When we came back to Texas, the first question from all our friends and family was, “Are you going to go back to Puerto Rico once all this is over?”
Walking it back for a second – we had originally thought, in a perfect world of course, that if we loved Rincon (and we did), we would spend 5-6 months every year there, and the rest of the time at home in Central Texas. Fast-forward six months and all the challenges 2020 would throw at America (and the world): we are hit with the reality that the world is much farther from perfect than I ever imagined, and the ground underfoot is fundamentally unstable. When the earth feels like it could fall out from beneath me any second, I seek to grow roots; deep, deep roots.
We felt unsafe in Puerto Rico during the onset of the coronavirus due to PR’s lack of medical facilities, staff and supplies – and we got back stateside as quickly as we could. We were lucky to have each other, and the credit card capacity to book a trip home. Those days of making travel arrangements and waiting for the flights home and hoping we wouldn’t be stopped on our middle of the night trip to the airport were grueling. Looking back on it from the perspective of a white woman in June 2020 – I am again faced with my white privilege. My pasty freckled skin gave me one less monumental thing to worry about. But I digress. Even lacking my June 2020 hindsight, I recognized these things in those days:
- When the shit is hitting the fan, I wan’t to be home with my people.
- There is no surety. How could I return to a place where I feel like my family might be unsafe if an unanticipated tragedy strikes?
- My husband and I heavily prepared for known potential tragedies before we left for PR. You know about all the research and preparation we put into what to do in an earthquake or tsunami, and how to survive if the public services went down due to hurricane. We had water purification devices, fancy emergency kits, first aid gear, survival packs and enough dried and canned goods to sustain us for months when we arrived. We hoped to not have to confront a crisis, but we were pretty sure we had prepared as best we could for the potential disasters coming our way. Guess what we didn’t prepare for?
- A fucking pandemic. A pandemic that the US largely ignored until it was at our door. When we left Austin for Puerto Rico in January 2020, I felt a relative certainty that we could leave our lives and home and families, and go somewhere else for six months, and then come right back to our lives and home and families and pick up where we left off. Because that is the world we grew up in. The one where Americans had the freedom and luxury to be mobile and adventurous and come home to their homes when they were done. Maybe it was always an illusion, but I have come to realize that that is NOT the America we live in today.
- How the hell could we have prepared for a pandemic? We couldn’t have. There is no preparation a civilian can take. The government has to prepare and be prepared and take pandemics seriously, and ours didn’t. So, back to #2 – nothing is certain.
On top of all this, and maybe because of all this, I have realized I don’t have the stamina to be the groovy, laid-back, traveling, one-foot-on-two-different-continents-surrounded-by-an-ocean type of mom, wife and woman I thought I wanted to be. It was a good experiment, but it’s just not me.
In time, I may forget how grueling and complicated the preparations for this trip were, and fantasize about doing it again. Like forgetting how grueling labor is as the years separate you from it. But, by then, the kids will likely put a stop to any conversation about returning to PR. As they grow and settle in and have lives of their own they likely won’t want to pause their worlds for months on end to spend time elsewhere.
We took our chance when we had it, and I’m so grateful we did. It was wonderful and humbling to be so far from home. I loved being away from everything we knew and being able to really depend on and focus on each other. It set us up for quarantining together perfectly and deepened our connection as a family. I loved stepping out of all our old habits and holding a mirror up to myself – it’s much harder to do that when you are still immersed in your same-ness. The regular life and patterns and coping mechanisms you’ve developed are much harder to step back from and recognize when they’re all you know and right in your face. Like not being able to see the forest for the trees, sometimes it takes zooming out to notice the parts of your life you can’t see because the norms are too close to see past. I am grateful for the opportunity we had, and even more grateful that we gave the nay-sayers the finger and DID IT anyway! Together.
I venture to guess that considering the unstable state of the world, our next adventures will be closer to home, but the wisdom gained in PR remains. For now, it’s facemasks and marches – there is work to be done at home.