This is a story of true love. The names had to be changed to protect the couple from having this love taken away from them. Living under the radar is part of the sadness that peeks out of their otherwise happy ending.
They met in New York City’s Central Park through some glances and a “feeling”. They caught each other’s eye. One invited the other to sit and eat cantaloupe. After realizing they had so much in common and so much to talk about, they continued. Now, six years later, they are still each other’s better half. They found something that day in the park over a cantaloupe that some people spend a lifetime trying to find – True Love.
Now I will tell you what is in the way of their happy ending. Mike is from the U.S and Matthew is from South Africa. Although, Matthew started out in the U.S. with a 6 month tourist visa, he is now here illegally. I am sure by now you have also realized that this is a love story between two men. If this were a love story between a man and a woman, it would most likely have its happy ending. As for Mike and Matthew, they are still working on theirs.
Matthew did not plan to stay here illegally. Initially, and I might add ironically, he was visiting the U.S. to attend the wedding of a fellow South African to an American woman. He extended his visa to a full year. He began working for a company who was planning to sponsor him but then could not, due to a company buy-out. At that point, he began the process to obtain a working visa or citizenship. Matthew finished his application process in April of 2001. Five months later American life was forever altered with the terrible act of terror on September 11 th. Also changed was the rate that immigration papers were looked at and processed. Matthew was permanently placed on hold.
Mike who had always been an upstanding American citizen and had never even had a speeding ticket, found himself living life under the radar like a criminal. Suddenly the love of his life, the person whom he wanted to share his life, dreams and laughter with, could not exist. Or exist on the hush. Mike works hard, pays his taxes, helps his neighbors, all of the things that good Americans do. The difference in his life, the oppression in his life is that he cannot marry the person he loves and make them part of this country, part of his life. Mike comically said, “It’s not like we are trying to have the big wedding ceremony, it’s not like I would march down the isle with babies breath in my hair. I just want to be able to go into a legal contract with another person. I should be able to vouch for him. We are each other’s best friend. It is just like that with us.”
I asked Mike what kind of strain this puts on their relationship? His answer, “It is always there. It is an underlying anxiety that does not go away.” They are relocating and they are driving because flying is too much of a risk. They do not go near airports or borders. Matthew was a graphic designer with a promising career that he had to give up. This frustration comes out for both of them.
It is legal for Mike and Matthew to go into a contract of marriage in South Africa. They could live there and be married. I ask though, why should Mike have to flee his country in order to be with the one he loves? Why should he be banished from his land for being himself, for loving the only way that he knows how? Leaving the U.S. for Africa may be the way their story finds its happy ending. I will say that will be a loss for America. To lose two wonderful people who want to live here in the United States and should be able to be part of it, is a tragic shame.
For now, they wait and hope. They drive instead of fly. Matthew paints portraits. Mike continues to work and pay taxes and hopes that someday his country will allow Gay people to have equal rights. Mike and Matthew keep a close eye on the Immigration Bill that president Bush spoke about in his recent address to the nation. This Bill would allow Matthew to apply for a visa or citizenship while remaining in the U.S. This could also be what gives them a happy ending.
If everyone in this country were truly equal and could truly pursue happiness as long as they did no harm to others, then there would be no waiting. If there was true separation of church and state, Mike and Matthew could live in peace. If we are a democracy, then why do the people in power have all the freedom and rights, and others do not? Right now, freedom seems to be for those who live the life style that our government sees as fit. All others, please check your flag and your freedom at the border and don’t slam the door on your way out.
I don’t want to lose my dear friends to Africa. I want to believe in my America.