I met my friend Sadhana when I was a sophomore in high school; she went by the name of Ashley, and she was one of those people you couldn’t help but like right away. Quiet-seeming at first, she would jump into a conversation with a witty quip and an infectious laugh. We both loved our drama class, where we got to break our shy selves onstage, cracking open into the magic that was playing someone else. We both had a going-nowhere crush on the same guy. We both had curly hair we couldn’t make obey us. A decade later into our friendship, I covet a pair of floral-patterned jeans she owns, she tells me when my jokes aren’t funny and we share slices at the Stone Mountain Pizza Café as we invent sitcoms we wish we were seeing.
A strange thing happened in the middle of our friendship, something that was hard for my alt-rock-obsessed, ill-fitted-jeans-wearing, hormone-heady teenage self to understand at the time. While I got to go to Georgia State University, traipse about England during a year abroad, work in downtown Atlanta and now go to SCAD for graduate school, Sadhana didn’t get to go anywhere. When she turned 18, she stayed at her parents’ house. In a strange sort of teenage Miss Havisham situation, her life was put on pause as the rest of us graduated into the usual going-on’s of young adulthood: college, first jobs, first serious significant others, first crippling loans, maybe a new (old) car, maybe even a new (new) car. Sadhana got a job and worked there the next nine years, living with her parents and her younger brother (who is, incredibly, just as awesome as she is), her father driving her to and from work each day.
My friend Ashley became Sadhana to me then, an immigrant from Georgetown, Guyana who had been raised in the U.S.A. since the age of 13. While she got to enjoy public school like the rest of us (even graduating 11th in her class), the other day-to-day regularities of American life were denied her: no driver’s license, no loans of any kind, no college, difficulty seeking employment and very few opportunities for a social life. Her parents were grateful for her paycheck, and relied on it for a decade as the main source of income for their family of four.
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They say you never know a person till you walk a mile in their shoes, and I’m aware whenever I’m in a crowded place that just behind every person’s face might be just-heard bad news, a heartbreaking illness, an unnourished talent or a crippling secret. It’s something we forget when we meet people, when we build filtered facades of ourselves on social media, when we complain about the grocery store checkout guy for being too slow. I didn’t understand my own friend’s life for a long time; it all felt like 16-year-old hijinks, lip gloss and passing notes.
President Barack Obama passed Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) in 2012, which allowed the children of immigrants (often called “dreamers”) a better chance for normalcy in our country. Many people disagree with this, wanting to blockade foreigners from partaking in our American rights. The girl who sang “I Feel Pretty” with me during our high school production of “West Side Story” never felt foreign to me; she was my peer in every way. And she certainly didn’t ask for the life she has been given, but she works incredibly hard to make the most of it.
While holding her head high and rarely mentioning her have-nots, my friend Sadhana taught me a lot about what I take for granted.
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Due to DACA, Sadhana and her brother just got their driver’s licenses last winter, a huge boon since they live in suburban metro-Atlanta (otherwise known as pedestrian no man’s land). Then, the really big news finally happened: Sadhana earned the TheDream.US Scholarship, an opportunity to help hard-working dreamers go to select colleges by covering their tuition and books. Which means, at age 27, my good friend finally gets to start a life that was put on hold nearly a decade ago. She gets to have the ramen noodle-crazed, Target dorm room furniture blitz many of us were lucky to have. She’ll be attending Trinity Washington University this fall in Washington D.C. to study journalism, and she is going to be the most focused, excited freshman on campus.
Because this was the quiet dream lurking behind her face for all these years.