Things have been hectic around here, so much so that I haven't been able to get the mail from the mailbox in the lobby for a few days, so finally this morning (Sunday morning) I had my chance and grabbed it. A large envelope from CIS (US Citizenship and Immigration Services) was there.
At home I opened it up unprepared for what was inside: a formal certificate the size of a high school diploma, bordered like money, marked The United States of America, Certificate of Citizenship, Original, Department of Homeland Security. There is a gold seal at the top and an embossed stamp over a photo of Israel Isaac Sherman looking serious and sad, the look he wore in most of the photos we have of him in Africa. He isn't even trying to smile, but then it is doubtful that anyone told him why his photo was being taken.
He is listed as male with a birthdate of May 10th 2006 from Congo-Kinshasa, marital status: single. Our address is given as where he now resides. He became a citizen the day he arrived here, May 6th 2010. The certificate was issued on May 26th 2010.
Israel was building a marble run when I opened it up. This is very important, I told him. He looked up at me, oh yeah? This is from the government. You are an American now. He stood up and wanted to see for himself.
I pointed to each part of the document. Here is your photo. This is your name. Here is our address. He recognized the apartment code, F6. F6! he repeated. I live here!
He took the certificate into his own hands. He held it carefully, as if it might be hot. He paced back and forth with it past the green, red, blue and orange pieces of the marble run.
Every day, he told me, I live here. Yes, every day, I told him.
I gently took the certificate and propped it up on some family photos high up on top of the stereo. So we had a candle in his toast, and we sang, "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow" and I told him to make a wish and blow out the candle, and he did.
This evening he came to kiss me goodnight as I did the dishes, saying, every day I say good night Mama. Every day I say good night Eddie. Every day I go to sleep with Papa. Every day I say good night Meshugunah. Good night Meshugunah! And off to bed he went.
He has asked me before, "but how did this happen?" as in the old Talking Heads tune, how did I get here? I have tried to explain that we went to the government of his country and asked for him, and we wrote letters to the government of our country, asking for permission to bring him here, and we filled out a lot of paperwork, so I think it made sense to him that a piece of paper should arrive granting him an every day American life.
He has also asked that he get to ride his tricycle every day, play the violin every day, eat food every day, and it is so easy to say yes.