Photo by Victoria Turner.

Ascend or Descend

Graduate Division

Part 5 of a photo series on life after 2020. Leaving the country for the first time after 2020, it’s strange to see how siloed the world has become.

At this point, Copenhagen has hit a trough in its COVID cases. Masks are not required anywhere outside the airport. Back home, San Francisco is still riding a delta wave that keeps us in the grind of mask-test-quarantine. The asymmetry of the two is startling, and I spend most of the time catching stares as the only person wearing a mask on a train or bus. I wear one because I need to make sure I will test negative to board my flight home.

The other strangeness of being outside the country is that everything you take for granted, facts of life that seemed reliable as a square on a piece of paper, are revealed to be hiding other dimensions.

People here ride their bikes everywhere, in great numbers, regardless of the rain. The graduate students I’m staying with can afford to have a spare room in their apartment, which also has a large living room area and cozy reading nooks next to the windows overlooking the street. I somehow struggle to latch and unlatch the windows, which have a different design than anything I've used beore. Someone develops flu-like symptoms and gets a same day rapid test and PCR test, which come back negative. Rapid tests and PCR tests are free and don’t require an appointment, whether you are a resident or tourist.

As someone studying at an academic medical center, I think a lot about healthcare. Medical expenses are a large contributing factor to personal bankruptcy in the United States. It often occurs to me that I am one chronic illness away from my savings sluicing away, then those of my family. Perhaps someone is farther from the leak that drains the reserves, but no one is so far as for it to be unthinkable. The speed with which someone can find themselves facing crushing medical debt is peculiar to systems like that in the US.

In the stairwell of a building in Denmark, I hesitate, looking at the sliver of the outside through a window. I can see the building next door, and the courtyard that leads to the street. At night, there are partygoers carousing outside, and I lie awake listening. Where do we go from here? How do we get there from here?