4 min read

In Search of Lost Timelines

A stuffed moose toy sits on a box of maple cookies wearing clothes on which are embroidered the US & Canadian flags.

In another timeline, you aren't reading this. You're reading something silly, joyful, titled Friday Open Thread (with Something Nice), you're being invited to share a thought, a memory, an opinion.

In that timeline, I'm in Boston with some of my dearest friends, playing with their baby and going on walks. I'm wearing my coziest, silliest clothes, because I expect to be seen by no one but them and to entertain my near-nephew, so it's all blaseball t-shirts and soft trousers and big hoodies and running shoes.

In that other timeline, I'm cooking food. I'm helping around the house. I'm catching up on two years' worth of conversation. I'm hugging my friends for much longer than would have made sense two years ago, listening to my friends' voices and looking at their faces unmediated by screens. I've started crying more than once while watching them talk, and it's okay because we've planned for this. We've all planned to be gentle with each other as we figure out how to share space and words and food and our feelings, to recognize that we have our ragged edges and open wounds and so little control over our bruised and aching hearts.

In that timeline that is not this timeline I'm having conversations with their toddler who speaks in paragraphs now. I'm giving him a stuffed animal in the shape of a moose wearing a little knitted shirt declaring friendship between our respective countries. I'm piling my friends with two years' worth of well-wishing from my family, who love them so much and miss them too. I'm taking ridiculous photos of us together, all together in the same place, selfies from ludicrous angles to send to my family, and I'm taking photos of our food and the light dusting of snow that fell and hushed everything a couple of nights ago, when, in that timeline, we arrived.

I don't know what borders are like in that timeline, but they must be different than they are here. In that timeline – that, I cannot stress enough, is not this timeline –  borders perhaps exist, but they are not made of teeth, and they are not hungry. They do not strip you of your name, your siblings, your parents, your lineage, your dignity, the hours of daylight in which to drive, the hours of your life you want to share with your friends because you've lost too many people too recently to not want to spend every second you can with the people you love the most on this earth. They do not ask you the same question six times in six hours. They do not ask you to tell them your weight. They do not treat you differently than your white Scottish partner. They do not confiscate your phones or search through them, and you don't have to ask for permission to use the bathroom, in this alternate timeline.

In that timeline that is not this timeline, after not subjecting you to all that, they don't deny you entry to the country where your friends live. They don't tell you that they have deemed you to have insufficient ties to Canada, the country where you were born, and reside, and work, and love your family, where your husband has applied for citizenship, and that therefore they are concerned that if they let you through, you will want to stay longer than three days.

In the timeline where you aren't reading this, I am not heart-broken, I am not furious, I am not crying as I write this. I am not rehashing the ordeal in my head on a constant loop. Instead I am wishing my friends goodbye with my heart full, and I am promising to visit again soon, maybe even in two weeks' time, maybe in a month, because I don't have to be brave and I don't have to weigh incalculable costs and I don't have to marshal strength after strength after strength to endure the same terrible treatment for the sake of visiting my loved ones, and I have been invited back.

It's a wonderful timeline. I wish you were there. I wish I were.


  • I'd appreciate it if you didn't ask questions about this, or speculate in comments; this is as much as I can bear to write about it. I don't know when, if at all, I'll be able to visit the US again, and sitting with that is enormously painful.
  • I know people want to help, or feel helpless, so I'll say that the most helpful thing you can do for me personally right now, as ridiculous as it sounds in this context, is to buy copies of This Is How You Lose the Time War from Porter Square Books in Cambridge, who stocked up in a big way anticipating being able to advertise double-signed books for the holidays. I feel extremely terrible at the thought of an independent bookstore I love being left in the lurch because of circumstances outside my control.
  • I wrote up my top ten books of the year (that doesn't include any friend-books) for the New York Times, which is a first for me. It came out the same morning all of this happened; if you're inclined to leave a friendly comment there, perhaps share the books you've loved this year, I'd take it as a great kindness a few days before my birthday.
  • I'm inexpressibly grateful to you for reading this to the end.