It had been six days since my anxiety found itself a cozy place in my throat, and even that didn’t stop me from taking a sip from the fanciest glass of Cabernet I ever held in my hands, $150 a bottle. The California sun fed its rays to the vines of Napa Valley, and I — a stranger to the West Coast until then — stood next to them with hopes that the sunlight would puncture my anxious knot. But instead, it didn’t leave for the entire month of October 2018. Sometimes it crawled down my spine, sometimes it sat on my heart, and sometimes flowed into my stomach and I lost my appetite.
For many years, I complained about how I didn’t get a chance to travel around America as someone who had been in the country for quite some time. After all, it wouldn’t have been right for me — a Turkish immigrant — to tell my grandma that I experienced America if, in reality, I spent most of my time in New England and then in New York. College was in Rhode Island and once that was over, it was almost as if my classmates and I had signed an unspoken contract to move to New York. But then that unspoken contract expired about three years later and unbeknownst to me, many appeared to sign a new one that took them across the country, to California. My grump and I, we, stayed behind and joked: “What is it with these people and their love of California?” But I knew I had to see what was out there beyond the movies I saw as a kid in Istanbul.
So, in September 2018, I bought a round trip to my first frontier, California. But in life, things rarely go according to plan, and mine turned upside down on October 1, 2018, when my visa expired as I was waiting for my latest status to be approved. A few months earlier, the government had sent my lawyers an RFE, Request For Evidence, to prove to them that I was as special as I claimed to be in my application. “How do we know that Deniz, a young reporter, cannot be replaced by an American?” they asked. Under Trump, RFE requests rose to 60% (compared to 22.3% in 2015), and I was one of thousands of people whose self-worth, in this system, depended on citizenship and labor.
I was still legally present in the U.S. but I had to stop working and wait for the verdict. As I ventured the streets of San…