On a Plane to Nowhere, Part I

Abbie Whitehurst –

June 29th, 9:33 PM

Today was the last day we lived in my house in San Diego. Clouds hung around all day as my family packed our bags and friends stopped by for socially-distanced goodbyes on our front porch. My mom is sorting through last minute paperwork, dad is packing the car with suitcases to go to the Navy Lodge, and my brother is tying up the loose ends of his high school senior year. I’ve slept my last night here, had my last powwow on the back patio, eaten my last TV dinner on this couch. All small things that I never realized would feel so huge.

A typical Music Theory Zoom study session. I miss doing these.

In any other year, a military move overseas would be hard. But this year, with Covid-19 and it’s impact on the world, it’s especially so— logistically, physically, emotionally, and mentally. It’s never easy to pack up everything you own and ship it across an ocean, or to plan everything down to the hour to get where you need to go, but it’s even harder when new rules are rolled out everyday, faster than our command can keep up with them. It’s never easy to say goodbye to friends, especially those I made in high school that had such a huge impact on who I am today, but it’s even harder when I didn’t get to spend hardly any time at all with them since coming home. Not to mention finishing spring and summer classes online, and figuring out how to get two kids back to the states for college. Our ability to plan and find what few shreds of joy there are in moving were snatched like a rug from under our feet. My dad describes this process as every decision being made is the most important one of your life, but it’s being made by people you don’t like or trust. I describe it as watching other people recklessly mess with your life through sound-proof glass.

Despite all of this, my family and I keep getting back up to fight another day. We shipped our household goods six weeks early to ensure we could get out of San Diego, slept on air mattresses for weeks, and took up slack left and right for the people whose responsibility it is to process our move, who unfortunately couldn’t or maliciously wouldn’t do their jobs. My brother and I finished out our classes online, and I’m grateful to be able to say I’m proud of the grades I earned, despite the challenges of doing experiential classes remotely.

On the other hand, I’ve lost a lot of self-motivation. As a music major, I’ve discovered I place more extrinsic value on playing with other people than I realized. Practicing bassoon to just play by myself for the foreseeable future felt useless and empty. I hit a huge slump this summer where I hardly practiced at all. On top of that, I constantly felt isolated and distant from my friends. After the semester wrapped and we stopped having daily Zoom study sessions, between the timezone difference and the physical distance, I just felt lonely. I didn’t see my California friends for months, only went out to pick up drive-thru, and spent a lot of time watching podcasts and crocheting just to keep my hands busy.

The stress of moving, compounded by the possibility of getting sick and jeopardizing my career as a wind player and the move, plus not getting to say a proper goodbye to everyone, is… a lot. To say the least. With hitches every step of the way, it’s been a hectic, stressful, exhausting summer. And we haven’t even gotten on the plane yet.

—-

July 1st, 10:02 AM

In April 2020, Queen Elizabeth II said something in a speech that really stuck with me. “I hope in the years to come everyone will be able to take pride in how they responded to this challenge… Those who come after us will say that the Britons of this generation were as strong as any.” It is my personal belief that America as a whole is not doing everything they can, and will not one day be proud of how we handled this crisis. A lack of government regulation and widespread lack of urgency has made the lives of military families so much harder than they ever needed to be. In the Navy alone, 42,000 service members have had their moves delayed because the US’ Covid-19 response is so bad. When talking with friends and family who “thought we were past the whole mask thing”, it’s really hard not to fire back with “you’re the problem, and in fact, you’re my problem”. By claiming masks and quarantines infringe on their inherent freedoms as Americans, US citizens have taken away more than they could ever know from those that protect them: freedom, certainty, and any glimpse of hope of peace of mind.

It feels like an absolute miracle that I’m sitting on this plane right now. We’ve intercepted and corrected mistake after mistake down to the very last second, and even now that we’re actually somehow on our way, there’s still time for things to go hopelessly wrong. American tourists are currently banned from Europe, thanks to spikes in cases all over the US. If I or my family loses any shred of paperwork, we could be shipped back to the states as soon as we set foot in Belgium. We’re guinea pigs in this process, one of the first moving overseas to the Benelux community during the pandemic, and no one is really sure what happens when we get there tomorrow morning. Imagine that cloud of uncertainty and fear following you everywhere you go, that your life is not in your own hands, and tell me that you won’t wear a mask because “we’re past that”. We are not past that, we are far from past that, and we won’t be past that for who knows how long.

They tell us we are ambassadors of the US as military families living abroad, that our everyday words and actions speak for the country as a whole. While this may be true, no actions on my part or anyone else’s will keep us from being social pariahs in our homes away from home. President Trump said once upon a time he was going to build a wall, and he did: rather than brick and mortar, he made one out of international travel bans, from the outside in.

Socially distant goodbyes on the back patio of an empty house.

We are persona non grata. Everywhere. Despite doing everything right, quarantining, wearing masks, staying safe, and fixing other people’s mistakes, my family is now from nowhere and social outcasts. I’m looking down the barrel of a 2 week quarantine in a hotel in an unfamiliar place, followed by all of the usual tortures and bureaucratic nonsense of a military move, all the while watching the news back home and deciding whether I’ll come back to campus for fall semester or do all of my classes remotely from an ocean away (which is an entire conversation by itself). It’s tough, and I’m sure it’ll get tougher as the year progresses and the pandemic gets dragged out. At least we’re on a plane, on our way, towards the faint light at the end of the tunnel. For now.

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