My INS interview was scheduled for 9:00 A.M.
I went to bed early the evening before to get as much rest, to have a clear mind for the interview. The attempt to rest didn’t take away my anxiety, the fears of of the unknown and the night brought back nightmarish images of Romanian security officers and custom officials taking my passport away, forcing me to go to jail in Romania. Even after I woke up in the middle of the night, screaming and fighting with the Romanian custom-officer, who had phosphorescent eyes, like a Devil, and smelled of garlic, my heart was still racing out of control! Was it a dream or was it real? He smelled of garlic, I could still smell it. I turned on the light. I looked around, under my bed, under the table and behind the washstand…
It must have been the spirit of him!
At 8:55 A.M. I walked into the U.S. Consulate. By education and nature I was always early to all my appointments. I couldn’t even be late for dates with boys when I was a teenager. I knew I was supposed to be, to make them wait and make myself more desirable. I never could, and here I was, early for my appointment with INS, hardly a date! This time, I thought, it was different. To be early might make a good impression of reliability.
I told the woman at the front desk my name and who I was there to see. She checked my name on a list and showed me to the waiting room. Empty chairs everywhere, chairs and more chairs and nothing else. I picked one and sat down. I waited, and waited. I looked at the clock on the wall: 9:30 AM. The officer who was in charge of my interview came out of his office a few times but didn’t acknowledge my presence, and looked over me, as if the walls were more important. He had met me briefly a day before, when they took my prints. Could he have forgotten me? My already frail ego started to doubt everything: My value, the decision I made, the bright future I envisioned in a free world.
11:30 A.M. Now every single chair in the large waiting room was taken. People came, were called to his office and left. Some stayed in 10 minutes, some half an hour. I was still waiting!
By 1:00 PM I was in a state of absolute panic. Could I have misunderstood? Did I even have an appointment? I was slightly dizzy now, as I couldn’t eat before coming to the Consulate at 8:55 AM.
By 2:00 PM, the woman at the desk called my name and I approached her:
“Sorry we had to make you wait, but we have a busy day,” she said. “You’re next!”
I wanted to scream, to tell her this was rude, they should have given me a 2:00 PM appointment. The voice of fear inside of me advised me to be silent and smile with understanding for their busy day.
Soon after, my interviewer came out of his office and invited me in.
“Sorry, you had to wait. We are running late, it’s a busy day, it’s always busy…”
I did not say it was okay because they had me waiting. I just couldn’t! I was silent, expecting his next move.
He showed me to a chair, across from his desk.
I sat on the hard chair and waited some more. Only one dossier was on his orderly desk, mine! He leafed through it.
Suddenly, he lifted his eyes and asked me:
“You don’t think I kept you waiting on purpose, do you?”
Now, I thought, this was a direct yes or no question which I couldn’t avoid to answer! If I said yes, I’d insult him, if I said no, I’d lie.
“It did cross my mind, it was on purpose,” I said, “…but then why would you do this, it made no sense? Yes, the place looked busy”
I paused. He smiled.
“I am probably impatient because I am hungry. I haven’t eaten since yesterday, I was , am nervous,” I admitted.
He nodded and without a word started to read my dossier.
I examined his face as he was reading it. I was trying to guess his feelings, thoughts, any kind of reaction, but his face stayed motionless. After a while he lifted his eyes and looked into mine. I saw the look of an eagle that saw everything, forgave nothing and knew it all.
He asked questions. I answered. His questions were precise and required detailed answers. As I was unfolding the story of my life, I couldn’t stop thinking that this person, I didn’t know, was going to know about me more than anyone else on Earth! Somehow, in the course of my confessions I felt lighter, as I was transferring the years of worries, frustrations and lies on to my interviewer.
“How about your mother?” he asked. “You didn’t defect before she died, but you could have…”
Yes, I could have, but I would have never left my mother alone, ill, dying alone in Romania.
It was too much, I broke down in tears, and surprisingly, he jumped up and handed me tissues to wipe my eyes.
It was a long interview. When it was finally over I felt completely drained but at peace with myself. I felt light and free!
When was it that I felt like that before? How long it had been? I felt light like that only once before, when for the first time, I swam in the nude in the Black Sea. It was on an illegal nude camp in 2 Mai on the Black Sea Coast. Every summer, Cristian and I went there for two weeks. We dropped off our clothes and all pretenses, we lived in a tent, cooked on camp fires and ate in the nude, which felt rather strange at the beginning. Most importantly, we got used to the physical nudity of others and not care about it after a while, as they didn’t seem to care about ours. This was our secret illegal freedom in Romania, away from rules, lies and pretense. This was the first time when I first took off my confining clothes. Reluctantly, one night, on a Full Moon, I stepped into the Black Sea and swam as far as I could, until the coastline was just a bright point far away, but not far enough, because I returned. My body felt free, caressed by the velvety waves, and in the water there were thousands of miniscule sea creatures who clung to my body making it look fluorescent. They didn’t hurt me, but made me visible and I always went back to the shore, aware and happy I stole a little bit of freedom.
Now, it was different. After that interview I had freed my spirit, not my body and became one with the Truth. There was no shore to swim to, and my only option was to wait some more, because I had made a choice in which return was not a possibility.
I stepped out of the Consulate exhausted and happy, a similar feeling I had after passing a difficult exam.
Outside, it was raining hard and I stepped right into the puddles, and my clothes got wet and I didn’t care. I went to a grocery store and bought beer and peanuts to celebrate my freedom.
Alone, in my attic room, I toasted to my future and I listen to the sounds of an acordeon coming from one of the neighboring buildings.
I sipped my beer and looked out the window to guess where the music came from, but all windows looked alike and they were closed.
Then the music stopped and I could only hear the heavy drops of rain falling on the roof and my own thoughts.
I sipped more beer.