Dear Canada, Letter #12 (What’s it like?)
Thanks for reading my letters. I've got a lot to say so I really appreciate you taking the time out of your busy schedule to sit down and read what I write. It means a lot that you still care about me.
I told you a few weeks ago how easy it was leaving you, but I haven't really told you about what happened after I arrived in the USA. I haven't told you about what it felt like or how I handled the transition. It's been almost 10 years so I feel like I'm in a better position to look back and talk about it now.
You probably have lots of friends that have moved to different countries, each with different reasons and different stories. Each circumstance is unique, the move away from you will affect everyone differently.
Here's what happened to me.
My parents were divorced when I was in high-school and I was living with my Dad in Vancouver when I left you. I rarely saw my Mom and my sister was living happily in Whistler with her new husband. I got along with everyone, but my family unit no longer existed in its old form so I felt like it would be easy to leave them and start my own family.
I had friends I saw on occasion when I played hockey or on our softball team, but most of my friendships were being relegated online to Facebook. I felt like it would be easy to leave them, too. My job at the time wasn't satisfying. It paid well but I had no trouble giving my notice when I finally got the go-ahead to move to the USA and live my wife.
I was just so excited, I didn't even look back. Everything felt so easy to leave. Or so I thought.
So in February 2010, I moved to North Carolina with no job prospects and a very uncertain future. But it felt like an adventure because I was really excited to move into the home that was built during the previous year while I was still living in Vancouver. My wife handled all the contractors, the big build decisions and all of the paperwork. Our house was brand new and move in ready when I finally arrived.
My in-laws didn't live far away, so it literally felt like a kitten being plucked from the litter and placed into the hands of its new owner. Even though it felt easy to leave you at the time, all of the comforts of being with you were gone. Now I had a new country, new city, new landscape, new culture and a completely new family surrounding me.
Don't get me wrong, I was excited at the newness of it all because I've always welcomed change. I can remember being so happy about my new surroundings that I felt like waving at the people in the cars driving beside my on the Interstate....'Hi, new neighbor!'
The first present my wife got me when I moved here was a GPS because I think she was tired of me texting her for directions. Over time, I started to explore the area further and further beyond the confines of our new property. I drove for hours in that direction, and then drove for hours in another direction just checking things out.
We went on our official honeymoon to Boston, Cape Cod and Martha's Vineyard. But when we got back, it was time for me to settle down and start the job search. I knew I wanted to eventually start my own business but in the meantime the new mortgage would have to be paid so I took a low paying job with no benefits and no insurance. Yes, it was a bit of a transition realizing I no longer had free health-care.
Maybe it was all in my head but I definitely felt a sense of prejudice when I finally did get jobs in the USA. Most new colleagues seemed genuinely interested in my Canadian heritage but there was always an underlying feeling I had about taking an American's job. I often felt paranoia and guilt. One supervisor of mine did mention her Mom didn't like Canadians because of a particular experience she had at the border...I can almost guarantee her feelings about Canadians were similar.
I always told people I was from Canada but as soon as I got my American citizenship two years after moving here, I was quick to tell people I was an American too. I'm not sure if it helped or not, but it felt better telling people that because now I was part of the immigrant crowd, and some Americans seemed more open to me and my heritage because their ancestors were probably immigrants too.
Today my business is established and doing well. We've got two young kids ages 7 and 5 and our new house is slowly but surely turning into a home.
I think there are two types of people who leave you for the USA...those who jump in with two feet and completely immerse themselves into the culture, they try to learn more about the States, its government, its policies and its over the top sense of national pride. They may even start to criticize you and the way you do things politically or complain about how your cost of living and taxes are so high.
And there are those people who straddle the border and keep one foot in each country.
I tried to be the first person when I moved here, I read history books, took pride in the national anthem and tried watching ESPN; I tried to embrace the American Dream. But eventually I started seeking out your news and making your presence felt in our new home. I started appreciating your political stance and how your taxes paid for health-care. And I really appreciated your gun control. Like, REALLY appreciated it.
Because the Florida high-school shooting that took place a couple months ago was one of the catalysts for me to start missing you more and more and start writing letters. That and the ridiculous cost of health insurance in the USA.
Now I completely disengage myself from the American political system and I don't watch political shows on TV anymore. I used to be part of the partisanship, the great political divide that successfully draws a line down the middle of this country. But not anymore. It's just too frustrating and stressful to pay attention to what the other side thinks.
I miss not caring, or caring just enough to not let it enter into my thoughts and feelings or everyday discussions. I miss just living my life without being labeled a Democrat or Republican...in fact, I've registered as an Independent voter now because being part of one side or the other feels ridiculous to me. I'm much happier not paying attention.
I'm definitely straddling the border now. I've looked into the cost of purchasing a home in Nova Scotia, and I'm considering where I'd like to spend my retirement years in a decade or so. I imagine winters here and summers with you, but that's a long ways away and life always happens between now and then.
I don't regret leaving you. I know you'll always be there for me when I want to come back or visit.
I do regret how my kids don't know you well enough. The other day I was trying to explain dual citizenship to my 7-yr old, and when I told her she's a citizen of two countries, she said she's not Canadian, she's only American.
That hurt my heart. I have to do better.
Canada, it was silently stressful leaving you and being surrounded by all this newness. I wish I had established more of a support system and not tried to forget you entirely. I wish I had gone back to visit you in those first couple of years but it was hard with young kids. Now it's been nearly 10 year since I set foot on your soil. I wish I had spent time seeking out other Canadians living in the USA, so I wouldn't have felt so alone and isolated.
I wonder what it will feel like when I do see you again? My Dad says I won't recognize you. I wonder if that's true.
Canada, I hope you'll always be my home and native land.
PS...this is the final installment of Dear Canada. I didn't know when I started this would only be a 12 post blog but today I decided to stop writing letters to Canada. One day I will return.