For some time now I have wished for better than America. For myself, for my husband, for our daughter, and generations of our family to come. I have a bitter laundry list of complaints about my country of birth (featuring such topics as guns, women’s rights, science distrust, and Trump–really, do not get me started), but my wishes and fears seemed bogged down in the complacency that affixes most people to their home turf. That all changed radically a few years ago when I discovered an escape hatch. It’s a tiny little tear in history’s fabric that allows me and my family to make some big changes and right some historical wrongs. This is the story of how my life changed forever, and how I embraced a brand-new homeland.
Poutine Versus Trains and Cheese
First, let me tell you that I am, in my heart, an historian. So I have tried my hardest to cling to perspective whenever I get gloomy about America. But there it has been for years now: That brain tickle that keeps reminding me how different my views are from most Americans. Knowing I’m not a great match for the culture, the climate, country music, or so many other things. Too often I have felt like a stranger in a strange land.
When I daydream, sometimes I wonder if my ancestors felt the same tug to pack it all in and start fresh in a new country. Of course, many of them had it a whole lot worse than we do. Famine. Persecution. Our lives are really damn good in comparison. But what about some of the others? The ones who took the big leap, not out of desperation, but out of hope? The sacrifices and risks they took to settle in the United States must have been unimaginable. They defied tradition and familiarity, tearing at their own roots just to replant themselves in America. America.
Talk about personal historical regret.
Not America, guys. Not America. Oh, I hope they had good lives and loved their adopted star-spangled country, but a few generations later, I desperately wish they had stayed where they were. I want to travel back to 1917 and grab on to my great grandfather’s overcoat and dig my heels into the earth to stop him from crossing the border from Ontario to Michigan. Or at least tear the pen from his hands while he was filling out his “Permit to Leave Canada”. No! It may be cold and strange up there, but they have healthcare and gun laws. And a competent (and adorable) Prime Minister. I could eat poutine the rest of my life (until my arteries clogged solidly), and salute the maple leaf every Canada Day.
But my grandfather was born in America. And that puts Canadian citizenship out of my reach.
That’s okay, Canada. I appreciate that Americans are a little scary, and you don’t want a mass invasion. And no offense, but your winters are just as awful as Michigan’s, and I just can’t spend 40% of the rest of my life in cold, snowy darkness. So dark. So bleak.
My great-great grandfather was hardly concerned about the snow. Or global climate on any level. He wasn’t concerned about guns or (as far as I know) women’s rights. He wasn’t so concerned about infrastructure or commutes. He was a businessman. He repaired clocks and watches for a living, and he wanted to open his own shop in the boomtown of Detroit with bustling department stores and people movers, lots of shoppers and culture, lots of promise for a shiny, shiny future. I get it, gramps.
But times have changed. And now I want out of your questionable decision. And since your homeland doesn’t want me (I could learn to love maple candies, I swear!), I have to look somewhere else. Anywhere else.
For a long time, the real prize, the dream escape, has been somewhere in western Europe. The culture, the pace, the food, the politics, the mass transit. It all suits me so well. It’s no utopia–in fact, there are a number of problems over there, some of them worse than America. Nevertheless, it feels like home calling to me, especially while I sit on my couch staring out at the gray sky sprinkling snow on the roadways and treetops. I dream of sipping coffee or wine in cafes, walking a few blocks to get fresh baguettes and vegetables from local stands, and popping into museums on the weekend. Or I could take an easy train ride to a new country I’ve never seen before. I can ride the underground to work or a shopping destination, without fighting traffic, bumping around on massive potholes, and going to a warehouse grocery store to get vegetables that have been in transit and storage for at least several weeks. No more constantly flat tires, ludicrously high auto insurance, or black ice trails right into the steep roadside ditch. It’s all train tracks, a good book, and my glowing phone. And castles, cheese, and museums. And fresh flowers, warmth, and bicycling. It’s such a pretty picture in my head. So pretty, that early on, I became determined to make that the retirement plan. Sell off everything I own–which isn’t a fortune–and rent a flat in Paris.
But I’m still in my thirties, and that means I have a lot of slushy winters to survive before then. A lot of school shooting coverage to watch. A lot of misspelled “God Bles Trump” and “Vetrans For Trump” road signs to drive past, while I bump over potholes and squirt my windshield free of road salt spittle.
So I crafted a new, more aggressive plan: Get a job! Of course. We can make the move right now, if only there is a wage waiting for us. And a work visa. That’s the catch, though. An employer has to want you so badly that they’ll sponsor a very expensive visa in your name. I could keep rolling the dice all day long, every day, and the right job is probably never going to pop up to pluck us all out of Michigan. My husband and I are great at our professional jobs, but so are a lot of other people. And visas are expensive.
The futility of it seemed bleak. Watching-hillbilly-asscracks-at-Wal-Mart kind of bleak.
And then, one Sunday a few years back, chance changed this stranger’s life.