The Limbo Meet-up Group
By Trista Hurley-Waxali
“Are you going with the navy blue pants?” My husband smiles.
I refrain from showing how nervous I am. Going to a meetup group that I found online is out of my element. I remind myself, sometimes it’s good to leave the house. I imagine the people attending this meetup have good intentions.
The wine bar is bustling. Moving through a crowd has always been my strong suit. I confidently mingle with the many people wearing familiar athletic gear – Toronto Maple Leaf jerseys and sun-faded Blue Jays baseball caps.
“Welcome, are you here for the wine or the meetup?” A young woman in a plaid shirt and hiking shorts asks me at a small check-in table.
“Both,” I say, eyeing the wine bottles behind the bar.
I’m handed a blank name tag and marker. I don’t write my last name but add a star at the end of my first name to show I’m creative and spontaneous. I stick the ‘My Name Is’ label under my collar bone near the center as it is one of the few places my hair won’t cover.
“Sauvignon Blanc please,” I say to the bartender.
“Here, it’s on me.” A guy who probably wanted to wear a Toronto Maple Leaf jersey but instead opted to wear a button up shirt offers. “Put her glass on my tab,” he adds and the bartender looks over at me like I’m supposed to confirm the transaction.
“Chris,” he says after glancing at my name tag, “what part of Toronto are you from?”
“Ha! Am I that obvious?” I say, suddenly aware of how I come across trying to fake it in my navy blue pants.
“No, please, I didn’t mean that to be an insult. It’s refreshing to be around a woman who knows what they want, these LA girls are too easy going.” We cheer.
“I can live with that. Do you come to the meetups often?”
“Yeah, I like to see how many of us are still here.”
“Ah, so that’s how it is, people come and leave after a couple of years?”
“Unfortunately yes, a majority of us, including myself, married an American to stay, others are here on a work visa and go back and forth to renew the visa. What about you?”
“I’m on a spousal visa.”
“To an American?”
“No a Canadian.”
“Really? You’re married to a Canadian?”
“Yeah, why? Is that strange?”
“No, just nice to hear. How long have you been married?”
“Three years. We came to LA for a job. He works in tech and it really is the new silicon something. So we’re doing the startup scene and hoping to build a nest egg.”
“Yeah, a few couples I’ve met said they couldn’t find any variety for tech in Canada and came to the US.”
“Exactly, tech is still growing in Toronto, so maybe when we go back things will be better,” I say, optimistic about my city.
He nods. “Should I introduce you around?”
“Definitely!” I say, taking a long sip of wine, “and your name?”
“Right! I’m Chris.”
Chris takes me to the corner with three couches in a near square style, sitting there are a few men and women in deep conversation about the latest injury of a popular hockey player and how the team won’t make the playoffs because of the injury.
“Do you follow the teams?” one of the blondes asks me.
“Not really,” I say, “I just know to never root for Montreal.”
“That’s a start. Start talking sports and the Canadian will say something back,” one of the dirty blonde guy says, “it’s like our calling card.”
“We also respond to –” one of the jersey wearing guys begins to say.
“Cheap beers!” another blonde says. I laugh and raise my stem.
“So what made you come out to one of these infamous meetups?” the jersey guy says.
“I came out tonight because I had a scare during our last trip back to the US. My husband and I were away when the Paris terror attack happened in November, the news talked about how they erased their communication through a software encryption program. I mean it’s such a common method for maintaining the ownership of code within the tech world that no one really thinks about its other purposes. So when we landed, near midnight, we were escorted into the interrogation room for a second screening.”
Chris takes a sip of beer and says, “My friend had to do one, he went ahead and gave me his documents before he left. Come to think of it, he was also in Tech. So yeah, asked me one afternoon to fax them over to Customs–”
“Fax? What era are they in!” I snap. “Like the NSA can read our emails, so why not just go through those to find out who we are? Are we supposed to pretend that’s not going on?”
“You make a scary point,” says one of the blondes into her Merlot.
