I glanced out of the window of my taxi at the grey sky. Nothing indicating where I was, save the regularity of palm trees dotting the side of the freeway. I thought of everything happening out there, outside of the bubble of my cab, the hearings here and the elections coverage on the BBC. We'd landed two hours earlier than expected. The jet stream had carried me swiftly. I managed to get in the line for Immigration, quickly. There were only two men before me.
My turn. A well-spoken and conventionally handsome police officer from border patrol was bewildered by my English (this is usual) and asks me if I grew up here. (Yes, I did). I knew that this is not part of the interview. I reciprocated, and spoke in my American grocery checkout line English, as this sometimes gets me treated less like an alien from outer space. I went on to tell him about my bizarre immigration status.
"That is messed up"
We imprint my digits. He asks me my occupation.
I didn't want to get into it, even at Immigration. Partly because I'd taken a plane to take myself away from the work I hated, and to remove the last vestiges of a life that didn't feel like mine anymore, I replied generically. He wants me to get specific. Warily, I tell him, with a little more detail.
Flipping through the pages of my passport, he leads me through the letters of the alphabet. He starts with E.
"E- Have you tried through your employer? "
Oh, he's talking immigration visas. I told him about my years as a dependent on the E, and my years on the F.
"Can you give me your right hand, please? What about H?"
I told him that they go fast and nothing is ever left. At which he concurs.
"Your other hand? Thanks. L? O?"
We ponder whether any might have or will work. He looks up. With an almost urgency in his voice he tells me to look into L. To hire a lawyer again. He wishes me luck.
I leave immigration a little bewildered. I hadn't been mistaken for, nor treated like mass-farmed livestock. My thoughts drift to feeling like a variation of a DREAMer. How I moved to Japan without knowing anyone, without really knowing what life was like. I had been lucky because I'd been offered a job to go to Japan.
Halfway to baggage claim, I heard footsteps. It's the nice officer. I was surprised to see him. Before I could sense dread or fear, he smiled. Not so much a customer service smile, but a boyish one, almost with a trace of sheepishness, the one he might have had when he had been fifteen. I almost thought he was going to ask me out.
"I was so fascinated by your story, I forgot to write the validity date in your passport! "
I laugh and tell him that this is just short of the best immigration experience ever. He shares with me a story of a childhood friend whose parents had entered the country from Mexico, illegally. She hadn't known her status until she was an adult. She was a Dreamer. He looks at me and tells me to look into my options. That an L-something visa is still something that could bring me back.
"The system is broken, and we really need to do something about it. Look into it. We need people like her. Like you."
I was almost stunned. From warmth. And hope.
A rare moment of shared humanity before being spit out into the world, at an American airport.