A refugee is a person outside his or her country of nationality who is unable or unwilling to return to his or her country of nationality because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. An asylee is a person who meets the definition of refugee and is already present in the United States or is seeking admission at a port of entry.
United States Department of Homeland Security website
This is my statement explaining why I am seeking political asylum from France.
“Crap,” Ramona said in her neutral, slightly gravelly voice. She sat there with her elbows on the table and both hands around a white coffee mug that said “let it go” in tiny black letters. It was a very contemporary kitchen, neither too cheerful nor too spare, looking out square cement yard. Fairmount was a transitional neighborhood, getting pricey but no one left their porch chairs out overnight. Ramona liked it there; she could feel the opportunity in the sidewalks. “Sorry. It’s just: there it is. Anyway, whoever reads this won’t consider it a new application, meaning they won’t delay your interview. It’s just a supplement to the short statement you already submitted, an explanation so they don’t think this is some kind of joke and dismiss your claim as frivolous.” She hoped. Then she shut up because and let her brain get back to figuring out how to get her out of this stupid mess; her brain would figure it out, it always did eventually.
When she got the call from the agency she’d put on her raincoat and trooped over, where anyone else would have waited. Anyone else probably would have wondered why they were calling her personally, instead of sending an email to the entire listserve as usual. Ramona, being no idiot, did finally note the anomaly, but figured they were desperate, which as it happened was entirely correct. Ramona heard Kay’s straightforward but always pleasant voicemail asking could she represent a Syrian applicant, or that’s what it sounded like, and off she went, never mind the rain or that it was already early evening and the only one there was the receptionist, just putting on her coat, who handed her the file.
Thus Ramona Tacker, Esq., Danielle King, interpreter, and Ray Vashon, teenage client, sitting around Ramona’s kitchen table and facing facts.
Of the three, you’d feel confident trusting Ramona. She was a fortunate woman in her late forties and looked it, from her perfect, subtle makeup to her fit, average figure and acceptable if not remarkable features. She had a sharp, confident eye and an accommodating, slightly judgmental demeanor. At this point in her career she was not so much retired as never fully commenced, but she was also a lawyer, a condition aggravated by a deeply competitive ego, and she’d been sidelined some years right out of the gate, for trite enough reasons – marriage, divorce, cancer, and possibly some kind of breakdown. Now here she was, ready to be alive again, and forced to deal with this insane immigration case. Asylum cases get handed out pro bono because the law involved is reasonably straightforward, ideal for the inexperienced attorney seeking a little human rights cred or necessary pro bono hours. Ramona was corporate by experience and taste, but perfectly willing. And the agency would be there to help, of course, they assured her. The same agency that stuck her with this mess to begin with. Deliberately. The people, I can tell you right now, who will spend the next months assuring her they were looking for someone, just stick with it a little longer. Please?
“D’accord,” Ray said, and pushed his hair off his forehead. He was following from Danielle’s translation, his reasonable English not equal to the demands of justice. He was eighteen, a Drexel student, and even more adorable than usual when his bangs fell in his eyes. Behind them, his forehead went on forever, both broad and wide.
My grandfather is Georges Vashon the famous writer. When he was at Oxford he studied mythology because the mysteries of history intrigued him. For example, why do so many cultures from around the world have flood stories where one good person is warned before the catastrophe and told to save a pair of each type of animal, or all the valuable animals and the seeds, sometimes in a boat or a basket or sometimes in a tree. The very same story is everywhere. Then he became interested in monoliths; there are so many, but no one has ever explained these strange structures that cover the earth. How were all these massive blocks of stone transported and assembled into these incredible pyramids and walls without mortar or modern tools or even the wheel. Throughout history we’ve made up myths to about these things because we have no real explanations.
