I was on a walk when my partner at the time called to tell me that the US had invaded Iraq and that they were looking for Weapons of Mass Destruction. Across the phone line and across the border, he being in Canada, we were quiet together and taking in the hugeness of the news.
The next morning, I tried to explain to my children what was going on, as I knew they would hear about it in school. I wanted them to have a storyline that they could relate to, something kid-size, manageable.
We talked about a scenario where “someone had heard that they were hiding something dangerous in their rooms” and that even though they were saying that no, they weren’t, that person had decided to break down the door and start rummaging through their stuff to find it. Under the bed, in drawers, everywhere. It would maybe make a mess, it would maybe make them mad, but the search would go on.
That’s all I had at the time and I was hoping it would be enough. I tried to keep it neutral, relatable, away from the knot in my stomach that told me that a lot of heartaches were about to take place as the search was underway. I also tried to keep to myself the hunch that there was nothing to hide in that bedroom and that much blood and tears could be for nothing.
The day passed. I picked up the kids from school, not much was said about it and we all went to bed.
That night I had heard that France had refused to partake in the invasion and already French fries were being renamed Freedom Fries. I wondered if French kissing would get a new moniker, while the knot in my stomach got tighter.
The next morning I woke up and noticed that my neighbor had a new sticker on his truck that said “Piss on France.” The knot turned into an all-body chill.
While my kids were in school, I made a decision: I would, after twenty years of living in the United States as a legal resident, apply for US citizenship.
That sticker had made me feel vulnerable, threatened. It had made me aware of my precarious status in a country where my heart now lived, divided into three little bodies. In hindsight, I think it woke up my DNA and its memory of having to flee, over and over again. It scared the s*** out of me.
Really, I could have applied for US citizenship years before and it hurts me to say that doing so would have given my dad so much joy — which is why I had refused. It was my cheap act of rebellion, my misguided statement against him having moved me from France unwillingly. I just would not give him that satisfaction.
And I didn’t.
When my dad died in 1999, I was still proudly hanging on to my green card, my ego’s immature mark of an independence I had not had the gut to assert when I was 17. I am not proud of this.
But that day, that July day, my ego had nothing to say about independence while I knew for sure I needed to do whatever I could to earn the same legal status as my children.
I went to work on this with a determination that felt almost physical, a knowing that no amount of paperwork would get in my way.
A few months later, my two older children and I stood in Seattle, in a huge room full of people reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in multiple, colorful accents.
I had become a US citizen, just like my children. All four of us allowed to be together in the same country no matter who pissed on who and no matter what kind of fries McDonald’s served.
Afterward, the three of us went out and ate Thai food and it was another few months before it was officially acknowledged that nope, there was really nothing under the bed nor in the drawers, and that indeed, a mess had been made and hearts had been broken.
Years later, I would insist (possibly nag and beg) that my children apply for and maintain their French passports.