When people ask me why I’m leaving New York, I give a variety of answers. Often, I just say that it’s time for a change, and that I would like to spend my adult life in more than one place. Much of the time, I’m excited by the thought of having a new city to discover and write about. I’m looking forward to having to cross only the English Channel, rather than the Atlantic, to get to the European mainland, so that I can visit places—Lisbon? Prague? Antwerp?—I traded for America all those years ago. I’m happily anticipating walking from Primrose Hill to Little Venice by following the towpath of the Regents Canal, a dreamy, peaceful back route through the city; swimming in the natural, tree-ringed bathing ponds of Hampstead Heath; and having a local pub again. After decades of being settled, I am exhilarated by this voluntary unsettling. I used to feel that getting to New York from my provincial English home town was an evolutionary leap as vast as that from fish to amphibian, and that I could do no more than flop, panting, on the shore. I hope that my move to London will reveal that I can evolve yet further.
Still, however much I assure myself that my choice is a bold one, it is also a retreat of sorts. The terrible thing—the unspecified, unimaginable thing that I used to say could dislodge me from America—finally happened, and not to me alone but to the country itself. I’m not leaving because of Trump, but I’m not not leaving because of him, either. The day after the 2016 election, George and I dropped our son off at school, and we walked in endless, shocked circles around the park at the end of our street. We saw friends, and embraced them with few words, in tears; it was as if everyone were in mourning. We could leave, George and I began to whisper to each other. Should we leave? When will we know whether we should or not? When might it be too late?