First Person, Last Word

I Could Have Waited out the Pandemic in Singapore, but Seattle Kept Me

Community and solidarity proved powerful ballast.

By Ruchika Tulshyan March 18, 2021 Published in the Spring 2021 issue of Seattle Met

I gave my mum a quick hug as I walked toward a flight headed for Seattle. Singapore’s Changi airport bustled around me. I boarded the airplane, reassured that I’d welcome her in six months to Washington. In no time, we would savor the lush summer fruit on our weekly jaunts to Pike Place Market. Singapore and Seattle, as different as can be. Both are home. Neither is home. I flew on January 5, 2020. In no time never came.

Over the extraordinary past year, grief for what we lost and what could have been remained the constant thread. In March 2020, Singapore’s government urged Singaporeans like me to return. You’re safe here, officials signaled, as the outside world was brought to its knees by the pandemic. Singapore had a strategy to manage it all. Although Seattle acted early, I knew in my gut that the year ahead would be brutal. I just didn’t know the extent.

I wanted to be anywhere but here. Seattle wasn’t home after seven years, was it? Surely not in a pandemic? I spent hours looking at the shape-shifting clouds outside my Central District window, as if written in them would be the answer to my quandary. Should I stay or go? March turned into June. We were shackled in place. The great contradictions of the year ahead were in full view: so much to be grateful for (shelter, my family’s health, the ability to work from home). Yet so much to grieve (fear, uncertainty, loneliness, a toddler mourning the loss of school).

All around me, Seattle seemed to urge me to not give up on her. I saw it in the crinkles around eyes above masks, solidarity shared among strangers and friends. In the cheers for our health care workers returning home weary, in their deep blue hospital scrubs. In the determination of entrepreneurs, fighting to stay afloat with to-go cocktails and virtual events.

As the months dragged on, tired of being home, fearful of being around others, my family of three got in a car and just drove. I worked on the road, writing from Washington parks: Whidbey Island, Point Defiance, the Kukutali Preserve. Some places were familiar. Most we had deferred for “someday,” which was now here. We put more miles on our car in 2020 than in the past five years combined. Overlooking the Puget Sound’s sapphire expanse from different vantage points, I felt at peace. The mountains here long before my arrival—mountains that will be here long after I’ve gone—all seemed to say: Stay, because we’ll get through this together. So I did.

[1] I was returning from my annual winter month in the tropics with my family and old friends, reliving my childhood, now with my Seattle-born toddler in tow.

[2] Coordinated contact tracing, clear public health mandates, and communicative leadership contained the spread in Singapore and received worldwide acclaim.

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