Edwin Osorio/MiC.

I looked over at my phone, it was 5:45 a.m. I sat there dumbfounded. I’d only slept six hours, so I knew if I went back to sleep, I wouldn’t wake up. Besides, the gym would open at 7, so there was no point anyways. I laid there for a bit, not exactly sure what to do at this weird time but decided I’d just stall. After reading the Bible a bit, I got up and dressed for the gym (which I was particularly excited for because it was leg day) and was on my way.

I grew to love this routine. It was a great way to start my days at boarding school before the long-hour days of classes and music rehearsals. The walk to the gym was like any other day: through the dark and snowy woods, where you would hear and sometimes see wildlife (and fear the occasional bear encounter). It was a small gym, as I guess our physical health wasn’t a priority at arts boarding school, but we made do with what we had. A nice leg workout later and just like that it’s 8:30, and back to my dorm I go. I always enjoyed these walks in between: a moment of silence and peace in between the stressful days that are just enough to keep anyone going. The simple things are what you grow to enjoy at boarding school, especially as you endure the cold Michigan winters, the shitty admin and terrible cafeteria food, among other things.

As I got to my dorm, I queued up my usual shower playlist, which was filled with anything from indie, to rock, alt, jazz and the occasional classical. This time while I showered, a song from one of my favorite artists, Laufey, played. I absolutely love Laufey: not only for her incredible talent as a jazz artist, but also for the sentiment of  her songs. This song, in particular, was one of my favorite’s, called “Best Friend’, and was dedicated to her sister. 

Lyrics such as “It’s funny ‘cause you drive me half insane. A universe without you would be thoroughly mundane” is a line that always puts a smile on my face. The love she has for her sibling is strong and is certainly something I can relate to with my own siblings. I should share this song with them, I said to myself, my heart full of love. 

To my little brother: “Hey Brother. This song is about her loving her siblings and it reminded me of you. I love you and don’t ever forget it. Have a good day at school <3.” 

To my older brother: “Hey Brother, this song is about a girl who loves her sibling. It’s not something you would probably listen to but every time I listen to it, it reminds me of you and our little bro. I love you guys a lot. You guys are my motivation to keep me going when things get hard, don’t ever forget it.” 

Normally, an exchange between brothers would be a simple one as most would do throughout their day. But as I hit send to my older brother, my love quickly turned into something else, something all too familiar, and persistent. It’s a feeling that comes every now and then, but will never be welcomed; one that always wins no matter how hard I fight it. I couldn’t help but give in. A sense of grief overcoming my being, a feeling that could paralyze. I sat there, my phone in my hand, looking down at the message I had just sent. Tear-filled eyes, coming back to haunt me again. To think today had a great start.

I walked into a courtroom with my family during February of my freshman year of high school. This wasn’t the first time I had had to do this, and I wasn’t too worried. After all, growing up, we have had many encounters with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and while those encounters were terrifying, we always managed to pull through. We were fighters — that’s what I always saw ourselves as. Since the age of 5 to then, 14, we’ve dealt with case after case, but my family stayed strong together. As long as my family remained safe, so was I. So when I walked into court that morning, my older brother being at risk for deportation, I didn’t have any reason to second guess myself. We were fighters, always defying the odds. I had high hopes. My family is unbreakable. We will be fine. My parents always told me, “If you have your parents, your brothers, everything will be okay.” I sat there in court, my brother on a virtual screen. We’ll be fine

My family and I silently watched the judge as he read my brother’s case. Just something about the way the judge read my brother’s file confused me at first. It sounded like he was shaming him. Who the fuck was he to do that? He has no idea who we are or what we’ve lived through, but in positions of power I guess it’s easy to make assumptions about people like us. The wrongdoers, the drug dealers, the cartel, the illegals, are what we are seen as, rather than a family. A family who have lived their entire lives in the U.S. They think they are doing the right thing by separating families. It’s so easy for them to do that, all for them to go home to their own each and every night. Ironic, isn’t it? I hate to make assumptions about what people are thinking. I try to see the good in everyone, but at that moment, I didn’t. I couldn’t. How could I? As he kept reading, my usual confidence disappeared. I grew anxious. Reality froze, my pulse stagnant. It all felt too real. I was scared. And here comes the blur, because then all of it faded away. Yet what I do remember is the judge, saying those words, swinging his gavel, and just like that, my worst fear happened. That day, my other third, would not be coming home with us. That day, my life changed forever. The cries of that court room echo in my head, forever haunting. My heart shattered, as countless family members swarmed to comfort us. I fell into my parents arms after we got out, overcome with grief. They held me tight. “Don’t cry, mijo.” Por favor, mis padres, dejame llorar, I pleaded with them. I hated for them to see me weak, for my weakness was their weakness, but this was the exception I allowed myself to have.

