Traffic is humming on the street. I am sitting next to my dad in the car. Sun is shining on my knees. It’s four o‘clock in the afternoon as I turn on the radio in the car. “Germany is now closing its borders with the neighboring countries of Switzerland, France, and Austria,” says the announcer’s voice.
The humming gets louder. But it is not coming from the road; it is coming from inside my head. In a week, my boyfriend and I are supposed to meet for a two-week road trip in Iceland. He is American. I am German. But then came the coronavirus. And it was getting closer. Every day it crept just a bit closer.
We had a Plan B. We always do. If Iceland closed, we would just meet in Germany. The United States had already imposed a 30-day entry ban for foreigners coming from Europe.
The voice on the radio continues to waft through my head. Suddenly, something clicks inside my weird brain.
"When Germany closes down, I'm gone," I say suddenly, but very calmly.
“Haha, yes,” my dad replies. The radio begins to play a song by Clapton.
An hour later, I am home. It is dark. I tear my suitcase out from my closet, applying for a Canadian visa online within 20 minutes, and then book a flight to Vancouver, Canada. Canada is one of the few countries that still has borders open for both Americans and Germans.
“Forget Iceland. Forget waiting another week,” I write to my boyfriend, knowing it would be now or never. “I’m going to Canada. Now. Are you in?”
“Go!” is his only reply. The matter is settled.
It is six o’clock in the morning as I stand in my hallway munching on a banana and patting my pockets again to check for my passport, cell phone, and credit card. In my suitcase are a couple of T-shirts, some shower gel, three pair of panties and my magnificent medication collection. Thanks to my minimalist lifestyle, that’s about all I need to be ready to go anywhere at any time.
On the horizon I see the first traces of sunlight streaking the sky with peach colors. I drive myself to the train station and board the high-speed InterCity Express to Frankfurt for a direct flight to Vancouver. I could have chosen to fly from Dusseldorf, which is much closer to my home, but that flight stopped in London, and I didn’t want to risk a layover anywhere if I could help it. If I am going to be like James Bond, then I will take NO half-measures.
I am hot and cold. Not because of coronavirus, but because I am just a wee bit on the nutso side. Half of my face is hidden behind a thick scarf. I try not to touch anything. When someone coughs near me, I almost feel like I am having a stroke.
There is almost a complete emptiness at the airport. I check in and go through security where one of my charging cables is mistaken for a weapon. Something always seems to be. Of course, I have my laptop with me so I can continue to work. After all I am a digital nomad and a writer.
Three hours later, I am sitting in a huge airliner full of Canadians. It seems they all want to go home and escape a contaminated Europe. I feel as if I am a small, neon-colored fish swimming in the opposite direction. But that's not new to me. My major worries now turn to my normal flight worries: various air turbulences and the possibility that there may be broccoli in my meals.
When I look at the map on the monitor in front of me, I am surprised to see that Vancouver is much further inland than I thought. Another a couple minutes pass before I realize that I am NOT going to Vancouver, but to Calgary. I look at my boarding pass. I look back at the monitor. Slowly I begin to realize that I confused the two cities in my befuddled mind when I booked my flight. Well, Milan or Madrid, the main thing is Canada (for those who don't know - a famous German soccer player once said: "Milan or Madrid, the main thing is Italy!")
After nine hours in the air the plane begins to land in the snow-white Arctic. In a freefall tower. Perhaps the pilot is as confused about our destination as I was, for the aircraft stays high for a long time, then seems to drop out of the sky in a steep descent toward the airport. But who cares.
I go through immigration, present my passport, get a weird look from the border officer, and a coronavirus information sheet. Now I suddenly find myself in a country that 24 hours ago I knew little about other than the name of its capital, and that it has mountains.
I finally have Wi-Fi again. My boyfriend has left a message: “You just made it under the wire. Canada will close its border to Europeans in the next few days.” A short time later we learn that the EU is sealing itself off from Americans. My boyfriend would never have made it had we stuck to our original plans. I feel like having a Schnapps, but I only have tap water.
