We’ve been living scared now for a long time and we figure it’s time we try to get Natalia legal. We have saved some money and we find a lawyer, a Latina lady who speaks perfect English and perfect Spanish. We think because we’re married and I’m a citizen that the legal process will be relatively easy. Sure, and sweet cream might come out my ass. Times have changed and being married guarantees nothing. The lawyer tells us that Natalia has been living in the United States for so many years illegally, working illegally at McDonald’s, driving illegally, as if we didn’t know, as if we weren’t living these lives. It will be difficult. All we can do is try, or keep living under the water.
We fill out the paperwork and pay the fees. Under no circumstances are we to admit that Natalia has been working under an assumed name. Natalia has to undergo a physical examination where they strip her naked and examine her like a creature they found in a UFO. She keeps working at McDonald’s. I keep driving a cab. We wait.
After almost a year we are given an appointment to see a government official for an interview.
It is absurd what men have made of life: this government office tucked away in a low rent warehouse district where the female security guard makes us take off our belts and shoes and give her all our things and walk through the metal detector like a portal to hell: the big room with 60 chairs lined up and not a single person, not a plant or a picture, nothing on the walls, no windows, not a single piece of lint on the carpet, no water allowed, no food. They barely allow air.
We sit and wait for the mousy government official to poke his head out a door and mispronounce our names (but don’t correct him, god!) and usher us into his tiny office, again no windows, nothing on the walls but despair. And in this tiny room we beg for leniency, for him to let Natalia stay in this country, beg him to believe we are really in love, arguing that love exists as if in some philosophy class where they don’t give letter grades but life sentences. We try to convince him that we are good people who just want to live together and be happy, to live a simple life without trouble, that we didn’t ask for this to happen, she didn’t ask to be born in Mexico with no money, she didn’t ask to have hope and courage, and I didn’t ask to meet her and fall head-over-heels. If we can’t properly define what it means for two human beings to need each other, he will tear our lives apart.
I watch his face for a sign of compassion and see none, no smile, nothing. He nods at our answers as he makes his little checkmarks and notes on a paper and looks at a computer screen that we can’t see.
He asks Natalia to leave the room.
When we are alone, he says to me, “You don’t want to do this. I have seen this a thousand times. She doesn’t love you. She will leave you and take you for everything you’ve got and you will be humiliated. Trust me on this.”
“What are our chances?” I ask.
“Well, she lied. You both lied. In the eyes of the law, you are liars and criminals. There’s a moral issue. It will have to be processed.”
I fantasize about ripping his head off with my bare hands.
“I’ll take my chances,” I say.
When it’s over he says we will never see him again and we will receive notice in the mail, yes or no, no or yes, maybe in a week, maybe a month, 6 months, maybe the post-person will lose the letter, maybe it will get sent to our neighbor or get wet from the rain and end up in the gutter.
“If we are denied, what then?” I ask.
“She will go peacefully back to Mexico, or somebody will force her to,” he says, so calm, so absurd, so easy, as he sips his water from a bottle and shows me the door as if I’ve forgotten where it was.
And that’s it: he’s got his paycheck, it’s a Friday in August in the United States of America, planet Earth, the Milky Way, the universe. He’ll have his pension at age 55, he’ll go to Puerto Vallarta for vacation and wave off beggar children and think nothing absurd about it.
I wonder who is more insane, him or me, which is more absurd, his life or mine, and we leave the building and stand in the sun and I hug Natalia as she cries and I remember the advice of the wise men who say to embrace fate, even hardship, to move through it with grace, to accept difficulty and grow from it, to control what you can and to let the rest go, and it all seems like horseshit.
“There’s hope,” I say.
And we wait some more, which is what we’ve been doing all our lives it seems. You think you’d get used to if after a while but you don’t. It only makes you feel more helpless and absurd, this waiting without knowing what will happen to you.
Mather Schneider’s poems and stories have appeared in hundreds of places over the last 25 years. He has 5 books available. He lives in Mexico, where he is barely getting by.