Stories For Liberation: “The Age Of Legality”

Painting/"Smith and 9th"/Gwynne Duncan

So many young people from immigrant families look forward to coming of age, with the promise of helping their parents acquire legal status. But, the road ahead is full of unanswered questions and thorns. Like others in this series, the author looks forward to the time when he will be able to claim his story under his own name.

“The Age of Legality”

Friday, March 20-something, 2016. It’s been a week since I turned 21. The age of legality. The composite number.

“Kristo, leve. We going out. Fè vit. We gotta catch the train so we can go see the lawyer,” Mom said.

It was going to be my first time meeting her lawyer. My body was tensing up. All of the emotions running through my body. Rapidly interchangeable. I couldn’t formulate my own thoughts for a couple of seconds—well, not that I know how to anyway. I stood there for personal reasons. Health reasons. Spiritual reasons. Reasons to make a miracle child have a peace of mind.

“Sweetie, when you wait for the train, please don’t stand close to the track because you’re gonna fall and hurt yourself and you won’t be able to get up, and you might die,” she exclaimed.

The train was empty and there were only a few of us on the platform. Sliding doors. Open sesame. Steam was being pushed out. We entered. We sat down. We waited. More people were coming. One Haitian family came to our car. They were talking amongst themselves, wondering whether they were on the right train or not. Moments later, they were relieved. Father, mother, kids, relatives sat together next to the map right across from us. A couple more people came and filled up the seats. Some stood by the poles. The bell rang. Steam was let off again. Doors were closed. The engine rolls and rolls and rolls and rolls….

The underworld of New York turns dark in a split second. The train tracks become the beat. The train becomes the producer. Together, they have become one. We, the people, are masters of ceremonies. Some of them are rapping. Some of them, including me, are bopping our heads to the beat. Minimal sound. Metals are banging. In the dark tunnel, all I saw were horizontal lights on the walls of the underworld. And for the first time in my life, it’s her and me alone. I’ve been there a couple of times with the family.

But now, I’m with strangers. Hipsters. Gangsters. Scholars. Governors. Businessmen and women. Even immigrants. Mommy and I are in our own space. We still haven’t spoken to each other. I turned my head towards her. She looked back as if she was waiting to say something important.

“Why you don’t put your earphones on? I know you like to put it on when we go out. Ou ka koute mizik ou yo,” she said.

The appointment was making her nervous.

If being on a tangent was a job, I’d probably be rich forever. I would start to get paid by each stop. 179th, 169th, Parsons Boulevard, Sutphin Boulevard, LVD, Briarwood, Kew Gardens/Union Turnpike… World Trade Center.

Finally, we got out and climbed up the stairs. The sky was still white, same weather. Different type of air, noise, smoke, light. The environment is all polluted. Affecting the lives of 8 million plus—well, as far as I know.

The apple is big and rotten, but it doesn’t bother us. Not at the moment. I mean, not at all. I smile. She smiles. We ignore the New York minutes as we walk and talk about random things. But then again, of course, she starts getting serious.

“See, Kristo, nothing’s easy in life. This is why I want you to go to school to get a good education, so you can live a good life. See, Mommy only got one job and I’m not getting paid enough. I got a lot of bills to pay and I don’t know how to get through it because some of them are overdue. That’s why you have to pray to God to give Mommy more strength. God can help you get through life.”

After we crossed a couple of blocks, we have reached our destination: the law office. We’ve entered the lobby. Mommy walked towards the receptionist for directions. Meanwhile, I saw a foster mother with foster kids, I assumed. Black woman holding hands of her white son and daughter. Blondies. Blue eyes, I thought. I wondered if my mother noticed. I thought it was interesting. Too bad, they were leaving happy. We just got in with anxiety.

The elevator doors were opened. We entered. A couple of floors later, the doors were back open. We’re there now. We headed to the waiting room. The lawyer was with someone else. Time was going by slow. My stomach was hurting again. Mom started to worry. I had to run to the bathroom. Mommy was talking to a Haitian woman who left the lawyer’s room.

“Kris, hurry up. We’re next,” she said.

All right,” I responded.

I walked back to the waiting room. I didn’t have time to read those old magazines that were stacked next to the chairs.

“Your mom is in the room,” said the receptionist.

I entered the room in the back. There he was. A tall white man in a suit and tie. Two chairs in front of his desk. Mommy was sitting in one.

“This is my son, Kris,” she said coyly.

“Oh, that’s your son. Well, that’s great,” said the lawyer.