Ray read with the unquestioning innocence of a child reciting the obvious. A gorgeous, fluid child liable to slip into any intimate space, a blue-eyed Peter Pan with thick brown hair brushed forward from the crown and delicate yet masculine features, a delicate nose and open blue eyes. He was just tall enough not to be short, and somewhat underweight, but he moved like a bruiser, bent forward, arms swinging straight from the shoulder. It made for a very physical presence, a very sexy monkey, Basically he looked like a porn star still angling for a legit acting career, someone you would automatically discount or at least underestimate. God knows these women will.
My grandfather went to Egypt and there underwent his great epiphany. He saw the simple truth behind the legends: that all these mysteries were the work of an advanced species. And so he started to develop his theory by examining the advanced astronomy that our ancestors had mysteriously mastered, and he learned to read the ancient texts: the legends and religions and myths. It took him five years of investigation and study. His renowned theory explains how humans were taught by the great serpent gods of Sirius the Dog Star, the great binary brilliance, in Egypt and in Mexico and in Peru and everywhere. The evidence is irrefutable! Unfortunately, most people are unwilling to admit this because then they would have to renounce their own small concerns in the face of the Other, the unknown extraterrestrials. People are terrified of life without any underlying purpose or fairness or eventual redemption.
“That’s a little strong,” Ramona said. “We want to present your views; we don’t want to attack religion.”
“I do,” Danielle thought, and when she thought with words like that, out loud in her mind, she was invariably addressing God, her one intimate and current archenemy. Danielle resembled a tall bird, a stork or a crane, with an outsize beak and glossy brown feathers. Even with her nose she looked unique; Ramona, a very new acquaintance, instinctively loved and envied her. They were of an age, both about fifty, but one was coming and one going. Danielle sat over her own copy of the statement, skin smooth, hair gleaming, long fingers splayed on the scrubbed wooden table, “He’s lucky he’s never met You, You fucking shit.” People were surprised she even knew the word, which was ridiculous.
This was about globalization, as isn’t everything. Once it stopped being about my God against yours, my God protecting me, you couldn’t excuse any of it, because it was you: He could do the same to you, it was all the exact same God: the diseases and fucking casual betrayals and catastrophes and never any justice. How could you consider God anything but a shit when you’re abandoned, all the personal assurances whispered to your heart abruptly withdrawn, and now only absence no matter no matter how you shout? When you wee designed to give and give and never be an end in yourself? When god just reached into you and scooped out the guts and heart and moved on to someone he actually loved? Of course Danielle understood her God was her own creation, but knowing was no help whatsoever, and anyway God encouraged her to trust her delusion, apparently so He could pull it out from under her and teach her some important life lesson. Mostly Danielle wanted to put a gun to God’s head and pull the trigger. The world would be better for it.
According to Dr. Finn, Danielle’s therapist, she needed to express gratitude. Talk about ironic! Like that wasn’t exactly what the great narcissist in the sky wanted: unending praise and no demands, never being held to account. “Volunteer,” prescribed Dr. Finn. “It eases depression. Trust me.”
“I’m not depressed, I’m furious,” Danielle said. Yet here she with this androgynous kid, and this lawyer she sort of respected, and bad coffee in a souvenir mug from Mark Twain’s house.
During this period my grandfather was living in France, first in Troyes and then for a while in Renne Le Chateau, pursuing his research into the Knights Templar and certain vital connections between the Ark of the Covenant and the technology given to the ancients. While he was there he published his first book revealing his insights, and it was an enormous success. His explanation was so obvious once you heard it; as I’ve said, it was undeniable. Nevertheless, he was viciously mocked by conventional scientists and archeologists; he was openly insulted and his motives impugned.
“The Knights Templar,” Danielle repeated, watching the boy; she’d heard the basic story by email and found it off-the-wall but logical, but now it felt wrong somewhere. Of course she’d heard of Georges Vashon, who hadn’t? She caught Ramona’s eye; she had her hand to her mouth and seemed to lost in quiet delight, a positive sign. Maybe they’d work well together. “And the Ark of the Covenant, too.” Danielle said.
“Right, well, all that is very familiar, but it is a major part of ancient astronaut theory.” Ramona heard herself being officious and patronizing and fell back on legalese. “We need to present this theory in a perfectly straightforward, unapologetic way, as a legitimate belief system, which is exactly what it is. The important thing is that Ray comes across as credible.”
