“It’s a very long shot,” he said, before basically shoving me out the door.
Observable Fact: You should never take long shots. Better to study the odds and take the probable shot. However, if the long shot is your only shot, then you have to take it.
ON HER LUNCH BREAK, Irene downloads the Nirvana album for herself. She listens to it three times in a row. In Kurt Cobain’s voice she hears the same thing Natasha hears—a perfect and beautiful misery, a voice stretched so thin with loneliness and wanting that it should break. Irene thinks it would be better if it did break, better than living with wanting and not having, better than living itself.
She follows Kurt Cobain’s voice down down down to a place where it is black all the time. After looking him up online, she finds that Cobain’s story does not have a happy ending.
Irene makes a plan. Today will be the last day of her life.
The truth is, she’s been thinking about killing herself on and off for years. In Cobain’s lyrics she finally finds the words. She writes a suicide note addressed to no one: “Oh well. Whatever. Nevermind.”
I’M ONLY TWO STEPS OUT of the building before I dial the number. “I’d like to make an appointment for today as soon as possible, please.”
The woman who answers sounds like she’s in a construction zone. In the background I hear the sound of a drill and loud banging. I have to repeat my name twice.
“And what’s the issue?” she asks.
I hesitate. The thing about being an undocumented immigrant is you get really good at keeping secrets. Before this whole deportation adventure began, the only person I told was Bev, even though she’s not usually that great with secrets.
“They just slip out,” she says, as if she has absolutely no control of the things coming out of her mouth.
Still, even Bev knew how important it was to keep this one.
“Hello, ma’am? Can you tell me your issue?” the woman on the phone prompts again.
I press the phone closer to my ear and stand still in the middle of the steps. Around me, the world speeds up like a movie on fast-forward. People walk up and down the stairs at three times speed with jerky movements. Clouds zoom by overhead. The sun changes position in the sky.
“I’m undocumented,” I say. My heart races like I’ve been running a very long way for a very long time.
“I need to know more than that,” she says.
So I tell her. I’m Jamaican. My parents entered the country illegally when I was eight. We’ve been here ever since. My dad got a DUI. We’re being deported. Lester Barnes thought Attorney Fitzgerald could help.
She sets an appointment for eleven a.m.
“Anything else I can help you with?” she asks.
“No,” I say. “That will be enough.”
The lawyer’s office is uptown from where I am, close to Times Square. I check my phone: 8:35 a.m. A small breeze kicks up, lifting the hem of my skirt and playing through my hair. The weather is surprisingly mild for mid-November. Maybe I didn’t need my leather jacket after all. I make a quick wish for a not-too-freezing winter before remembering that I probably won’t be around to see it. If snow falls in a city and no one is around to feel it, is it still cold?
Yes. The answer to that question is yes.
I pull my jacket closer. It’s still hard for me to believe that my future is going to be different from the one I’d planned.
Two and a half hours to go. My school’s only a fifteen-minute walk from here. I briefly consider heading over so I can have one last look at the building. It’s a very competitive science magnet high school, and I worked very hard to get into it. I can’t believe that after today I may never see it again. In the end I decide against going; too many people to run into, and too many questions like “Why aren’t you in school today?” that I don’t want to answer.
Instead, I decide to kill time by walking the three miles to the lawyer’s office. My favorite vinyl record store is on the way. I put my headphones on and queue up the Temple of the Dog album. It’s a 1990s grunge rock kind of a day, all angst and loud guitar. Chris Cornell’s voice rises and I let it carry some of my cares away.
NATASHA’S FATHER, SAMUEL, MOVED TO America a full two years before the rest of his family did. The plan was that Samuel would go first and establish himself as a Broadway actor. It would be easier to do that without having to worry about a wife and small child. Without them, he would be free to go on auditions on a moment’s notice. He’d be free to make connections with the acting community in New York City. Originally it was only supposed to be for one year, but one became two. It would’ve become three, but Natasha’s mom could not and would not wait any longer.
She was only six at the time, but Natasha remembers the phone calls to America. She could always tell because her mom had to dial all those extra numbers. The calls were fine at first. Her father sounded like her dad. He sounded happy.
After about a year, his voice changed. He had a funny new accent that was more lilt and twang than patois. He sounded less happy. She remembers listening to their conversations. She couldn’t hear his side, but she didn’t need to.
“How much longer you expect us to wait for you?”
“But, Samuel? We not no family no more with you over there and we over here.”
“Talk to you daughter, man.”
And then one day, they were leaving Jamaica for good. Natasha said goodbye to her friends and to the rest of her family, fully expecting that she would see them again, maybe at Christmastime. She didn’t know then what it meant to be an undocumented immigrant. How it meant that you could never go home again. How your home wouldn’t even feel like home anymore, just another foreign place to read about. On the day they left, she remembers being on the plane and worrying about just how they would fly through the clouds, before realizing that clouds were not like cotton balls at all. She wondered if her dad would recognize her, and if he would still love her. It had been such a long time.