A few months ago, life was normal. The future was uncertain, but I slept better than I do now. My husband Olivier and I were enjoying our first year of living in England. After ten years in France, it was a welcome and exciting change. We often had conversations about what the next big leap might be. Maybe back home to the States, depending on the election. Or, maybe elsewhere in the U.K., depending on how the whole Brexit thing goes. The threat of Brexit cast a shadow over everything, but it didn’t feel menacing. Hell, it probably wouldn’t actually happen. That’d be crazy.
Then came the morning that we woke up and found ourselves living in fucking crazytown.
My husband, a European working in England, had to go to work immediately afterward, all the while wondering if everyone he looked at had just voted for him to leave. Luckily, working in an office with a colorful international mix softened the blow. When he came home that night, I asked how he was, how his coworkers were coping.
“We’re okay,” he said, “but we all just took a really big kick in the nuts.”
So, we continued on, growing nervous and upset as we read about the increase in hate crimes in the news. We began to look toward the U.S., weighing our options in this state or that one. There were moments where I allowed my homesickness to take over, and I imagined returning to life at home in America. After eleven years overseas, repatriation is just as terrifying as it is alluring.
“Not if Trump wins.” I said to my husband. “No way are we going there if he wins. We’ll need to have a backup plan.”
Hell, it couldn’t actually happen. That’d be crazy. The threat of a Trump presidency cast a shadow over everything, and it was menacing. Then it got worse.
As the election wound down and the unthinkable became certain, I started to cry. “I guess I won’t be going home, after all.”
Olivier shrugged. He hugged me. “Maybe we go, anyway.”
“No,” I said. “No fucking way.”
I’m not sure how much I meant that. Part of me knows how difficult it will be to get a visa for my husband. Even under Obama, and with over ten years of marriage, we needed to hire an expensive immigration lawyer to navigate the complicated U.S. immigration quagmire. Now, the quagmire is deeper and teeming with racist predators. Now, it’s more than acquiring a visa for my European husband. It’s acquiring a visa for my biracial European husband who has an Arabic last name to come live in a country run by a narcissistic bigot who wants to deport people rather than let them in. And since I’m a woman, hell… I might be losing some rights by going home.
That’s only part of me, though. Another part of me is saying, “Fuck yes. Let’s go home. Let’s jump right into the fire.”
While the scared and angry parts of me are working that conflict out, I peruse the Internet and see lots of other people whose scared and angry parts talk and shout about things. They talk about leaving the U.S. to move to another country. Some of those people probably should, if they can, especially if it’s a matter of safety or increasing their quality of life in some way.
Then there are those who seem to be under the impression that it’s easy to pack up and jump ship. Well, okay. You should do what you want, and living abroad is something everyone should do at some point in their lives because it’s good for you. I’ve been doing it for a while, and I can tell you, it isn’t a perfect solution. There will be bullshit.
On the 31st of March, 2014, my husband and I went on a road trip and spent a few days at a chateau in southwestern France near the Pyrenees. The first night, we went downstairs to have an apéritif with the other guests before we all sat down to dinner together. The TV was on. Our hosts served the cocktails, then returned to staring at the screen. Everyone in the room was captivated and apparently uninterested in chatty cocktail time.
I turned to the breaking news coverage on TV. The French Prime Minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, had just resigned and was being replaced by the more conservative Manuel Valls. Olivier and I watched along with the other guests, exchanged glances, but said nothing. Our hosts and dinner companions began mocking the President, François Holland. They laughed, insulted left wing people, and gloated. We continued to say nothing. We let them wrongly assume that we were all like-minded and sipped our drinks. We could’ve let anger and annoyance take over, but we didn’t come to this gorgeous chateau in southern France to have a political spat with strangers. So we waited for it to blow over.
