What It Would Be Like To Be An American Refugee

“No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark.” – Warsan Shire
Takver
Takver

My name is Thomas Keegan.

What?

Oh, right, yes, T-H-O—yeah, that’s right. Richard. Keegan. K-E-E-G-A… I’m sorry—what else do you need me to…state?

Oh, right uh. Okay. Thomas Richard Keegan, born August 2nd 1985 in Newark, DE.

Current place of residence: Houston—well, I mean it’s no longer our—our home. It was an apartment building. I couldn’t tell you how many…occupants. I’m sorry, I’m just so tired.

We’re coming from Texas. Houston, Texas.

There are three of us. My wife, my son, and me.

We, uh…we walked. Our car was…and there’s no gas anywhere, and the roads are—yeah—yes, we walked.

The whole way, yes. It’s—about 2,000 miles. He’s 17—uh, well 18 now, I guess, 18 months. My wife and I took turns carrying him. God has watched after us.

I’m very tired, yes. We are very tired and in a great deal of pain. My wife’s feet…her blisters have blisters. They are raw. And I am worried about my son. He’s not growing. He…he’s too thin. Mexico was much closer, of course, but it’s dangerous there. There’s a lot of violence and it’s poor. Canada felt like our only real hope—a place where we could make a life for ourselves.

My wife is an artist—painter and a sculptor. I’m a reporter—sports. Grew up playing baseball, coaches and scouts said I had a shot to play in the bigs ‘til I broke my leg senior year of high school. Decided writing about it was the best way to stay close to the game. Anyway, we thought our son would be safe here. I just want him to be safe. We’re trying to stay alive, here, you know?

I guess you guys just have Blue Jays, now that the Expo’s are gone, right? How far is Toronto from here?

Oh. That far. Really? Wow, I didn’t—sorry, I’m actually not very familiar with the geography of Canada.

…yet…?

Do you like baseball?

So you just—want me to tell you about how we got here? Like since we left or…?

The whole thing? From the beginning? That’s going to take a while—there’s a lot…

Ok.

Well, okay, so…in March of 2011, a group of teenagers in Dallas—you may have heard about this—they spraypainted some slogans on one of the walls at their school. See, they were protesting the repeal of the Voting Rights Act by the Supreme Court, arguing that the repeal would free up certain lawmakers to repress the minority votes through voter ID laws. Now, spraypainting might not have been the most articulate form of protest—obviously it’s vandalism, but I mean, come on, they’re teenagers, right? Anyway, uh…

These kids were out there protesting, you know, yelling and carrying signs—peaceful. They were peaceful. The police were called. But it wasn’t police like you think of police. These guys are…I mean they look like commandos, you know? They all looked like they were on the SWAT team. Like something out of one of those shooter games. And they fired teargas at these people, these kids. Well, I guess the word got out because before you knew it, there were thousands of people gathered in the area around this school.

The how and the why and the what-happened-when of it—it all gets a little hazy. But basically, the national guard shows up, and they…They open fire. I mean…I’m sorry…

It was…I’ve never seen anything like it. Not since…I mean, Kent State I guess, but this was…these soldiers…American flags on their shoulders and they…just…

They killed 3 young men. Hundreds more were hurt in the fighting, but they killed three kids outside their school and that was…just…it. The streets were flooded. People armed themselves—civilians, I mean—they had to. The military was swooping in. There were helicopters, and tanks—tanks driving down residential streets!

We tried to stay out of it. It’s not a winnable battle. I mean, it’s the United States military. The greatest fighting force the world has ever seen, right? How do you pick up a hand gun or a hunting rifle and go out to shoot at tanks?

But people did. Our neighbors, our friends, our fam—yes. Our. Oh! I’m sorry…

Our family. Matthew and Luke. My two younger brothers. They fought. They didn’t…they didn’t…they’re not…

It’s 2013, and we were engaged in a second civil war, but this wasn’t like the first war. This was a country against its government. The best trained, best equipped military in the world—being supplied by international allies—and fighting against civilians. My youngest brother, Luke, was a dentist! He was killed in a battle with Navy SEALS, in Baltimore.

No part of the country was stable. There was no haven. It’s just chaos down there. Violent gangs took over entire cities, cause there’s no police or military to protect civilians. Women are being raped. Children are… and they have chemical weapons. They say they don’t, but they’re releasing gas. I know. I know so much I wish I didn’t.

My wife is an identical twin. She always swore to me that she and her sister could kind of communicate through dreams. I used to roll my eyes at her. For months, my wife has been having the same nightmare…of watching her sister…thrown from a roof by a group of men in camouflage. The men are laughing. For months, my wife has known, without knowing, that her twin sister is dead.

But I know. The week before we left, a colleague sent me a link. He warned me, but said he thought we deserved to know. They filmed it. YouTube. I haven’t been able to tell my wife.

We stayed as long as we could. But they—the protestors, the rebels—they started holding up in cities, in populated areas. I guess they thought they’d be harder to weed out. There were airstrikes. And mortars. The army shelled apartment buildings. American tanks. They were firing on anything. On everything. Carpet bombing.

In April, our building was struck. They blew a hole in the side of our apartment building. So many people died. Our neighbors. Our friends. The son of our neighbor across the hall was with his babysitter on the top floor of the building. He didn’t… He was 6.

I’m sorry, but is that enough?

I’m very tired.

I’ll answer anything.

I’m sorry, my French is not…Do I know who—Dylan Roof? Who is—

Christian—wait, wait, wait a minute—wasn’t he the guy who killed those people in their church…?

Do I—what? Do I know him? No, no, I mean…he was from…South—Carolina, I think. I have no idea…

A Christian—whoa, no, no, no—you don’t…uh…okay, look, he called himself a Christian, but that’s not what we—listen, please sir, you have to understand, that was…he was an extremist. That’s not us. We’re not like…he was, people like him are a miniscule percentage of our population. They’re nothing. They’re not us. They’ve just—hijacked—no, listen, they hijack our faith…

…and they are a greater enemy to me than they are to you. They desecrate the name of my God.

Please.

You have to understand. That’s not us. You must understand.

Please. We have nowhere to go.

We will die. My son, the last child of my family’s name, will die. My wife is sick. She needs help. We have no money. We have no food. We have no home. You are all we have.

Please.

Please.

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