“I haven’t heard from him since.” Chris fidgets a bit with his sleeve, adjusting a button to line better with the suit jacket, “I wonder if they still didn’t believe him and sent him back home.”
“He didn’t text or email?” I ask, figuring after all that trust and work.
“Nope, like I figure he’s busy and was a bit hurt about the process.” The couches go quiet as we all wonder what we would do if we didn’t get cleared.
“Yeah, I’m hoping to qualify for a status better than a TN,” I say. “I mean the TN is great because you can get it from the border thanks to NAFTA.”
“What other status are you looking at?” asks one of the Blue Jays hat guys, the one with the perfect curve.
“Probably an O1? Are you interested in what I find out?” I laugh while finishing my wine. He nods.
“I have an O1!” A brunette chimes in. “It’s great because the qualifications gear towards those who have been in the US for at least one TN length of 3 years. So before I went to renew my TN for the second time, I hired a lawyer to make sure the letters from influential people and the grant I received would qualify.”
“Wow that’s great to hear. Congrats!” I reach out as Chris hands me a second glass of wine. “I think we’re going to try to do that because our investors want us to stay and seem willing to work on upgrading our status. And I’ll do almost anything to avoid that screening room. It’s like all your hard work is used against you.
“Isn’t that their whole technique? To make you uncomfortable, to catch you in a lie.” says the brunette.
“My friend was no liar.” Chris takes a cigarette out of his suit jacket inner pocket. “He’s nothing like me, I married a woman I didn’t even know to get a green card. I’m the liar. But, here I stand.”
I watch as his thoughts drift to his friend, whether he is back in Canada or somewhere else in America. The world is vast but that fear of rejection and deportation is unique to here, as no one wants to lose hope of returning to America.
Chris snaps back to the present and says, “Want to head to the patio?” He hands me a cigarette and lighter.
The most Canadian trait truly is having a favorite type of cigarette. Whether it is the filter or the light, to the ultra and extra light options for those who are savvy enough to care. The last time I cared about any of this was when I was in college and stood on my front porch like hundreds of others like me, standing with the hope of my whole future in that moment. I remember then, like I do now, the smoke resisting the cold wind off of the lake.
My new friend and I gaze across the street. The sun-bleached ash fault, the new to classic cars which drive by or park in time to catch the start of happy hour. I take a long sip of my wine and don’t bother looking at the time but rather at the other attendees as they walk in and out of the bar. Before we head back inside, I see a unicorn looking at us.
The creature stands strong enough to not run away and timid enough to not come closer. I wonder what it thinks of us, basking in the fear and memories we all hold collectively, clicking and adding our name to a list. As individuals, we remain anxious, but as a group we bring a level of support. The unicorn tilts its head so the horn is facing the Northeast, back to my home. But it doesn’t know that, it’s simply tiling its head. How can the creature know where we came from when it’s just passing through? Perhaps it heard some noise and wanted to judge the threat. I turn to my new friend to get his attention, but when I look back the unicorn is gone.
“You okay?” Chris says.
“Um no, I think I’m going to call an Uber.”
He nods. “Maybe I can meet you and your husband in your neighbourhood.”
“We’d like that.” We exchange numbers. I thank the young woman in plaid at the check-in table and promise to come out to the next event.
He opens the car door for me. “It was nice to meet you.”
I smile and wave as the car drives off. I feel in my purse that there was something else in exchanging our numbers. It is the acknowledgment that none of us are alone in this limbo.
-Ciel Qi was born in Xining, China. She studied at Soochow University and U.C. Berkeley, and currently lives in the greater Shanghai area.
Trista Hurley-Waxali just finished a stint living in LA for 6 years and is looking forward to her next adventure. She has performed at Avenue 50, Stories Bookstore and internationally at O’bheal in Ireland and for Helsinki Poetry Connection. She writes weird short stories and is working on her novel, At This Juncture.
Art by ©Cynthia Alvarez