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Fleeing New York

COVID-19 changed everything.

Here was the vision.

Both sets of our parents would meet at Una's graduation on May 20th. We'd leave our beautiful room in our Astoria apartment and attend a free 10-day Vipassana retreat. Till then, I wanted to take a climbing course and work. We'd take a mini road trip to Fayetteville, West Virginia and Richmond. Spend a couple days in Northern Virginia with my family, then fly to Iceland in June to start our lives.

That didn't happen.

Graduation was cancelled, all of Una's classes would be held online. The retreat was cancelled. I had just started two short part time jobs that closed indefinitely. The upcoming job I'd start in April seemed destined to be delayed or cancelled. Una went back to Iceland for what we hoped was three weeks on Friday, March 13th. I wanted to try to find work and then wait for Una to return, or join her in June.

That didn't happen, either.

New York city seemed on the cusp of lockdown. Terms like "travel ban" coupled with the closure of Denmark's borders and Norway's airports made it likely that I'd be shut out of Iceland for a couple of months. Erstwhile impending doom and the risk of being separated from Una made it all seem cataclysmic.

This is what actually happened.

I bought a ticket on Monday morning, March 16th to leave on Wednesday, March 18th. Then I watched more news and worried about getting to Iceland a day too late (a fear that I now know was unfounded. Though an increasing number of flights have been cancelled since then). I bought a new ticket that left on 7:25pm on Tuesday, March 17th.

That left me roughly 36 hours to pack up our belongings in New York, refill enough of my meds to last me several months, take care of bank accounts, drive down to Virginia, close things with our roommate, sell the car, say goodbye to family and friends and try not to forget anything.

It happened. But only with the help of so many friends and family. Julia helped me pack up our whole life, organizing and throwing out heaps of trash/donated goods. Tony, our roommate, very graciously agreed to give us back our security deposit on very late notice. I got enough med refills for 4 months, insurance companies have special COVID-19 codes. My friend Zach drove me down to Virginia then bought the car there. My Mom met us at the DMV. My sister helped me repack when I was crashing, running on fumes after two and a half hours of sleep, and my Dad drove us to the airport and paid the extra bag fees ($300 for two extra bags...British Airways absolutely gouging passengers). And the whole time my wife held it down in Iceland and kept me calm. My Father-in-law picked me up at the airport, I sat in the back seat, wore a mask, didn't leave the car at any point, and came straight to the country cabin where I have been self-quarantining since then. My wife and my sisters-in-law are staying in a nearby cabin. They make me meals and drop them off on the porch for me. Una and I take walks sometimes, always keeping at least six feet apart. I try to make faces and entertain my niece through the window.

It's a poor recollection of an incredibly hectic week. It was hard to decide that we'd leave the country. The decision took life incrementally. What's the difference between hysteria and quick action these days? I'm still wrestling with whether or not I made the right choices in coming here like this.

I know there's no work for me in New York. Una can study, work and graduate from here. With rent and cost of living in New York City, it didn't add up. The deciding factor was the possibility of separation and the inability to enter the country at all.

And yes, I still have to stay away from Una. Away from everyone, actually. But I'd rather be 6 feet apart from Una than be thousands of miles away while self isolating in one of the biggest cities in the world.

I'm still tired and trying to get my bearings for our life ahead. But I've felt more grounded, walking behind Una as we pat Icelandic horses, than I have for the last couple weeks leading up to the Coronvirus crackdown in the US.

I have no real idea what's ahead. The tourism and guiding industry in Iceland seems shot for the spring and summer. We have a lot to figure out. But we're going to do it together.


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