It’s 2007, I’m 22 years old and sitting in a TGI Friday’s in JFK airport sipping on what must have been my fifth jack and coke since I exited the plane an hour ago. Everything I owned in the world sitting in the chair across from me. There are two business men in suits eating breakfast, a family of five trying to avoid eye contact with me and an old man with a beard, bags under his eyes and an airport nametag pinned next to a loosened tie drinking at the bar staring catatonic at one of the five TVs in this tiny airport bar/restaurant at six in the morning.
Only 48 hours earlier I was deported from the UK. The home I made for myself was ripped away from me and I was put on a plane back to America.
They found me at Gatwick airport coming back from a weekend trip to Denmark. It was one of my many ‘leave the country for a few days to reinstate a tourist visa’ Trips. This tactic kept me safely in London for a good year after my student visa ran out.
I was living with my English boyfriend of six years, doing theater and working illegally. I’ve never lived anywhere more than two years my whole life. This was the closest to a home I’ve ever had. The plan was to somehow get a permanent visa and live happily ever after in Europe. The Gatwick airport border control officers had other plans for me.
All of a sudden two very large policemen were leading me into a coed detention cell and stripping me of all my possessions. My passport. My wallet. My phone. My journal. My pen.
“My pen? Couldn’t I keep that on me so at least I could write?”
The very large border control man looked down at my 115 pound body and said “A pen? Do you know what people have done in there with a pen?”
The giant English Thor of an officer didn’t blink.
“Right. Stabbing, you definitely were referring to stabbing.”
I reluctantly surrendered my pen. Before I could say careful with my journal he threw me into this little room with no windows, stained walls, a water fountain, old newspapers, 15 plastic chairs and 20 Middle Eastern men. I was the one crying in the corner. This didn’t stop anyone from trying to talk to me. Everyone was upset. Everyone had a story and apparently the little white American girl looked like a good listener. Hours and hours waiting and listening to angry tired men professing in broken english of why they are innocent and shouldn’t be there. Some of them have been there for days. I was totally on their side and eventually joined in with their cries of freedom. That’s when the door finally opened and my name was called for interrogation.
The interrogation room is a small white box with two chairs, a table, empty white walls and smells like a dentist’s office. The woman sitting across from me was one of those stern British women that writers base the villain after. Her face looked like old white leather and if she ever had any sympathy at all it dried up, turned brown and formed into the giant ugly moles that covered her face.
As they sat me down she alerted me that part of the interrogation process was going through all my personal writings including my journals and underlining anything that might seem threatening or unclear.
I wrote a play about suicide. Everything I write is threatening and unclear.
Mixed with the expected questions of
“How long have you been here?”
“Where are you staying?”
“Why are you still here?”
She took out my journal and picked through all of my writing. All my personal thoughts and feelings that nobody, NOBODY was ever supposed to see.
“Why did you write this?”
“What does this mean?”
“Is this true?”
“Does your boyfriend know?”
“You should be ashamed of yourself.”
“How could you live like that?”
“This, this right there, what is that?”
“I don’t believe a word you say.”
Her judgment on my lifestyle didn’t bother me but don’t you dare insult my writing.
Her verdict was to deport me from the UK and send me back to Denmark immediately. It was only the pleas from my boyfriend and his family that convinced them to instead send me back to America and to give me 24 hours to collect my things. She held my passport for insurance and told my boyfriend that he was better off without me.
The venom I had for this woman still sends chills up my spine.
I had one day. One day to collect what I could of my things, say goodbye to my friends, goodbye to the theater I was working at, the projects I have started and to Martin. He was my first and only boyfriend I’d ever had. I knew it would end eventually, just not like this. He is, to this day, the kindest, truest, least crazy person I’ve ever been with. Mole woman was wrong about me, but she was right about him. He did deserve better.
The plane landed in JFK. I had never been to NYC before. It was six am, I knew nobody, had nowhere to go, only 300 dollars to my name and I was drunk.
There was only one thing to do.
Find the nearest bar.
Scanning the airport for anything resembling open that might sell something stronger then coffee, I see it in the distance. Large beautiful neon letters spelling out my oasis. TGI Friday’s.
I’ve spent most of my life saying goodbye to good friends and moving on to some place new. But I usually have some kind of plan of where to go, what to do. Right now the only thing that was certain in my life was whether or not I’ll have another drink.
It was there, sitting at this orange and red table alone with bright iridescent lights mixed together with the sounds of slow rock coming from bad speakers and the rough hum and bright colors from the six TV’s all blinking nonsense when it came to me.
I’ll just stay here.
New York, not TGI Fridays.