A friend of mine asked me to go with her to an appointment. Anna. We hadn’t been friends long but she was new to the country, English new to her tongue, and we managed to speak the same language: a quirky, hilarious English full of wild metaphors and false starts turned beautiful tangents. It earned us weird looks at the gynecologist and thinly veiled smirks at the dentist – she often introduced me as her ‘translator’. She soon came to feel like a sister.
We went to this appointment, entered a small room with suspicious smudgy plexiglass separating us from the officer – us being me, Anna, and the friend we picked up on the way: Habib had offered to (actually) translate. We thought it would be routine, perhaps long and boring, but not nearly as God-awful as it was.
The officer – I could not believe this was his job – began the appointment by calmly informing Anna that she had been found to be a liar, that she did not belong here, and that his job was to make sure she went back home. That, if she did not do everything he said, she would go to jail first. None of these statements were true, I knew that much – but Anna didn’t. And, shit, it all felt real enough to us – three black people – sitting in front this white man in dark uniform, blandly wielding his power.
The appointment continued and he asked her for her ID documents; she provided them. He made blurred black and white copies, gave those back to us and calmly said she no longer had any right to have her original documents.
I literally lost my breath.
Those documents, the ones he was holding like a dirty towel between index and thumb – they were everything. ID, healthcare, school enrollment, everything that proved she was a recognized human being in this country. Anna, Habib, and I simultaneously objected; he got defensive. I argued with him for at least fifteen minutes, alternately indignant, and physically shaking because this was Anna’s life that was about to get infinitely harder. She was quietly crying, I was not far off, except that I was fucking furiousterrified. Eventually he dismissed us, still keeping the documents. As we moved towards the door, I filed through all the things that would now change, wondering if we had a color copy of that damned document –
He looked at me and said, “You should be a lawyer. Here you go.” And returned the document – just because he could.
It was a cold slap in the face.
It made me feel dirty; like I was some kind of accomplice in a system that only righted the unjustness of the situation because – why? Because I speak English? Because I knew our rights? Because that well-meaning asshole wasn’t a threat to me – because of my blue passport? What if I hadn’t been at the meeting? Or what if I were hungry or tired or not up to the exhausting tiptoe task of not angering the man with power while asking him to pretty please not ruin Anna’s life? What if I had blown it?
More than six months later, the memory of that visit is vivid. Visceral. Now, when I think about it, I think about freedom, about responsibility, and about love. When you really love someone, you bear a kind of responsibility for them, for their wellbeing: we take care of the people we love.
But what about when we are freer than those we love? When we have access to more and different places, when we have been given different fighting tools, when we can come and go as we please? Or worse, how to digest the big-picture truth that – we’re not all that free. Rather, we’re tethered in ways we’ve learned to accommodate, learned so well, you can barely see us limp. Take a step back from that specific reality, though – well, that’s the hardest part.
Because, if freedom has no measure, and no two people are equally free, if love is all the things we do … I hope we never stop using our freedom to love deeply, boldly, without fear.
Valentine Marie is a co-founder of Flux, an online forum for those of us encountering adulthood. A restless person, she loves good food, travel, and family. You can find her in a coffee shop or a used bookstore near you.