She could afford to be tolerant of these crazy ideas because she already had the whole spiritual thing settled, what with having been brought up in the church. She had her bible, and she knew for certain God was running things, even if it didn’t always seem that way. This case was just business.
“I think a lot of that has been discredited,” Danielle said. “About how the monoliths and pyramids were constructed, I mean. And about crop circles. Archaeology and radiocarbon dating and stuff. And people confessed to the crop circles.”
Ray shook his head and almost smiled. “I don’t think so.” He seemed very certain.
Ultimately my grandfather decided to take his family, which at that time consisted of my grandmother and their children, and relocate to Ile St. Vincent, which is a tiny island off Cannes. St. Vincent is a desolate yet beautiful place, with rocky footpaths, umbrella pines, and eucalyptus trees. There are some villas and a few small stone houses and a marina. There aren’t any good beaches. Also now there are some resort cottages, built very quaint and pretty, and some shops, and fishing, but not a lot of tourists go there, mostly only the people with houses on the island. My grandparents and my aunt and an uncle and their families all live there today, and my father grew up there.
Today my grandfather’s theories are very popular and there are television programs and magazines and hundreds of books, maybe thousands. What does science really know? Or archeology? Look at Gobeckli Tepi, only recently discovered, although until then science never imagined mere hunter-gatherers could build such monuments. It shows that everyone was wrong about farming, because agriculture developed to support this religious site. This proves how science can get everything backwards. The real truth behind religion is the Sirians. They gave us language and technology and mathematics and astronomy; they are hiding behind every myth, they built every civilization. Once you understand the part played by the Others everything makes sense. Unfortunately there is ample evidence that their purpose was to create a slave race to mine gold and other minerals for them. There are terrible legends of great violence and destruction happening without warning or reason.
“You love that shit, don’t You? A volcano or tsunami, maybe a plague to liven things up. Being fair means doing the expected and You can’t have that, right? Need to escape reason; need to expand into some greater idea. Like you didn’t start out as a rock in a tent somewhere. That’s Your fucking secret to immortality.”
When I was fourteen I went to stay with my grandfather. I suppose I ran away; I felt I was old enough to make my own decisions. But my mother’s family, through the authorities, brought me back, and this is where the persecution begins. She is from a very wealthy family, very influential in the government. My parents met when they were students in Paris, and at first she thought she could change his mind. When they were divorcing and she demanded custody of me there was a lot of argument, and she said my grandfather was the leader of a cult. She is a very devout Catholic, but she will not admit the irony. She left my father when I was nine, but even before then I could see the sense of my Grandfather’s theory, how it explained so many things that otherwise made no sense. Children think very clearly, without bias or guilt about religious nonsense. Then before the divorce was settled my father hanged himself. Today I realize he was murdered by people working for my mother’s family. I’m not crazy to think this; I know these people and how they operate.
“Let’s be very careful here. I need background on your family, proof: names and documentation. Anything that will substantiate what you’re saying, especially anything official.”
“It’s easy,” Ray said. “They are well known.”
I was brought to this hotel room where they deprogram people. They kept me from sleeping and from eating. These two men, they kept talking at me until I was vomiting. Then when it didn’t work they hit me again and again until I lost consciousness.
“This is good; the more details the better. We’ll want witness affidavits from any friends you told at the time or anyone else with knowledge of this. I’ll get background on the practices of these sorts of people. We’ll need any medical records from that time; they’ll support your claim and otherwise the judge will want to know why we don’t have them. And we’ll have you examined by a doctor who can testify on your behalf.”
