Separated At The Border: How Covid Kept Me Apart From My Fiancé For 100 Days
I never planned to fall in love with a Canadian man. It was an accident, albeit a very, very happy one.
Mike and I always knew that being together wasn’t going to be easy. We can only spend a maximum of six months per year in the other’s country, and the United States Permanent Resident application process is an actual nightmare that lasts at least 2 years, not to mention the cost of flights back and forth, the months apart, and dealing with the rudest humanity has to offer every time we cross the border. (Have you met a border guard? They’re so mean.)
But we were prepared to wade through the bullshit so we could have a life together. We had a plan, a timeline. There was light at the end of the tunnel.
We hadn’t planned for a global pandemic.
COVID-19 shut the Canada/US border on March 21, 2020. Mike had gone back to Canada on March 13th. There was no way we could have known that when we kissed goodbye that morning before he headed to the airport, it would be the last time we would touch for over 100 days.
Those 100 days were some of the toughest of my life. I was facing the death of my performing career for the foreseeable future, leaving my apartment, friends and life in New York and moving back in with my family, and feeling the heartbreaking loss of my dream wedding all without the comfort of with my fiancé.
Sure, we texted all day long and FaceTimed every night, but it wasn’t the same. I can’t tell you how many times I said goodnight to him with tears soaking into my pillow, reaching out to the other side of the bed in the darkness, grasping for a hand that wasn’t there. We were in pain, and it seemed like no one could or even wanted to help.
Then we found Faces of Advocacy, Advocacy for the Reunification at the Canadian Border, a Facebook group comprised of other people in our same situation. Husbands, wives, fiancés, fathers, and mothers all separated from their loved ones by an imaginary line that suddenly had too much weight. We bonded over shared pain and frustration, provided comfort and commiseration, and worked together to make both governments remember us.
I read truly heartbreaking stories in that group. One woman posted a letter she sent to Justin Trudeau, Canada’s Prime Minister, telling all about how her Canadian husband had been separated from her and their baby daughter since the closure. She wrote, “It’s impossible for my husband to experience all the wonderful 'firsts' of our baby girl’s life via FaceTime and text message. My heart aches when I tell him about these exciting things (her first crawl, her first tooth, the first time she pulled up on a piece of furniture) and it’s met with a sad, ‘I wish I could experience these things, too.’”
Another woman posted that she had been diagnosed with stage four MNSCLC cancer and was given just months to live. Her boyfriend, who lives a short 15-minute drive over the border, will most likely not be able to see her before she dies.
One cross-border couple spent New Year’s Day on either side of the Detroit River, looking through binoculars just to catch a glimpse of one another that wasn’t through a screen.
So many missed moments, lost days, and broken hearts, but still I was comforted. In part, it was warming and wonderful to know Mike and I were not alone in our pain. But I was also comforted because suddenly I could do something about it.
What are the closure rules, exactly?
As per the official government website, non-Canadian residents can only cross into Canada if:
1) Their travel is exempt or essential, like driving a truck or healthcare work
2) They are an immediate family member of a Canadian citizen (spouses, dependent children, and parents only)
3) They’ve applied for reunification through the Canadian government and have received written approval
Plus, every single person coming into Canada from abroad is legally required to quarantine for 14 days. And not a gentle quarantine—a stay away from all other people. Oh, and everyone has to quarantine for the full 14 days, which means that if you can’t stay for more than 15 days, you can’t cross the border.
As described on the Homeland Security website, only United States residents can cross the land border (excluding essential travelers). There is also a strange loophole that allows non-residents to fly into the US, but flying comes with great expense and risk, as well as a 14-day quarantine upon return to Canada.
That’s a lot of hoops to jump through just to be with the person you love, especially since the vast majority of people can’t afford to take off work for 15 days in order to quarantine.
“But the travel restrictions are keeping people safe!”
Maybe not. According to The National Post, new COVID infections in Ontario from travel are significantly less than those from community transmission. As of December 2020, there were 3,945 new COVID cases reported in Ontario that stemmed from incoming international travelers. There were 104,586 new cases from close contact and community spread.
Despite these numbers, Faces of Advocacy’s slogan is: “We’re not asking for open borders. We are just asking to be together.
All we want is for our governments to create reasonable laws and guidelines that keep people safe but also allow people to be with the ones they love. Especially since there are already an infuriating number of politicians, celebrities and professional athletes who get to be exempt from the rules. (Thirteen different Canadian politicians traveled abroad during the holidays and NHL players don’t have to quarantine.)
Trade and healthcare are considered essential. Hockey is also apparently essential, as is a freakin’ Caribbean vacation.
So why the hell isn’t love essential?!
Mike and I are some of the lucky ones, as our lifestyle and careers provide us with the flexibility and means to fly and quarantine. But there are so, so many humans out there with broken hearts, crying into their pillows instead of resting in the arms of their loved ones.
I’m making calls, writing letters, and doing my best to get the United States and Canadian governments to see reason and have mercy because, to me, love is the most essential thing of all.