The sounds of traffic on the street below the apartment fill the night, though obtrusive, the sound brings a certain comfort to Ayan, for it means people. It means she is in a densely populated area and just a shout from others.
She sits in her space and looks around the room. There’s not much within the space, when she left him she took only a small suite case, only a week’s worth of clothes. She stands and moves to the window. There are mountains in the distance just beyond the traffic and the city. “They were like a messenger from God to me, Bashyam & Spiro. Like a messenger from God.”
She came to America as a student, on a fellowship with the dreams that most young people have, dreams of a future full of promise. Her parents remained in her home country. They wanted the best life for her, to see her married, to have a family. When chemistry did not strike, when love didn’t ‘just happen’, she agreed to a potential arrangement -a tradition still part of the social norms of her country. “He was good looking, he could get any girl. When we met he said he wanted to see girls from his country of birth. But he did not like anyone. So he brought his parents to meet me.”
She dreamed of a happy life in America, of starting a family –a life not unlike of that of her parent’s where it was about family, respect, commitment and eventually love. A few months later they had a commitment ceremony, it allowed them to spend more time together to talk and get to know one another. “A few things happened before we got married. Now when I look back they should have given me an indication. But he would apologize and say he didn’t know how to treat a girl. He said everything a girl wanted to hear. So I would forgive him.” They were married. And they went to live in his parent’s house.
It’s cold here even for this time of year, she wraps a throw over her slender shoulders. “Then things started happening that shouldn’t. Things were not going right.” One by one she saw the outward signs of her independence slip away. Her car transferred into his parent’s name, her cell phone account canceled, her checking account closed, her jewelry locked away in her mother-in-law’s safe. Little remained in her name, little resembled the life she had pictured. He’d take everything from her that connected her to the outside world. He would attempt to isolate her from her family, and even relayed false gossip to create distance between them. She felt more like a slave than a wife, forced to do endless hours of housework.
“In September he hit me. I asked his mother for help. She told me that it was my fault that I made his anger go to the extent that he would hit me. She told me I should tell him I was sorry. After that I did not talk to anyone, it was so hard for me. My family was very far away. So to patch things up I said I was sorry.”
Things would get bad and she would try to leave. He would promise to work on their marriage, he’d say he did not want her to go. She would give him the chance to make it right, but there would be a glass of water thrown in her face, there would be nights he would remove his wedding ring, stay out late and not tell her where he had been, there would be yelling and anger and always the control. It progressed to the point where they fought every day, where any hopes of normalcy evaporated in the heat of his anger and the stillness of her heartache. “ He didn’t try to work on the marriage, his thought was that if he used something other than his hands to hit me it would not count. I was always worried because I knew what he was capable of.”
When she did leave, she left with one small carry on – five T-shirts and ten pairs of pants. She didn’t care about the jewelry or the car or the bank accounts, it was the search for peace, for solitude and for herself that mattered.
He had her followed –another way to intimidate her now that she was physically beyond his grasp. He tried to get her fired from her job. “He thought I would give up and go back to my homeland. He thought he could still control me. He didn’t know how strong I was. How strong I am.”
She found a great divorce attorney, but she needed the support of an immigration firm. She needed to be granted permission from Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) to remain in the United States. It would have to be proven that she was battered by her husband or subjected to extreme mental cruelty. A friend recommended Bashyam & Spiro. “It was not an easy case. I didn’t have any pictures showing physical abuse, there were no police records. But I talked to a lawyer at Bashyam & Spiro in detail and they painted a clear and honest picture for me. There was not a lot of hope. But as they continued to work on the case, our hope grew.”
“To me our lawyer at Bashyam & Spiro was a messenger from God. This person outside of my family who listened to me and believed in me, who understood me and would fight for me.”
It would take uncovering the truth through an on-going collection of details, a trail of paperwork that would eventually paint a picture of abuse both mental and physical. Each document would tell part of the story of a young woman brave enough to reclaim her independence. Bashyam & Spiro would eventually work more than 80 exhibits into a 22-page affidavit, the culmination of emails, statements from family, friends and co-workers. It would take endless hours of detailing, writing affidavits from testimonials, elaborating on exhibits.
The affidavit would be so substantive, so complete in its detail that CIS would not require any additional information, no clarification, an unusual accomplishment in today’s complex world of immigration. They would approve the self-petition and then later approve the permanent resident application.
Ayan tells me she feels like venturing out, we leave the apartment and walk slowly down the crowed sidewalk. People glance at her and smile. Perhaps they notice what I do. There is gait to her walk. It speaks of confidence, of a woman at home in her surroundings. It speaks of a woman who journeyed not only across the sea to the promise of America but through the darkness of abuse and who in the end found the freedom to make her dreams come true in a land she calls ‘home’. As we walk the sun starts to break through the smog in the air, she tells me it feels warm and good upon her shoulders.