I wasn’t making the big bucks. Not yet, I thought. Still, as I sat there surrounded by unpacked boxes, drinking my ice-cold beer and watching TV on a humid July night, I thought about just how lucky I truly was. I was sitting with Robert, my on-again-off-again maybe boyfriend, in his new apartment at 45 Wall Street in the heart of a reborn lower Manhattan. It was a gorgeous night in that promising summer of 2005. We’d both landed big-city jobs and rented apartments in the same building on one of the most famous streets in the world. So what if we’d driven all the way from San Antonio in a Penske truck to save money on airfare? So what if Robert’s roommate wound up making that drive with us at the last minute, the three of us all squished together and sweaty on a black vinyl bench seat, erasing all of my romantic road-trip dreams? So what if I was slightly annoyed that Mr. Third Wheel was cramping our space in that apartment in that moment, too? We were there. We were on our way. I was just about to say something about how lucky we all were when I felt a sharp pain in my chest. I suddenly felt like I couldn’t breathe. A tingling feeling crept down my left arm.
'Guys,' I said. It was difficult to speak. I could barely gather enough air to make words. 'I think I might be having a heart attack.'
Since the age of 14, I had learned to live an alternate reality, an imagined reality in which my immigration status didn’t matter.
We were almost back when it finally dawned on me. In less than two weeks, there was more than a good chance my secret would finally be exposed.
I was confused. I wasn’t the type of person to panic.
Everything I’d done in my entire life, every accomplishment, every dream could disappear the moment I walked through those doors.
Arce joined Refinery29 this week to discuss her experience and answer questions. Watch the full interview on our Vote Your Values Facebook page below: