Memoirs of an Immigrant

I am in that state where I couldn’t, for the life of me, determine if I am drunk or seasick. Or maybe its possible I was just sick. If I was ill would the other’s notice? Would they kill me and toss me over the side of the boat to avoid me from contaminating the rest of the crew? Being stupidly drunk and seasick will for sure render humiliation, so just the same- I must hide it.   Although, I am hopeful for drunk, since I have two weeks left of this journey and I can’t start getting seasick now.   I am going to sleep it off and see if that helps.

I lie my head down on the scruffy pillow that is almost like laying on a piece of wood with a cloth draped over it- but worse.   For years I have been trying to influence my dreams by controlling my thoughts prior to slumber and I always focus on pretending that I was a renaissance painter from the Italian renaissance- like Michelangelo.   But usually my dreams are nothing of the sort- just painful reminders of what its like to be awake. My eyes are heavy and I begin to drift and now sleep.

I awake into my dream and right away I can tell that I am not a renaissance painter. It is very dark and cold, I am inside of a small box and the only light is coming through a small hole near my feet. Attempts to contort myself to see out that hole are hopeless, as there is no more room.   I stop squirming and become complacent to the idea that I am not going to be able to move in here- so I stop and look around, mostly with my eyes, as my head does not have full range of movement. It seems like I am in a coffin.   My first thought is wondering if all the people on this boat are sad that I died or did they not even notice. Maybe they feel bad for ignoring me and wish they had gotten to know me better before I passed. However, I am not dead, I guess that’s good.

THUD THUD THUD, “Hey, open up!”. Is somebody pounding on my coffin- do they want me to open it. Can I open it from in here? I start frantically looking for a way to open the coffin from the inside and I am unsure if I am afraid to disappoint the person knocking or desperate to get back to my place of silence- either way, I must find the way out.   I scour the corners looking for a gap I can use to pry open the lid and it’s a tight fit- no way out. THUD THUD THUD!!! “Hurry the hell up”.   I try to speak to alert them that I am trying and I can’t talk, my mouth moves and I feel like I am talking but no sounds- nothing. I will just close my eyes and ignore it.

I suddenly awake in my bed and realize that was all a dream and I am alive, unaware if I am happy or sad about my sudden realization, but nonetheless, I am at least not trapped in a coffin anymore. THUD THUD THUD!!!   “Open the goddamn door” comes bellowing from the door of my room and I spring up on to my feet to answer. Maybe they are coming to see if I want to join them in cards. I open the door with exuberance and the look of a seasick drunk who is desperate for human contact. Standing in the doorway is one of the ships crewmen and he is glossy eyed and sweaty with a woman of equal charm draped around his waist.
“Hey, get out of here! I need to use your room to spend some alone time with my friend here,” said with about as much romance as a man of his stature could muster up. The woman swoons.   I am reluctant to engage on why he has to use my room and why he has to be so rude about it, so I respond simply:

“Oh.”, and I walk around them and I ooze down the hall and I believe I am a whole foot shorter than I was 10 minutes ago. The lusting couple blurts out a “thanks, I owe ya one” as I drift away. Now I am positive- I am drunk.

I quietly sit in the dinning hall and eat my dinner when the man who defiled my bed walks past me and gives me an odd wink, as if I am bonded to him in some way because I allowed him to use my bed.   That incident was over a week ago, so I should be happy that in his drunken stupor he actually remembers it was me.   But, for some stupid reason I winked back- I have no idea why.

We are scheduled to dock in Ellis Isle in 5 days and the excitement of starting a new life in a new land is really starting to lift my spirits. Maybe that is why I winked- am I actually in a good mood?   I stop and sigh. For the first time during this 3-week journey I actually miss my family.

When the opportunity for me to sail to America and escape the famines of Ireland dropped in my lap I had visions of me boarding a big boat and my family standing at the dock crying and waving goodbye. Hopeful that I will find a better life, but sad that I will no longer be in their life.

But the reality of my departure is the night before my voyage I slept on the kitchen floor of my uncle’s places because he lives closer to the harbor.   I was awoken every twenty minutes by the sounds of drunken sailors outside, my uncle snoring or by being kicked by their old Kerry Beagle.   My parents, as I was boarding the ship of hope, were at home sick and hanging on to a thread of life as my sister, Brianna, cared for them.

My head drooped over my dinner and I cried. Only 5 more days.

Today is the day we arrive at Ellis isle! I have been up since 4am, because there is no way I can sleep on a day like this. Everybody on the boat is excited- laughter and smiles are electric in the air.   I was on this boat for nearly a month and I did not bond, in a real way, with anybody else on the boat, but today I feel connected to everybody.   Its like we are all actors who have been stuck with a lousy role for years and this is our chance to be the lead role in a hero’s tale.

Once the boat docked it took almost an hour before we were allowed to get in line to depart the boat and even longer once we got in line.   Waiting all morning, standing in line to exit, standing in line at customs; for a day I have been anticipating, it has been long and draining thus far.   I finally get to the front of the line and I am called to speak to the customs agent and he asks where I am from, I respond, with pride, “Ireland”.   I was expecting more questions, but he just told me to go into another room and he pointed to his left. I followed his gesture and stopped halfway with hesitation and looked back and he gestured to keep walking.   So I did.   I entered a room that was about as big as my room on the boat, but it had every person from the boat, who was in line in front of me in it.   We waited in their for several hours, as every member of our boat slowly trickled in and joined us. We were all confused and silent. I wanted to ask if anybody knew what was going on, but the long expressions that hung over everybody told me their answers.

Finally somebody who looked to have authority entered the room. He was a tall man with frizzy hair, glasses and a well-tailored suit. He spoke with an accent I have never heard before and told us that the United States Government is not going to grant us a visa to enter the country because of the risk of contamination. He understands that we are all healthy and nobody who was sick was allowed to come, but they are not willing to take the risk.   We must depart on the boat we came on, at once. As he left, several police officers came in the room and started to herd us out of the room, then the building and then the island. As we walk to our boat with heads hung in shame we walk along another line of Irish who are standing in line to share our fate. Maybe I should hop in their line and just perpetually wait in line to be an American, that is surely better than being country-less and rejected.   My fantasies’, as always, are much bolder than my courage- so I stay in line and enter the boat again.

Everybody gathers around the boat captain, the person we all paid a years salary each to get this opportunity to start a new life. We should be furious at him for bringing us here to be rejected, but it’s quite apparent that despair is a stronger emotion- nobody says a word. The captain finally speaks and tells us we have 3 options and we must all agree together. Option one is I return you to Ireland and, since the amount you paid was only for one direction, you will all owe me the same amount for the return trip, plus interest. Option two is we set sail for Halifax, Canada and you can try your luck at entering Canada and I will charge you only half the amount for that trip, plus interest.   Everybody, from their expression knows it’s a scam, but nobody wants to go back to Ireland. Somebody screams out, “What’s option 3?” and the captain replies: “get off my boat one way or the other”.

After a long silence somebody belts out CANADA and then another and another and eventually everybody does.   The captain says it’s settled, we will take you to Halifax.

I decide it’s time to sleep, 2 more days till we reach Canada. I had the coffin dream again- but this time I was dead.

 

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