Eventually I just pretended to think what they wanted. Not obviously, just enough. Then I was allowed to go home and I ran off again, not to my grandfather but to the country, and it was fine for a while, almost half a year and then I was caught again. This time they were not so nice to me. I was handed over to different people and they gave me drugs. I started to accept what they were telling me, but only a little, more as if I could imagine thinking it. But eventually I went through a whole long show of agreeing with them to make it stop, but I couldn’t hurry because it wouldn’t be believable. Then I went home again, to Paris. As soon as I turned eighteen I went back to my Grandfather. I had a legal right but actually I escaped. I remained not exactly hidden but quiet and immediately applied to study in the United States, at Drexel University here in Philadelphia, where I thought I would be safe. I want to learn more about engineering and astronomy and ancient history to help with my grandfather’s researches. But first I have to take English classes.
At this same time, while I was still at St. Vincent, the refugees started to come, the Syrians. There were maybe three families that were to stay on the island, and the houses for them were ready. The priests arranged all this and brought them to us. I remember when they first arrived on the island, how heartbreaking it was. They were empty, just waiting for life to decide everything.
Then the incident happened with the boys going at night to taunt the refugees, always the same troublemakers from the island families but my age or even younger who went to frighten these men who were already captured by fate. They would take their hunting rifles and shoot at nothing, just being stupid. And then other people came to protect the refugees, and there was a fight, and one of the troublemakers was shot in an accident.
“But you had nothing to do with this?” Ramona asked. “Why were you even there? You weren’t even remotely involved, correct?”
“No, this was far from me.” Pushing it away with an exaggerated grimace of disgust. “I heard shouting and I went to see but I wasn’t close yet.”
The next thing that happened was when I was here in the United States and I heard from both my uncle and my grandfather that the police had brought a charge against me for this boy’s death, and that they will extradite me. Also they’ve frozen my grandfather’s bank accounts so I have no way to pay a lawyer. It makes no sense, because the boy responsible told the authorities and it was just an accident anyway. That’s how I know this is my mother’s family trying to bring me back to France. So I have applied for asylum because I understand that I cannot be sent back while I am applying for asylum.
“Non refoulement.” Ramona said. “I wish we had more time. Things are so crazy now; there’s this ‘last in, first out’ system in effect. But of course you had to file as soon as possible.”
“Do you think they will give me asylum at the interview?”
“No, not unless you’re actually bleeding and maybe not then. The case will be referred to the court, but that will give us time to prepare for the hearing. The problem is that to get asylum, you have to be persecuted for certain kinds of reasons. No one else who believes in Sirians is being targeted, just you. It’s not like Amnesty has reports we can use. So it’s going to depend on your family, how they tried to deprogram you and then influenced the government to initiate this false charge against you.”
“D’accord. But then I win, because in America there is rule of law.”
Rule of law: those magic words. Ramona fled from them, burrowing into that part of her mind dedicated to extricating her from this confusion. Obviously she had to hand this off to someone more capable, however personally embarrassing. The agency would have to find someone else; it was still technically their case anyway. She looked across at Ray and fought an impulse to gently brush aside his bangs. The important thing was that he shouldn’t be hurt again.
A thought falling out of nowhere.
Enough for one night: Ray donned his backpack, Danielle got her raincoat, and they headed to the front door, then lingered together on the pavement as if by agreement. A noticeable emptiness obliterated the row houses opposite; and black splotches like blotting paper perched in the young sidewalk trees. An odd night; the day’s unacknowledged oppression had moved off somewhere, making room for exhilaration.
“Tell me something.” Danielle spoke to Ray’s shadowy bulk; she was the taller of the two. “You really believe all that shit?”
“I can believe what I want.”
“Sure. Which is?”
“What I can see.”
Danielle gave an inadvertent snort of amusement. She felt, for some reason, genuinely pleased. “Okey-doke,” she said.
These three will be my heroes. Down the block someone laughed – a raucous, delighted intrusion that zig-zagged across the night before careening down the street.
Copyright 2019 JAM Publishing, all rights reserved.
Photo credits: Adam Woodrow, CIMG3481 (CC BY 2.0) / Michael Gwyther-Jones, Cannes (CC BY 2.0) / FolsomNatural, aiAlienS (CC BY 2.0) / Keith Yahl, The Great Pyramid of Giza (CC BY 2.0)