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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Safe Haven: An Immigrant's Story

Yep, that's the actual door
to the sanctuary
A friend of mine had to crash for the night because she lost her keys. Due to how late it was when she showed up plus my very early morning commute, when I got ready for work I instinctively told her she could just stay and sleep in my apartment while waiting for her roommate to call back. I got sick to my stomach even as the words passed through my lips. I don’t want anyone to intrude on my safe haven. I can’t let anyone in and stay there without my supervision.

The day was Wednesday, March 16, 2016. I woke up feeling groggy in my apartment; I can’t even remember if I slept at all. The morning sunrise flooded through my apartment window, and so did the memory of the day before. My fight with him over text and on the phone; triggered by my frustration on how I felt he neglected me. The exchange that got heated until he cussed me out. Me, who had enough with him putting me down, posted the screenshot of his text calling me an insignificant c*nt to his Facebook page. My phone that went quiet afterwards because he disconnected my phone line; me, shaking uncontrollably when I found out. Getting a new number from T-mobile after work. I found out he took all the money out from our joint account, my money.I came straight back to my apartment to find my clothes stuffed in a suitcase, already waiting for me there; I broke down and cried.

But I have my little apartment, and my paycheck luckily went through the next day. I bought basic dining utensils at Target, and improvised my meals in a microwave as it was the only means of cooking I had. Steamed Brussel sprouts with butter sauce and some horrible chicken nuggets was what I had that day, along with my shattered pride and broken heart. Yet it was a safe haven; or at least I thought. I came home a few nights after and felt like someone was in there before. Later he admitted he did come (he had an extra key) and managed to find my new number on the T-mobile receipt. The day that I finally had that key back, that was the day I could breathe in a little easier. 

When people talk about immigrants, they think of people coming here for better opportunity; people who had it hard in their own country; people who want to take advantage of the great country of USA. But there were also people like me. People who came here in the name of love. People who were here because their beloved could not move to stay where they are, so they made the sacrifice to leave their home to be with their beloved. We do not only surrender our love, but also we entrust our lives to our beloved, which is why USCIS has minimum income requirement to sponsor a fiancĂ© or spouse from abroad; that the sponsor must be willing to provide for the person for 2 years. This is because we have to start from point zero, a perfectly clean slate. We have to struggle with the language and the culture, and depending where you are from, your education and work experience could mean nothing. Adapting to a new country is hard, and we need all the help we can get.

Is it really a wonder that I refuse to give up my sanctuary? Even after our divorce turned bitter, which I initiated a few months later after finding out he was cheating on me. Even after everyone told me to leave the apartment and find a safer place so he couldn’t find me, I still clung to that little haven persistently. Slowly but surely I start filling out that little apartment with my own things: pictures on the wall, cooking utensils, and my new love: board games. For someone who came to US with only a carry-on luggage filled with clothes and a heart filled with love and hope, I think I did pretty well. I got thrown out of my nest, yet there I was, building a new one.

Do I regret having the fight with him and posting his abuse online? Absolutely not. I can tell you how he neglected me and he’ll tell you the same, but I can tell you how I was left in tears so many times over his insecurities. I can tell you the many times I sat there crying while he berated me and telling me how unworthy I was for having casual sex before I even knew him. I can tell you the many times I was told I should be grateful because he took me to the US; that I should be grateful because he clothed me and feed me and support me while I was not working. I can tell you the many times my words and actions were turned against me, twisted and turned to make me feel like I was the worst human ever. I can tell you the many threats he made to my family, the libelous things he wrote about me publicly in Indonesia, including that at some point I got an STD due to unsafe sex, the number of men I slept with, and that he could get me deported any time. All this because he thinks he can get away with it; he can’t.

Behind the little apartment’s door, the woman grew stronger. Once you are free from the chains, once you found a safe place to plant your roots and grow, the sky is your limit. My safe place is a 225 sqft apartment in a ghetto part of Los Angeles; a place so tiny that I need a fold-up futon bed to ensure I have space to do my activities during day time. It doesn’t mean I am completely free from him, though. Hearing his name, receiving his message, or even seeing him sends me spinning into a spiral of anger and anguish and fear. Gone were the days where I think about him with such bubbly feeling and almost star-struck with his presence. You can only beat the dog so much until she stops loving you and starts loathing you. Yet within those walls I am safe. As long as I don’t let anyone else intrude my little haven, within those walls I will always be safe.

This morning I passed Carrows in West Covina. I remember a day where we got into a fight and I walked from that restaurant all the way to West Covina Mall. I remember a day where we got into a fight in San Diego and I made the decision to go home to OC by myself; somehow the prospect of spending a night at the bus station was a better option than riding back home with him. I remember a day where I took the bus from OC to Los Angeles because I couldn't stand his abuse. I remember a day where I had to spend a whole day at a Korean Spa after I cried uncontrollably due to his malicious taunts, and he told me to get the hell out because his son got worried. I remember a day where he told me I am not allowed to spend Christmas with his family. I remember the times when I wanted to go and run but didn't have anywhere to go; no safe haven for me. I remember all those times and I want to hug that woman who had endured such a storm. You are safe now, little bird, you are safe now.


  1. That guy will get his karma. God never sleep.

  2. Sedih sekali bacanya, seakan sy bisa ikut merasakan kesedihan yg mbak rasakan. Ujian ini barangkali melelahkan dirimu, tp percayalah mbak, kepayahanmu pasti dibalas dengan segala nikmat oleh Tuhan nantinya.


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