There are days in your life you always remember, days when some great burden is lifted or some grave news changes everything.
This is one of those days.
I remember the moment when I found out I had somehow gotten into Oxford University. My family had never had anyone go to college before, and the day the letter came, I felt my whole world move into a different orbit. I remember my first day in America, and the sense of something truly new and liberating in my 21 years of life. I remember my first kiss with a man, when the world that had previously been black and white suddenly burst into color. I remember the day when I found out I was HIV-positive, and the sky and my heart broke in two. I remember the day one of my dearest friends died in his mother's arms of the same disease. I remember the moment I first saw my first nephew, and simultaneously wondered if I would ever live to see him go to high school. I remember the day I got married, a strange, wonderful, totally integrating moment in my public and private life.
In my in-tray today was a simple email from my immigration lawyer with the content line saying simply "Congrats." I am still a little numb, reeling, unable to really think much, rapidly dialing my family and friends, listening to my husband open the letter over the phone and reading the words "Welcome to the United States." The "green card" was approved.
It has been a journey of 18 years – the promise of a new life and a new start for a jejune, precocious kid from England somehow always coming with an asterisk, the shame of my illness conflated with this crushing fear that I still did not belong and would probably never belong to the country I had fallen in love with.
Nothing scared me as much; nothing was able to get into my heart and soul with this level of anxiety and fear. Not HIV. This was deeper than HIV. It was a threat to the home from where I could fight the HIV.
Nothing in my future could confidently be planned; everything was a gamble that one day, I could actually, simply, finally be secure in my own home with my own husband in a life that would have been so hard to rebuild from scratch somewhere else. That fear hanging over my head never left me from June 23 1993 to a few hours ago.
How do I explain it? So few understood, and so much had to be kept confidential. How do you express living a life rendered so provisional to friends or strangers who see you as totally secure and have no way to analogize the otherness that followed me around? How do you live somewhere for a majority of your existence and still not know if you could remain for another year, another month, as each visa was sent for adjudication and each trip abroad became full of foreboding. And as the time went by, as the stakes grew, as I put down deeper and deeper roots of work, of friends and of family, the fear actually intensified. How much more traumatic would the uprooting be, when I had reached so deep into the ground?
And then it lifts. And I do not know right now what to do or say. Except to express my love and gratitude for my family and friends and husband who lived through this with me; and to those who helped lift the HIV ban; and to my lawyer who was simply magnificent; and to those who did what they could – and they know who they are – to keep this show on the road.
But I do know this. America remains the great dream, the great promise. For all its dysfunction, it remains an ideal, a place where the restlessness of the human mind and soul comes to rest in a place it constantly reinvents and forever re-imagines. I know this in my bones, perhaps more than many who take this amazing mess of a country for granted. But for the first time in my life, I do not feel somewhere in my psyche that I am displaced, unwelcome, an impostor.
I have indefinite leave to remain.