I Just Have One Question

On the phone with the immigration lawyer four weeks ago: “I just have one question. What can we do at the school to get this boy out of a homeless shelter?”

“He needs someone to offer him a home and then we can begin the process of going through family court and applying for an SIJS visa.”

Five minutes later, calling my husband (which I NEVER do) in the middle of a school day:

Bruce: “What’s up?”

Me: “I just have one question.” Loooong pause.

Bruce: “Yeah…?”

Me: “Would you be willing to take this boy into our home?”

Bruce: “This boy who’s been in your class for three weeks and we know nothing about?”

Me: “… Yep.”

On the phone with the social worker, one day later:

Social worker: “Our ultimate goal is to place him with a Spanish-speaking family, although it doesn’t always work out that way. He told me that you might be willing to take him, and just so you know, I already Googled your house and everything I could find out about you. And I just have one question.”

Me: “Yes…?”

Social worker: “How do you feel about taking in a teenage boy when you have three teenage daughters living at home?”

(This was the easiest of these questions to answer).

In an email to the school psychologist, counselor, registrar, and social worker: “I just have one question. How does one take in a student in a situation like this?”

Response: “We don’t know.”

In my living room, three weeks later, meeting with the Undocumented Refugee Minor team of five adults–an interpreter, a bilingual social worker, a coordinator from Lutheran Family Services, a Guardian ad Litem lawyer, and a caseworker from the Department of Human Services. My puppy jumps from couch to couch, hovers on the floor with toys he begs them to throw, sniffs in their on-the-floor bags. Fabian holds the laser pointer and fiddles with the dog’s rampant scavenges for its source in the depths of the hardwood floor.

Social worker: “The primary goal of this program is to reunite you with your family. Let’s talk about all the family members you have in the U.S.”

So begins a lengthy discussion about every reason why his four family members cannot take him. One with a crime, one with a house too full, one in prison, and an uncle in Connecticut he doesn’t know.

Social worker: “Let’s talk about the uncle you don’t know. What if you went to visit?”

Fabian: “It’s too far.”

Social worker: “We could buy you a plane ticket. Pay for a hotel.”

Fabian: “…”

Social worker: “We don’t have to decide today. You can think about it. It’s always an option for your future. OK?”

Fabian: “OK.”

Fifteen minutes later, the meeting is coming to an end.

Social worker: “Now you both have the chance to ask any questions that you have.”

My quiet son, with red eyes and pulling his hands away from his downturned face, looks up and says, “Solo tengo una pregunta.”

We wait for the interpreter to repeat his words.

Fabian: “I just want to know how many times you are going to keep asking me to reunite with my family. Because I was in a homeless shelter for four months and no one in my family did anything for me, and I don’t want to reunite with them.”

Every mouth in the room: Silence.

I just have one question: What would you do?

Knowing that his journey across four borders and a lifetime of woes has ever-gratefully placed him in your living room. Knowing that you will lose sleep over this, waking in the middle of the night to police sirens thinking that ICE is coming, worrying that he will hate you, that he’ll turn back and re-cross those borders, that he won’t fit into your family. Knowing that when he sits in your classroom with all the others, they might make somewhat-joking, somewhat-bitter commentary about “your son.” Knowing that your daughters will get jealous over him being allowed to watch a movie on a weeknight or having a specially-made dinner and a piñata for his birthday. Knowing that people in your life are going to question every aspect of this choice (“College is coming up… can you afford this?” “Are you sure he’s not a criminal?” “Are you worried about having him in a house with three teenage daughters?”).

Knowing that for every day of your life, from the moment when he raised his face and asked his singular question, you will never forget its weight on your soul, on your humanity.

I just have one answer: love. It is the only response that is worth listening to out of every possibility. It is the only way to get through each of the borders that we must cross, each of the dark memories that plague us all, each of the questions we have always asked about what we could do.

We could love each other just a bit more.

A Quick Email to End 2019

My creative writing teacher (I will always refer to her as such even though I graduated nearly twenty-five years ago) asked us (her forever students) to send her a quick email about an important gift we gave or received this holiday.

Maybe I could snap a quick pic from the tree on Christmas Eve, filled with makeup, watercolor markers, jeans, and long-sleeved blouses for my three teenage daughters. Or of Christmas morning with the magical Apple Watches, so coveted by my Apple-only family.

Or the earrings my mother made me or the gift card to Colorado Gives from my sister.

Maybe I could capture a quick pic of my 2019 accomplishments: Writing about, and participating in, a teachers’ strike that led to a life-changing raise.

My first paid-for post. My hundreds of hours of work wrapped up in a National Board Certification. My ever-intricately-planned summer road trip across seven states.

But none of these things could begin to compare with the gift that this year has given me. The gift of this man in my life who would do anything, anything to prove his love to me. Marry me when I was just a baby. Follow me to Spain. Learn how to ski nine months and one lesson after tearing his ACL. Read every post. Drive overnight through the midwest so the entire family could sleep.

Take into our house a boy who doesn’t belong to us and in every way belongs to us.

You have watched the news. You have seen the stories. You have donated money. You have screamed in frustration at the cruelties and injustices inflicted on others by our government. By ourselves.

But have you stood in front of fourteen Newcomers and come to understand how brightly they still see our country? Have you had a hallway conversation with a boy who informs you that, after five days of walking, twenty-five days of train-hopping and pigeon-killing, two days of washing windshields in Mexico City, five days waiting to cross the Rio Grande in the middle of the night on a raft, one week in a detention center and four months in a home for unaccompanied minors, and four months in a homeless youth shelter, he is still looking for a home?

And that, no matter what, he cannot, will not, return home?

What would you do? What might you ask your husband to do? Your three ever-spoiled, ever-adaptable, ever-loving teenage daughters?

Would you keep scrolling past the images of children under space blankets on concrete floors?

Or would you realize that this boy is standing in front of you, in your school, in your class, in your life, without a home? A family? And do something? Anything?

I cannot take a quick pic of the past two weeks, the entire time that has passed between my knowledge of his status and his soon-to-be permanent placement in our home. The phone calls, the emails to every last human I could think of who might help him. The two-hour meeting with the Department of Human Services, his Honduran father on the line, ready to relinquish all rights. The background checks, fingerprints, home visits, all within a day. His arrival to my home with three garbage bags filled with clothing and no coat. The shy first meal that he took to the basement to eat. Alone. His quick smile and ever-present hope that this place must be a better place. His immediate love of our three pets.

I cannot send Mrs. Clark a quick email about my gifts this year. There are too many to count, they are the uncountable nouns I teach my Newcomers: love, hope, future, desire.

They are all in this union that the caseworker asked about today: “Married for almost twenty-two years? Tell me, how do you do it?” “Patience and love. Patience and love.”

They are here, in this boy, unwrapped, ready to be our brother, our son, part of our world.

These are my gifts. I’m sorry this is such a long email, Mrs. Clark.

 

 

What I Heard Today

“Hiking? In the forest? No. Only to look for firewood to cook our food. Not for fun.”

“Yes, I’ve ‘visited’ Mexico. I was there for two months waiting for the coyote.”

“In a room the size of this kitchen there were forty of us. They gave us blankets just like that [pointing to tinfoil]. And when they had to wake someone up to deport them, they woke all of us. And they came in every fifteen minutes to wake someone.”

“Hermano, mira. Hay una lavandería aquí en la casa.”

“My 23-year-old brother wanted to come, but he can’t run fast enough.”

“He can’t run fast enough?”

“To get on the train. I saw so many… broken legs, arms. Even a body with its legs completely amputated. You have to be able to run.”

“I crossed the Rio Grande on a raft.”

“I’ve never seen a dishwasher. We had to wash our clothes and dishes by hand.”

“Eggs, beans, and rice for lunch and dinner. Coffee for breakfast.”

“My cousin bought me the plane ticket, the phone, everything. And the detention center had all of his information, so when I arrived at the airport, the police were waiting for him.”

“$250 here for strep antibiotics? In my country it’s free. Being sick here is a luxury I guess.”

I guess it is.