We greeted formally. Eye contact. Firm handshake. I proceeded to take a seat. The room caught my attention, not the lawyer. So many files all around. In rusty file cabinets. On the floor. In yellow folders. I have a feeling that things won’t go well.

“Alright, Kris. I’m glad that you’re here with your mother. I know why you are here with her. But, first, let me introduce myself,” said the lawyer.

I kept my cool. And tried to listen to his low, deep and slurry voice. Poised with experience. Content demeanor. His full name was the only thing I could register in my brain. His name started to pierce my heart. It was impossible to keep my ears open… for a couple of seconds… until he got into the real stuff.

“The reason why you’re here, Kris…” he started.

My ears started to open after he said my name. My eyes were locked. I’m anxious for whatever magic he’s pulling out of his hat. What’s the real story? Please, make it painless for her and me, I thought to myself. I already know the problem…but I really don’t know the problem. The what. The when. The how. The— you know what I mean.

I stayed quiet as he began the story. The glare somehow appeared on his glasses. He panned his head from left to right and right to left. Me and her. Her and me. I have turned to stone like I was spat on by Dabura. Like I was bitten by Medusa’s pet snake. He just mentioned crooked lawyers charging my mom grands that were unaffordable years ago. That was in order to drop the case that labeled her as a fraud. It was a shady negotiation that would affect all of us. It was safe to walk away from that snake. And I haven’t even met these people. I was too young. I might be too young still. I don’t even feel like I’m 21.

But it was back to square one, and that lawyer seemed to be the right guy to help. I really felt his sincerity. But I was too anxious to hear the whole story. My ears began closing while he talked. My mind wandered around the room and to my mother. She looked distraught sitting there. After all of those years waiting to get her visa approved. She’s been tricked. Initially, that was what I thought during the appointment. I don’t wanna see her cry. I don’t wanna hear her cry. I took a glimpse at her. I quickly turned my head back. I stared at the folders.

I remembered the last time I saw her cry. She yelled in fear and sadness. We were in the middle of a prayer. My step-aunt’s friends were there to start a sermon. After that, they prayed with their eyes closed. My brother and I prayed with our eyes open, or probably not at all. The prayer started to get louder and louder. Mom lost control and screamed. I was scared. I automatically rotated to the wall. I was fighting back tears. Even my brother fought back tears. He saw me. I feel like crying is painful and great. But, not crying is inspirational. That night, it was her voice that Jesus heard the most. But at the age of 21, everything is overdue. I’m her last hope.

“Here’s what I want you to do. I want you to sign a petition once it’s mailed to your house. After that, mail the paper back to us….” he said.

That was the only thing I had to do. It was my mission. Everything else was irrelevant at this point. But then, he told the story again. He told it in various versions. I still couldn’t keep up. If you look at a person when he or she is talking to you, does that mean you paid attention? I don’t know.

“Do you understand what I said so far?” he asked with this monotone voice of his.

“Yes,” I simply lied. I didn’t want to say no to disrespect him.

He pointed to the window beside him. The indication was that there is an immigration office a few blocks away. I wondered why we didn’t go to that building. Isn’t that where you can get your visas processed? But then again, I had to remind myself that those documents were fake. That was something to be anxious about. Like, is there a day where undocumented immigrants get deported all at once? I had a feeling those times were getting closer.

“It is going to be a very long process. I don’t know when it’s going to end. But, the reason why she is still here is because your mom wants me to focus on the kids. Your mom is not giving up. She’s been fighting for more than 20 years. I commend her for that. But right now, you’re just going have to wait after the petition is signed,” he said.

He had a dead pan mood. Lifeless. But that was good enough. Not for Mommy. She was in despair. No expression. Wishing that it was over right now. Humiliation is an understatement. Once this is over, it will be her holy grail. I wish the meeting was over. He already told me what I had to do.

Moments later, we all got up from our seats in unison. The pow wow was over.

“Can I have your business card?” I asked politely.

I put it in my pocket. All of us said our goodbyes. We walked out and the lawyer stayed for another client. The next client was a Haitian woman. She probably came for the same reason: the green card.

We walked towards the elevator. I was trying to remember what the lawyer had said. I was trying to interpret the story in my own version. I felt determined at that moment in time. I was also cautious. If anything goes wrong, that’s it. I won’t be able to see her again.

We proceeded to exit. Walking… under the white sky that hadn’t changed. A huge antenna pierced the sky like a syringe needle. The light was blinking red from the tip. The blood was spilling out of the needle. It was the Freedom Tower standing on the veins of the city. We were the blood cells traveling in spontaneous directions.

“Was it the same way we walked when we left the subway?” Mommy asked.

Was it me, or was the weather changing gradually?