It’s Wednesday. My boyfriend will come to me by car from the United States next Monday. I am now somewhat relaxed and looking forward to seeing him again. As I sit in my panties watching an episode of Mr. Bean on YouTube, I feel a bit like a bum hiding out in my private basement Airbnb. The trip is no longer a vacation. It is no longer about road trips and sightseeing. The apocalypse is now raging outside my isolated cell and my only goal is to soon hug my boyfriend.
Thursday dawns and the headlines say that Canada and the United States are considering closing the common border. Soon. My pulse shoots up to 180. Almost in a panic, I send my boyfriend a note. I know he has important family commitments, so I know he cannot come before Monday.
“What do we do?” I write. It is more of an SOS than a question.
In only a few minutes, he does what I did a couple of days ago: he reorganizes his major commitments for the next few weeks and leaves the rest behind. He is on the road at 5 AM the next morning just as a snowstorm is beginning. He has over 600 miles ahead of him.
“It’s a good thing that you are in Calgary. That is within a day’s drive,” he texts. It suddenly hits me like a blow to the head that my closeness is only due to booking mistake. But I believe that nothing in life happens simply by chance. Not even when we are laying on the ground, beaten by fate.
While my boyfriend continues his drive, the bad news intensifies. The US and Canada reaffirm their border closures. I search the Internet until my fingernails feel as if they are going to fall off. Some sources seem to say the border is still open. Some seem to say it is already closed. My heart begins to flutter as a result. Tears begin to well up in my eyes. What if everything we have done is all in vain?
I call my best friend in Germany. She talks to me for four hours as I walk in meaningless circles and squares around my apartment. We discuss our graduation party 10 years ago, we deliberate about the silly hairstyle of our high school math teacher, we talk about everything and nothing - just to keep me from hitting my head against the wall.
For over three hours, I hear nothing from my boyfriend. My stomach is doing flip-flops inside my belly. It is now 3 PM and the only thing I have eaten all day is one cookie. My entire life now seems eerie. As does the entire world that I am now living in.
How small we are in this world. It doesn’t matter what leaders we choose nor how much money we make. In the end, nature shows us where the real power lies. I am feeling hunted and humbled at the same time as I begin to understand that the coronavirus will change all of us in some way. Forever. It will highlight in everyone just what is important in life. What really matters. And that even without us, the flowers and the trees will bloom each spring.
Suddenly a message appears on my cell phone. “In Canada” is all that it says. But there is a little heart underneath the two words.
“Ohaaaa!” I shout in the middle of a sentence as I continue to talk to my best friend in Germany.
“What happened?” she asks, alarmed. I put my hand over my mouth. For a moment I can only breathe. I cannot laugh. I cannot cry. I cannot talk.
“He made it,” I say quietly. And I feel as if a huge steel band in my chest suddenly releases its grip.
After a few more minutes of small talk, we hang up. On a whim, I enter, “ABBA” into YouTube search box. The first song, “Mamma Mia“ begins to play. I jump up from the bed and spring into the living room like a child. I begin to sing utter nonsense. In my joyous frenzy, I bang my knee on the kitchen table and must sit down again.
Two hours later, my boyfriend arrives in front of the house and parks his car. I go outside and trudge through the snow and just hug him. For a long time. The light of the early evening begins to dim as the clouds pass above us in the sky.
We spend two weeks in Canada in isolation together. Initially we are in Calgary, but on short notice, I could not find an isolation apartment for the entire time. So we move to a small cottage in the boonies. Because of the quarantine, we see only empty corn fields and a few mountains in the distance. But it doesn’t matter. We have each other.
What we find is that our promise to one another of “in good times and in bad times” is a more than just mere words for us. It is a relationship foundation that cannot be shaken by even the greatest zombie apocalypse the world has seen for the last hundred years.
My boyfriend is now back in the USA. I am alone in Calgary, awaiting a flight back to Germany. Because of border closings, neither of us can return to the home country of the other. We wait apart and hope that better times will soon return.
Meanwhile, the flowers and the trees are beginning to bloom. And I remember a quote from one of my favorite poets, the Irishman, Oscar Wilde: “Everything is going to be fine in the end. If it’s not fine, it’s not the end.”