We spent a month in Ontario, and every time I mentioned our trip to a coworker or friend, they’d laugh and ask: Can you just stay there? It was the same response from the Canadians we encountered, who regarded our national affliction of Trumpism with an air hovering between concern and pity. Even the news radio seemed incredulous in the way it covered the States, reeling off stories about mask-deniers and conspiracy theorists with elongated Canadian vowels and a sense of growing disbelief.
Maybe we could have stayed—maybe we should have stayed!—but we didn’t. New York is still our home—for now.
That’s not the case for a friend of mine, writer and novelist Chelsea G. Summers, who got married to a Swedish national in 2017. Sweden’s strict with immigration, even for spouses: She only got approval to migrate to Sweden this May, during the height of the pandemic. But moving was necessary: After she lost her job in the States, she needed health care. “I got health insurance the moment I got my Swedish ID card,” she said proudly. It took until August to get around the pandemic restrictions and finalize her travel plans. She immigrated about two weeks ago.
Even though Sweden’s approach to the coronavirus has been controversial, Summers still feels safer there than in the U.S. “Swedes are extremely law-abiding,” she explained. If the nation decides to impose a mask mandate, she has no doubt that masks will immediately be adopted by the populace.
And meanwhile, there are other perks. “In a couple of years, if I want to, I can ‘retire,’” she said. “As a writer, it’s nice. I was having to scramble for secondary gigs while working on the next thing. It was such an enormous drag, especially as the industry has once again gone completely pear-shaped.”
Escaping the States was its own reward too. The Trump discourse was exhausting, and Summers wanted out. “America is a trash fire right now. As we slide into the election, it’s a terrifying time to be there.” Her doubts about New York’s return to normalcy echoed my own fears. “In the winter, if you can’t go to restaurants, if you can’t go to museums, if you can’t go to movies, if you can’t go to shows—why are you paying so much money for an apartment? You’re not going to be going to that office anyway,” she pointed out.
It’s a strong argument, and it’s one that I will be thinking about for the months and years to come. I don’t want to abandon my community, both on principle, and because I love it here. But in between hovering helicopters and no indoor gathering, it feels as if life is being slowly squeezed out of the city—and us, along with it. I hope New York will be its old self again, soon—and that America, too, will begin to resemble something like the country I want to live in, instead of whatever it is right now. I’m aware that most people don’t have even the vaguest shred of the options I have. But I can’t deny that I feel safer, calmer, and happier, knowing that I have the ultimate privilege: The option to leave. It’s like having an in-case-of-emergency parachute—that came as a wedding present. Thanks, honey!
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