Of course, it didn’t. Our hosts soon realized that not everyone at the table was the same and were very considerate of that. Some of the other guests followed suit. Except for this one guy. This one guy who was there with his wife and their two grown kids. This one fucking guy who had recently opened a restaurant in Biarritz that was doing well and now had a lot of money, which he made clear repeatedly. This one shitbag of a fucking guy who sat across from me at dinner, telling me to my face that his country was better than mine, that French people are better than me, and that, “sorry, that’s just the way it is.” On and on he went about the inferiority of other races and cultures.
“Hey,” I shrugged. “Whatever makes you feel good about being you.”
Then he handed me his business card. “Come to my restaurant sometime. You will see how good my food is.”
This fucking shitbag of a guy. I wish I could tell you that he was the only awful person I encountered; that this dinnertime attack was unique. But, I can’t. I sat through a few dinners like this.
It’s not only drunken dinner guests who’ve been kind enough to provide constant reminders about the bullshit in the world. Moving overseas means cutting through lots of red tape. I stood in lines with other immigrants who seemed to be going through the same process as me, until I turned on my observational powers and noticed that I was being treated differently because I’m white and have a blue passport that says “United States of America” instead of a red or green passport. Even worker bees who are just doing their job and may not be conscious of being racist are totally fucking racist. I began to wonder why people with skin and passports of a different color are referred to as immigrants while I am an expat.
Strolling through an outdoor market, perusing the food, spices, handmade clothes and toiletries from various countries, I stopped to see the Syrian guy selling blocks of Aleppo soap because it’s wonderful stuff. As he handed me the bag, he was emotional and almost shouting that this will be the last of his soap because the soap factory is dead. “It’s dead!” He sweeps his arm through the air. “Dead! Nothing! Everything there, dead!”
Talking with international friends in pubs and restaurants, I tell them I’m sad and afraid at the thought of a Trump presidency. They smile knowingly and nod. These friends, they come from countries like Chile, Brazil, and Argentina. They know better than I do what it’s like to lose your country to a terrible leader, or when a government has gone awry. They’re sympathetic. They understand what my concern and fear feels like. “Welcome to the club,” they say, without scorn or sarcasm.
The delivery guy brings my groceries. He picks up on my accent and asks me about Donald Trump. I get my haircut, and the stylist asks me if I’m upset about what’s happening in my country. At a routine visit to my doctor, a woman of color, we somehow end up lamenting the surreal new world that we’re now living in.
Walking into a pub in Ireland, Olivier and I approached the bar just in time to catch a conversation the bartender was having with another woman. The bartender shook her head. “Augh. Stupid fuckin’ yanks.” I turned to the TV mounted on the wall and saw they were watching news about the U.S. I let Olivier order the pints. I didn’t really feel like letting my American accent be heard. I just wanted to relax and have a pint.
Being an American doesn’t really impress anyone. Nobody cares. Well, except for Americans. We’re just as wonderful and awful as anyone else. The U.S. has awesome and amazing shit and plenty of things that are just absurd and maybe even kind of embarrassing. And if you leave it, you will miss all kinds of weird American things. Even ridiculous things. You will get homesick and lonely. You will feel awkwardness and intense isolation and no matter how long you’re gone, watching your people continue on back home without you will hurt, in good times and in bad.
You will also meet interesting new people, see incredible things, and profoundly alter your perception of the world. So, there is a payoff.
There are reasons to leave the States. Especially now. If you do not feel safe living in Trump’s America, then get out. Make sure your passport is up to date and leave. (Seriously. Stop reading. Go. Be safe.) But, it isn’t easy. Even if you can find a country that will let you in for whatever reason, there is a lot of paperwork to keep up on, and each country has its own set of fiery hoops to jump through. That’s not the real difficulty, though. The hard part is watching from the sidelines, unsure of which direction to take.
The future is as uncertain as it ever was. But, one thing is even more certain. We can’t outrun the world, or what we believe to be right. Wherever you fly off to, the ugliness of the world will find you, so you’ll have to learn to resist and repel the darkness from anywhere.