Deep Down You Know You Need Me

 How immigration is like a bad relationship

It all begins with a casual flirtation, a playful “maybe”. You like the idea of her, and you’re almost certain she likes you back. You’ve never been there before, but why not? Life is short and you want adventure. And something about her speaks to you, calls to you, makes you think, Yep. That’s where I need to be. Maybe you’re driven by desperation, by the need to flee a dysfunctional relationship where your life is in actual peril. Or maybe you just want a change of scenery, or more opportunities, a chance at the life you always dreamed of.

As soon as you arrive, your world changes. The air smells fresher and everything is new and exciting. You feel like you have never walked such beautiful, soulful streets, seen such well-defined architecture, experienced such passionate culture, tasted such delicious food. You are safe and deliriously happy. Everything about her makes you giddy, flooding your brain with chemicals that make you want to stay forever. This is it, you tell yourself. This is home.

For a while it’s all good. You take moonlit strolls, hand-in-hand, breathing easy. Love doesn’t have to hurt, after all. Hurray! All your previous nationalities fall away. They were just dress rehearsals. All the pain has led you here, and this is where you belong. You fall into step with each other, find a comfortable rhythm.

And then, as the honeymoon period draws to a close, you start to notice things. Little things at first, like the fact that those soulful streets might not be as safe as you thought, and that passionate culture can also be oppressive and cruel. But nobody’s perfect, right? You’re not about to throw away a perfectly decent country just because of a few teeny tiny flaws.

Sooner or later, you reach the point where you have to account for yourself. Your beloved has put up with you for a while, maybe a couple of years, and now she can’t remember what she loves about you. You have to remind her, in detail. You have to sell yourself once more, show her how attractive and talented and brilliant you are, how loving, how good at stroking her ego. You want me here, you tell her. You need me. She hems and haws and says, yeah, OK. And you walk hand-in-hand a few more years.

But then, one day, your beloved shows her claws. Maybe you’re not the victim, not yet. Maybe she’s being nasty to someone else, someone like you but not quite. You could speak out, but you don’t want to be that person who makes a fuss, so you keep your head down, grateful that you weren’t the target. She loves me, you tell yourself. She’d never treat me that way. That person must have had it coming.

Account time rolls around again, and once more you have to justify your presence in your beloved’s sacred space. And maybe this time you think, this is silly. I can’t spend the rest of my life periodically explaining why I deserve to be here. So you do what many people do at this stage in a relationship – you try to make it permanent. If you’re very, very lucky, she accepts your proposal. If you’re even luckier, you live happily ever after because her folks love you and her snooty friends think you’re cute.

But maybe, despite being official, you will always be treated like you don’t belong. She might even respond with a resounding NO which fills you with despair. After all these years? After all you’ve given? You’ve been the model lover. What more does she want? If you don’t like it, she tells you, then leave. But leaving is not an option. You think back to your former lovers, the ones who left you bleeding, and you think, nope. Better a broken heart than a broken jaw.

There are a thousand and one reasons to stay. Beggars can’t be choosers. Better the devil you know. Life is much better here than out there. Lesser evils, and all that. All those things are true and valid. If your only choices are death and disenfranchisement, there is no real choice. You tell yourself whatever you have to so you can survive, so you can get through the day. Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never…

Really, though? Really? You know, underneath the adopted patriotism and fierce, stubborn love, that abuse is still abuse. Love comes in many forms, yes. Absolutely, yes. But monsters come in many forms, too.