Three years later, that brings us back here, reliving that moment in the courtroom, time and time again. I sat in my bed looking at the texts I sent to my brothers. Many emotions filled me, none I can explain properly. How does one begin to explain this? They aren’t dead, but I can’t help but feel grief. My life wasn’t in danger, yet I still feel trauma. I know it’s not an uncommon thing, yet I am the only one I know who has had such an experience. Anger, loneliness, sorrow, all emotions many are familiar with, but none like this. No one will ever get me, no one will ever understand, I say to myself as I fall deeper into my grief.

With my eyes still filled with tears, I started to talk to myself. Hey Edwin. Listen man, you need to be strong. Sometimes, life isn’t easy for people like us. For people who have had to lose so much. But, that doesn’t mean it’s always like this. It could be worse. You could be worse. Yet here you are, prospering. Defying the odds of everything that’s ever happened to you. Every person who’s ever tried to limit you, every person who didn’t believe you could. And yet, here. You. Are. 

I put the song I sent them on again and cried for a bit. I knew I couldn’t wallow in grief; I had a full day ahead of me, and it was only 9:30 a.m. I wiped my tears and reflected; Make your family proud, make your brothers proud. Show them your strength, even in moments like these. Show them who you are growing up to be. I sat up, wiped my eyes and got out my trombone. This was the usual routine for me every morning. Even after something like this, the grind doesn’t stop, as I know my family wouldn’t want it to. And just like that, my pep talk in times like these was over, one that’s been said many times.

Eventually, as I went on with the day, my little brother responded with “I love you too <3.” That put a smile on my face for the rest of the day. My little brother was always good at that. No matter how much we’ve experienced, no matter how much we’ve lost, that kid still manages to shine a smile that I can’t help but follow. He’s always been the better part of me, the part that brings out the most love in my heart. From our bonding over our favorite cartoons to the life lessons I teach him as he grows up to the randomness of his goofy character, that kid truly never fails to brighten up my life. He also sucks at texting, so getting a response the same day made it even better.

The next morning, my older brother texts me. “Hey dude. Don’t worry man we on the grind you and I. Te amo mucho edwin. Y te extraño everyday.” Those words may not seem much to many, a simple brotherly exchange, but to me, nothing can compare. For those words come from my older brother, the brother who would walk me home from school, play with me, teach me how to mow the lawn] and tuck me in at night. The brother who said he would beat the fuck out of anyone for me (and he definitely would), the brother who was there next to me through all of our threats of deportation. The only one who gets it. I sat there and smiled, feeling loved, the love that motivates me to get up in the morning and to persist. That is exactly what I did each and every morning, for I have no better reason than to do it for him, to do it for them. While the long classes, shitty admin and bipolar Michigan weather, among other things, do a number on someone, any word from my family makes it all worth it. No one said this life would ever be easy, but family makes it worth living. 

My brother recently told me “seeing you prosper is enough for me to see out another day”. “I’ll hold you to that”, I told him.

Post commentary

The other day, I saw my friend’s social media post about the anniversary of her mother’s death. I felt a sense of empathy when I saw that, as though I could relate her situation to my own, losing a loved one. I was about to comment something along the lines of  “You are so strong. This situation hit close to home and I am here for you if you need anything” when I stopped, feeling as if it was completely inappropriate. This is a common thought process that goes through my mind now and again. It goes something like this: Is it wrong for me to try and relate my circumstance to the passing of a family member? On the one hand, they aren’t dead, and they are simply a call or text away. However, a part of me still feels compelled to compare the two. Having to live every birthday, holiday, special event and my high school graduation, to name a few, without my brother there, leaves an emotion of grief, a feeling that runs deep into my heart. Something is missing. He is missing. A feeling of pain not even a phone call could fill.

But what I certainly do have in front of me is a story to tell. I share this story and post commentary not for pity for my situation, but to offer perspective. Perspective on a unique situation some go through in a seemingly normal day in life, in my case boarding school. What many believe to be a seemingly normal person, going about their day, do not know what they hide behind closed doors. Having seen little coverage of deportation stories in the media, I share mine so that others can see not just the sorrow, but the resilience. And I don’t mean stories covering deportation, but stories of deportation. Not just about the instances of deportations, but stories of families. Real families, who share situations like myself, who have lost someone, deserve to be heard. It may seem like my story carries with it a message of burden, but I can reassure you it is the opposite. For nothing will ever motivate me more than the story of my family. To show that even in the face of adversity, it is possible for one to keep going. The grief persists, but my drive to succeed and love for my family has never been higher, as not even deportation will tear us apart.

Nothing will.

Mic Columnist Edwin Osorio can be reached at edwinoso@umich.edu.