I left Boston with two carry-on bags and a suitcase, intending to live in London for six months before returning home.
Four years and twelve countries later, I’m in Portugal, still living out of those bags…minus the suitcase. This arc of my life had a very defined beginning, but so far has had no definite ending.
This is the story of my past 1500 days.
It wasn’t so bad, at first. The fear was high, but so was morale. I was back in the same time zone as most of my community, and that made supporting each other easier. But Summer was still in London, and that was…hard.
My plan had been to stay in Boston for at least six months and work on a strategy to get back to her in London, but the person I was subletting for was forced to return after only two months: apparently it became impossible to find supplies along the trail. I wasn’t about to try and keep their room under those circumstances, so I began looking for a new place to live while they crashed at a friend’s place. It was around that time that Summer’s program ended and she was hoping to escape London, so it actually worked out well: she would not have been able to move back in with me if I had still been subletting that room. One of my close colleagues was one of the earliest to flee the city, and offered to let us ‘watch his place’ in Somerville for the summer, FriendBnB-style. It was perfect: a bit bigger than our old studio in Davis Square and a few hundred bucks cheaper, with a fully separate second room that proved crucial for our sanity during lockdown.
I moved into that place in June, just a few weeks before Summer made her London escape and joined me. She returned to London only a few months later.
She’d decided to take a risk and try her first term at grad school online, but didn’t fancy tempting fate by throwing a five-hour time difference into the mix. Before she left, though, we had to change homes again. And once again we were saved by FriendBnb: my good friend had good friends who had also fled the city, and were willing to let us live in their two-bedroom Cambridge apartment for only $1000/mo + utilities. It was for sure at least half the price of what they were actually paying, but we weren’t about to pass up a deal like that: it was the most space we’d ever shared together, even if we’d only be sharing it for a month or so. After we’d moved in, she left for London, and we were once again living apart, but this time in the hyper-isolating COVID-times. I don’t know if you can really compare experiences, but I got the feeling that she had a worse one than I did during the months we were apart. She left Boston in August of 2020, and we began our longest separation ever, in more ways than one.
In December of that year, one of the folks from my office (well, you know what I mean) shared a news article that would serve as a catalyst in my life. A group of community and business leaders in Hawaiʻi were going to pilot a program to incentivize people to come work remotely from the city of Honolulu. The idea was that members of the program would have their long-term assimilation into Hawaiʻi bootstrapped in exchange for monthly community service and becoming culture ambassadors for the islands. They were going to start with a pilot group of 50 people, and then continue with seasonal cohorts if it proved successful.
I was intrigued, to say the least. By that point, the Boston office had been closed for nearly a year, and talk was beginning around how to structure the reopening (surely we were nearly out of the woods by this point…right?). My company issued a statement that they would be willing to work with us individually on a strategy that suited us, be that continued work-from-home, a full return to office, or some sort of hybrid approach. With visions of Hawaiʻi in mind, I asked whether my home could be in a different state, and things started getting dicey. I thought by this point, they’d surely be willing to support me if I wanted to leave the state: I’d worked for them for nearly six years, and held the unofficial company record for most business trips taken outside of the sales department; not to mention I had just proven I could maintain my high performance despite living in an entirely different country for an extended period. I have a better perspective on their situation now; back then, though, I was pretty hurt when they eventually told me that no, they couldn’t continue to employ me if I moved to Hawaiʻi, and I suddenly realized I’d already made my decision. It would suck to leave the company just because they wouldn’t let me leave the state, but that’s what I was going to do.
And you know what? I was going to take Summer with me. She had been on the fence for a little while about aborting her time at graduate school until the world reopened. When I told her I was going to apply to this pilot program called ‘Movers and Shakas’ and move to Hawaiʻi, that pushed her over the edge of her decision. She filed for a leave of absence, and began making plans to escape London once again: she would come back to Boston first, and together we would leave. On my end, I submitted my application to Movers and Shakas and began talking with my manager. Geoff was far more laid back about where I worked than our department head, and he was like, “I don’t have a problem if you move to Hawaiʻi, but the company might ask you to come back eventually so just be prepared for that.” And prepared I was. We were nearly a year into COVID and personally I didn’t see any signs of it ‘ending’ soon: if I was going to Hawaiʻi in the middle of a pandemic, I was going to move there; this would not be a trip with an end date. It was now January 2021, and after discussion with Summer, she would return to Boston in February, and we would move to Hawaiʻi on March 1st. The move was going to happen regardless of my acceptance into that program or permission from my employer. I would cross the bridge of forgiveness when I came to it.