First Year Immigrant

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by Noura Bittar • Illustration by Mia Isabel Edelgart

Mia Isabel EdelgartSo it has been a year. God, I feel it has been a thousand years. I had heard a lot about the first year as an immigrant. That it is always the hardest. But this time, my time, the experience is totally different. Because this time while saying goodbye to the people you love, or remembering the people you love but couldn’t say goodbye to, you don’t have the confidence that you can go back whenever you want to, and see them. You’re doomed. Doomed with a thousand questions: When? And how? And are you ever going to go back? You hold yourself back and say: “Yes, I will”. But the question comes back again: When you go back, will they have stayed the way you left them? Are you going to see them bald or with gray hair? Because this time you know that going back is not anytime soon.

You ask your parents about the small children in your family, do they still ask about you? You ask your parents to keep reminding them of you, because you keep remembering them, and remember that after this short time they are no longer children. You dream: wishing they could stay children and away from the adults’ game.
You look at your parents: they know that you grew. The pain also made you grow old, but one look in their eyes and you turn into a child again.

Stories spin in your head. There are moments when you smell your parents in the last piece of clothing you were wearing when you said goodbye to them. You find your mother’s scarf, the one she took from her neck and put around you when you were feeling cold. You hang on to the small details that might not have meant much to you before: now they mean a lot because they will never come back again.

They told me about immigration and how whenever they wanted, they could just go home or have their family and friends visiting. They told me about immigration and how every time they go back to their houses they find that nothing has changed. My house changed a lot. I look at the few pictures I have left. And I look for an old book that I threw away. I look for a piece of clothing that I once got bored with and put it on. And all the memories I left in the corners. A few videos still left remind me of all the craziness and the wonderful friends. I look for laughs. I don’t want to forget that they still exist. Looking for lovers hiding in the corner, dreaming of tomorrow. I look for myself.

Yes, it’s been a year. Not that much. I know…

They told about the fascination of the first year. Yes, I have been fascinated. And while I was watching a new city being built in my heart and mind, the city of my love was being destroyed. And with the fall of its buildings, the years of my life from before that year were falling too.

When I arrived the city was too big. Two blocks away from the house was the end of the world. I found the courage to cross it, and every time I find more courage the city gets smaller.

They tell you that you’re just like them. But every day you have to prove it. Prove that you are just like them; every day there is new challenges, every day you fall. And when you fall, you think of the people who think that you’ll never fall. Or if you’d fall you’d push them all down with you. You think of the people who love to see you falling. You remember your country that refuses to fall. You remember in your city how people fell but rose with a smile. You think of the people you love; will you be able to help them if you stay on the ground?

You see people from far away. No surprise that some people are still the same, even from a distance. Some people don’t become beautiful when they’re far away. No, their hypocrisy makes them more ugly. But in both ways you still see them as small.

You love the feeling when somebody says “bravo” to you, and you laugh when nobody understands how much you fought to get that “bravo”.

Some people love you, enjoy your good news. They use it to reduce their pain, they see some hope in you. Whether they grow or stay at a distance, some people are still the same: pure like drops of dew. Some people think that you find money on trees. They don’t realize that you are still digging the ground to plant a tree.

You look at your sisters and friends: they grew old so fast. The pain made them grow. Their dreams changed.

They take away the right to your home, and they say: “You – the one who’s sitting outside, you keep silent.” You understand their pain, but with huge sadness in your heart, you tell them: “I’m sitting, but who says that I am outside? My body is outside, but my mind, heart, and soul are still inside. My family and friends are still in. The past years of my life are still in. My city is still there. My home is still there. It never left me and I never left it.”

You look at your sisters and friends: they grew old so fast. The pain made them grow. Their dreams changed. Some of them are still fighting for their dreams, some lost their dream for our dream, and some went away with the dream. And you miss them all.

You remember your sisters and brothers: your fights and laughter, and you wish that for one hour you could bring all that back.

All of them: in their eyes there is sadness. All of them: in their eyes there is anger. All of them: in their eyes there is loss. All of them: in their laughter there is hope. All of them: their eyes are like yours. All of them: in their eyes there is home.

And me. Who inside myself is home, missing the ones who were my home.