I feel like a jackass half of the time, you know that, right?
I left the United States permanently in 2006, after a few years of tentative expeditions into the arms of the great abroad unknown, and I wish I could say with a hair flip and a sip of the whiskey that I ‘never looked back’. But that would be bullshit. I looked back. Oh, and how.
I went through the first few complete years as an Irish resident in some kind of haphazard, question mark-shaped existence, one foot perpetually out the door, convinced of an imminent move to somewhere I perceived as better. Because I had come from a place that tells you, every day of your life, in no uncertain terms, that it’s the best place on earth. America had freedom and blue skies and curly fries. It had rabid individualism apparently evidenced by endless aisles of flavour-varied snacks.
‘I’m more of a dill pickle ruffle chip kind of person, how about you?’
So it seemed that the expectation was that if I was going to leave, it had better be for a place far more impressive than the US. Ireland, with its grey skies and low self-esteem, wasn’t exactly what I had in mind. But it had a record store, and I had a job there, and that was better than my hometown, and for the time it would do.
I lived more or less aloof to my surroundings, the places I went and the company I kept. I worked on and off and lost myself in city life and all of its vices. I drank too much to buff the edges of constant minuscule invasions of unwelcome culture shock. It was the Bush era, and I quickly learned, in those humiliating times, that to be anything other than an apologist for the state of my home country was to be dismissed as just another out of touch, self-important, egregious American. I didn’t defend it long, if ever. It became reflex to think critically – often scathingly – of America and its policies, and before long it was all I could do.
I was abroad, so I wanted to explore. I was born with traveling shoes and an intense curiosity. I started visiting other countries every chance I had. Ireland was in the middle of an economic boom, and cash was easy to come by. Facilitated by the EU employment standard of several weeks’ paid holidays per year, it was easier and cheaper to hop on a plane for a weekend in Spain or Germany than it had ever been to take a road trip to a couple states away in America. It seemed like a no-brainer. Everyone else was doing it, too, so it didn’t seem strange.
The more traveling became important to me the more I started to notice how difficult it was for you guys back home to take off and do the same. Each time I visited a new place, your faces would appear in my mind; little things would make me think of you and how much you’d enjoy what I was seeing and doing. But no amount of encouragement could change the circumstances under which people live in America, and it slowly started to dawn on me that it didn’t matter how hard you tried; getting a first hand look at the world was so expensive and logistically troublesome as to be discouraging, or at best, relegated to a down the road, once-in-a-lifetime retirement goal. Moving back started to look like a trap I wasn’t willing to walk into. There was too much to learn, and too many different versions of reality that I wanted to test out.
I suppose it’s important to mention here that my family are awesome. There isn’t a member of you that I don’t feel close to, love recklessly, or find myself inspired by. No matter how long I’ve been away from you guys, I still find myself wishing I could just call you up to come over for dinner, or meet in the park when the weather is nice, or yeah, hop that plane with for a weekend in Spain. For a long time it was hard even to stay in touch by phone, as before Skype it was prohibitively expensive to even have a 10 minute chat. Things are better now, but I still feel like I miss out on so much. My family are my best friends – my remote squad. I hoped, like you, that one or more of you would follow me out here, and we could have all those moments other siblings take for granted. But you were busy building lives, and, despite my relentless escapism, it seemed, so was I.
It got easier to be an American abroad. We elected a likable, intelligent president. The heat was off for a blissful eight years. In southeast Asia three years ago, when asked where I was from I felt okay saying America. ‘Aah! Obama!,’ the locals would smile and say, a marked difference from the responses I’d hear the other (relatively few) Americans getting when answering that same question in India eight years ago. I, of course, knew better then, and simply said Ireland (the country’s societal humility has a great reputation worldwide, and the Irish are welcomed with genuine enthusiasm and warmth. Ireland, of course, never committed any humanitarian atrocities.).
But although the surface of US international relations has changed, the meat and viscera of life at home has not. It hasn’t become easier for you to come and see me, or to go anywhere else for that matter. Your opportunities haven’t multiplied; the toxic over-individualism hasn’t eased into something more unified. Your food is still poisonous. Police presence in the average citizen’s life remains absurdly high. Inequality trudges on, rife with rot. Children are still being shot in school, and the news is still hyperbolic to the point of despair. I know that no place is perfect, but I believe that if it wasn’t so difficult for the average US citizen to choose another place to live, many would. That makes me suspicious.
There’s so much I miss and love about America. The land, the founding tenets, the diversity of lifestyle and geography. The people, when left to live their best lives unfucked-with are the best people I’ve met anywhere in the world. But the constant manipulation and disregard for the wellbeing of the citizenry under which almost all of you live is appalling. I’m one of hundreds of millions who thinks so.
You work too much without protections, you’re lied to and intimidated and told that this is normal, noble. You’re punished for progressive thinking and intrepid approaches to living life. You’re treated ruthlessly for behaviors which in other countries are considered minor violations. You’re medicated like it’s your job to be, on severe and detrimental doses of who-knows-what; it’s fashionable to have a condition, don’t you know. Your police forces train with the Israeli army. Your morals are weird. Democratic, peaceful protests are systematically infiltrated so that messages of genuine concern and dissent are discredited and demonized with the first rock thrown by someone lurking secretly on the inside. New parents are given next to nothing in terms of pay or time off to bond with their infants. Tipping culture is, as a matter of policy, abhorrent and disrespectful. Did I mention that your police forces train with the Israeli army? I could go on.
Simply put, your government does a very bad job of looking after you compared with many other places in the world. To your government, you’re not a citizen valuable in your own right with an equal say in the democracy; you’re a bank account that, when finally drained, will be rendered useless and worthy of ridicule until you either fill back up or they incarcerate or kill you. All of it stinks of mental illness and psychopathy and dangerous social engineering.
It’s not about this place being better. It’s not. It’s filled to the top ‘o the mornin’ with bullshit, too. In fact, no place is better, per se. Everywhere has problems. But you know me. I’m a defiant little shit. It’s meaningful to me to choose for myself which problems I’m willing to put up with and which ones I’m just…not. And since I do have a choice in the matter, I find it very hard to justify submitting to America’s system willfully until it does better. A lot better.