way of doing things now brings out the better writer in each of us), but because this chapter felt like more of a doozy for me than my first two.
This chapter (unnamed for now) is centered on my husband and my departure together from the U.S. in mid-2006. It was fairly straightforward to write but mined innumerable emotions, the kind felt as we waffled back and forth on the decision as to whether we’d leave the U.S. to move together back to Margo’s hometown, and if so, when. I obviously get into it in much more detail in the book but suffice it to say that making the intentional leap to leave your friends, family, profession, and economic well-being is no small task. Going back through everything I thought, felt, and experienced along the way of making that decision and then going through with it (I draw heavily on my journals for my chapters) was emotionally intense, to say the least.
And what was weirder for me this time is that it wasn’t so tough while I was writing it, but got tougher when I was almost done. I’d written quite a bit of the last part of the chapter (which is basically our border crossing story) years ago, but went back and carved it up and rewrote it for Amor and Exile. In doing so, and in rereading the chapter to my husband, I relived the whole experience, which brought up a lot of feelings I thought I’d put to bed a long time ago (guess again).
Leaving behind friends, family, and familiar places were tough, but I still have contact with them and I can still visit. What stirred up the most distressing feelings for me upon revisiting them were the parts about leaving my job, and the actual border crossing itself. I don’t feel like I ever quite got back on track after derailing my professional trajectory (although I have undertaken a number of satisfying projects), and so that’s probably why I feel unsettled about that piece still.
The move south in its entirety was one of the most exciting things I’ve ever done, even though the actual border crossing itself was one the most stressful things I’ve ever done. I’m not sure why, but I got the notion to take another look at our route on Google maps. Below are a few images that I came up with. They virtually brought me back down memory lane.
This was the route we took from the San Francisco Bay Area to Margo’s hometown of Queretaro, Mexico. We stopped off in Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon because we don’t know if Margo will ever be back in the United States again someday, and well, those are two places you’ve just got to visit before you die.
This is a zoomed-in view of more or less where we crossed in Nogales, AZ to Nogales, Mex. Marker A shows where we had to stop unexpectedly, throwing a bit of a wrench into our plans.
It was precisely in this lot/parking lot that we had to sit sweating it out (literally) for a few hours while our truck’s legal paperwork was being done (none for my husband, unfortunately).
I couldn’t find imagery for the Homeland Security Department building that we passed when were almost out of the United States (maybe for security reasons). But it was quite a cathartic feeling to both finally be in Mexico and be done with rereading that part of the chapter to my husband. As much as it tears me up what we had to do, and how much I have to retell the tale in order to carry out my vision of telling our story, I’m comforted by the following quote from Buddhist master Chogyam Trungpa:
‘We wear out the shoe of samsara by walking on it through the practice of meditation…so meditation practice or spiritual development depend on samsaras.”
I see my story of leaving the U.S. and coming to Mexico as part of my own personal samsara—kind of like an emotional roller coaster ride. And so the trauma of having done so will eventually fade as I “wear it out” by telling the story over and over again. But in order to tell the story, I must have experienced it in the first place.
One of the most difficult things about writing my part of Amor and Exile is that I live it every day.
Before I joined this project with Nathaniel, I primarily wrote in my journal about my experience of living with my husband in the U.S. when he was an undocumented immigrant there, or the aftermath of moving with him here to Mexico. For ten years, I wrote in my black covered notebooks, profusely but randomly—when events led me to need to record what was happening. Now that we’re collaborating, even though we don’t have a strict schedule, we have an endpoint in sight. As far as the book is concerned, that requires staying on top of regular writing, toward the eventual finish line of completing our manuscript. As far as my life is concerned, that is a more open-ended proposition.
Currently, I have only two days—Tuesdays and Thursdays—to get in the right frame of mind for writing my chapters. Those are the days that my husband has agreed to stay home with our daughter while I think and type. The precious hours available to me are whittled down by everything else that I do in order to get ready to write. Scan the news online, write in my journal, meditate. Then there’s responsibilities like nursing my daughter, eating, using the bathroom. Or the dreaded procrastination, a.k.a. social media networks. All of this is no big news to anyone who writes. It’s part of the game, and you either figure out a way to deal with it or get a different job. In reality, none of this is really that big of a deal to me either. Modern professionals learn to multi-task and juggle activities.
But one of the things that most gets in the way of my writing for this book is the very relationship I am writing about. Ha, ha. Yes, my relationship with my husband. Hey—I’m not ashamed to say things aren’t always perfectly harmonious. On any given day we are prone to bicker about something, but if that happens on the day I am supposed to write about my life for this book, it poses somewhat of a challenge of objectivity to me.
I know damn well that even though my husband and I have our differences that it doesn’t mean we don’t love each other, or that I shouldn’t write this book. We’re new parents, we’re a bicultural and binational partnership (read: culture gap to bridge), and we’re both severely underemployed. Which is to say we have strains on our moods. Just that sometimes it can be a little distracting to argue right before I’m supposed to perfect, for example, a section of a chapter about how we met. If I were writing a book about the Berries of North America (perhaps my next book topic), I really doubt that whether or not Margo interrupted me 7 times in the preceeding 7 hours would affect my portrayal of the geographic distribution of the cloudberry. So I have to try really hard to almost dissociate myself from my own relationship while writing about my relationship. That can be an exercise in absurdity.
If I had been personally targeted, I probably would have been fuming. In fact, I might have even cried. But I am not sure if I would have responded in the same way. Don’t get me wrong: in the book I do talk about all the reasons why I fell in love with my husband—if I didn’t, our story wouldn’t be complete. But I feel very uncomfortable about the idea that I need to somehow prove the value of my relationship with my husband, just because he was at one time undocumented. No one, under any circumstances, should be forced to explain why they love their partner. That’s a dehumanizing situation. I’m concerned that if I respond in that way to attackers, I’ll validate their claims.
I’m writing this post because writing as candidly as possible about our story is something I’ve struggled with since deciding to go public with it. I had second thoughts about what some might consider “airing my dirty laundry.” I’ve done battle with the illusion that, in order to qualify as a worthy subject, our relationship ought to be flawless. But I’m realizing the folly in that viewpoint. I want to be as clear as possible about the pressures our relationship has endured over the years as a result of the legal situation he found himself in, and I found myself in by association. It’s not that we had a perfect relationship and illegal immigration destroyed it. It’s that we have a loving marriage with perfectly normal ups and downs, and immigration law as it’s currently written has strained it to a point that is liable to break up any family. Relationships are hard enough to keep together without having to stretch them indefinitely across international borders and pelt them with the callous comments of haters who have no idea what it’s like.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, my husband just made lunch, and the tortillas might get cold. And then I’ve got a chapter to get back to.