9/11 from the other side

Recently as part of a budding friendship, I was asked something I’ve never been asked before.  When did I know that I would marry Wole? I know, what could that possibly have to do with the title of this post.  Stick with me and I promise there’s a point and I’ll get there, but first I have to go back to even more seemingly unrelated events.

My freshman year of college the international community became the bulk of my friend set.  Of course Wole got top billing, but Tola was a close second.  Fun was always running towards Tola with his mischevious grin ready to greet it and I treasure the times I was along for the ride.  On a whim, I remember him letting me try to drive his stick shift car from the gas station to campus, only laughing minimally at my inept attempts.  He gentlemanly refused to fire when I was taken hostage in a water gun fight.  And most importantly he was my knight in shining armor through a horrible clubbing experience.  My friend had arranged to drive a group of us into town for a night at the club, something I hadn’t done before.  Wole and I weren’t dating yet, but I looked forward to hanging out with him, only to find out he had stayed home sick.  So here I was with my American girl friend and quite a few of the internationals, including one known for hitting on everything that moved.  Almost as soon as we got to the club my girl friend, for extra emphasis, my engaged girl friend, was soon in a corner dry humping a stranger, while the player tried to dirty dance with everyone within sight and I was ready to go hide in the car.  Tola looked at me and a silent understanding was struck.  We would save each other from the molesting happening around us.  He stayed by me all night and managed to dance and not just gyrate on top of me.  Tola even asked politely before putting his hands on my shoulders for a slow song (by the way what kind of club plays slow songs?).  There was always a soft spot for Tola in my heart after that.

Fast forward to our next semester.  Wole and I had been together for over six months and comfortably in our sophomore year. Tola was still around, but was out of tuition money, so he had taken a semester off to earn enough to continue.  Wole, several international students, and I were in chapel when people started talking about planes striking a building in New York.  Everyone was not just sad, but frightened, as ridiculous scenarios were imagined in which the terrorists found their way to where we were.  After all the ridiculous had just happened.  I listened in history class as my professor scrapped his lecture to educate us on Afghanistan and Western relations and prayed for all the devastated people. I watched students pull together and heard of New York pride overcoming tragedy.   In all of this, the xenophobia potential still hadn’t occurred to me.

A month later, I was with Wole, getting everything ready for the big day.  I was in charge of the college’s marching band competition the next day and I’d been prepping since school started.  I was freaked out, stressed, and sleep deprived when Wole sat me down on the disgusting band couch and told me he needed to tell me something.  Stressed as I was, I didn’t think anything could be worth getting me out of prep mode, but I listened anyway.  “I didn’t want to tell you this, because you’ve been busy and I wanted to wait until this was over, but it’s going to come out in the paper tomorrow, so I need to prepare you.  You know Tola has always wanted to be a pilot?  (Uh, oh)  Well, he subscribes to a pilot magazine and when the postman saw the foreign name and the pilot magazine, he contacted the authorities.  When INS looked into the matter they found that Tola is here on a student visa and not enrolled in school.  They are going to deport him.”  I broke down and cried for what Tola was going through and how scared he had to be.  I was never mad at the postman, just mad at the bad luck and unfairness of it all.

It was much later that I saw the newspaper article, which recklessly painted Tola as a shady criminal and the postman as a hero who possibly saved us all from impending danger.  The portrait was so different from my fun-loving knight the disparity physically hurt.  Forunately, Tola was not just torn from us and sent away in disgrace.  He was around for awhile before everything could be arranged, teaching himself guitar with my chord charts (I was jealous how much faster he picked it up than me) and practicing flight simulations on my computer.  Eventually everything was arranged though and my friend was gone to Africa.

As soon as Wole told me Tola was to be deported, I feared for Wole.  Even though he had done nothing wrong, Tola proved to me that didn’t matter.  I knew then that I wouldn’t let them take Wole from me. I would go down to the courthouse and marry him at any time to keep him here as mine and safe.  The white wedding lost saddened me a bit, but not enough to dissuade me.  Wole would never have let me go through with this course of action though, as he knew our relationship already attracted criticism without adding a green card into the mix.  Still, with not even quite a year together, I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life with Wole whether we made that vow the next day with two witnesses or years down the line with a crowd.

In an update, Tola did become a pilot, just in Africa.  As far as I know, he is happy and fine, but I wish I had gotten to know him better.  By accident, he taught me the real life applications of xenophobia and just how dangerous it can be.  Right now Trump is spreading rampant xenophobia and segments of Americans are happy to accept it.  Again I’m scared, but this time I know marriage isn’t enough to keep us safe.


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