The day I found out my favorite auntie had chosen to turn her back on the family and disown us all was a slap in the face. It’s not that I had ignored the signs, it’s more that I thought they were part of the bizarre banter between an islander and us “continentals”.
Although our relationship had always been a little strained, love and common interests held our family together. I also believed I knew my auntie well; I lived under her roof for years, she gave me an education, and although I am an American now, I will forever have her accent.
As far as I knew, we shared a culture, values, a way of looking at the world, a sense of humor, and a shared appreciation of transnational mobility.
The humiliation of June 23, 2016 endures because I never expected a betrayal of such epic proportions. Today, my heart is ablaze with a mixture of pain, incomprehension, and a sense of rejection and abandonment that is impossible to shake off.
Even though I moved abroad many years ago, Brexit feels like eviction to me, albeit not literally as is sadly the case for many other members of our family. After welcoming us with open arms, our favorite auntie is now throwing us out, severing the ties that bind us together across borders.
As a result, our family is shell-shocked and many lives are in limbo but we will do what families do in times of crisis. We will close ranks, stick together, and lavish a little extra care on members who are hurting the most and wondering whether to leave, too.
The UK is where I spent my formative years as a student and a young adult; it is where I discovered my vocation, too, and embraced it. Throughout my life, my favorite auntie was always there; whenever things went awry elsewhere, I’d go back and stay with her for a while and regroup.
Britain was my safe place, so familiar I traveled the length and breadth of it with North American students when I ran educational tours. It was, for lack of a better word, home for the longest time and will always feel like it even though my family and I aren’t welcome there anymore.
Brexit is a human interest story that reaches deep into the heart of all European Union member states, not just the UK’s. None of us expected Britain to slam the door in our faces, especially not when we were still standing on the doorstep having a polite chat. Casually holding on to the door frame for balance wasn’t a smart move and many fingers got stuck; there was no warning.
Many British and European hands have been smarting ever since, unsure how to extricate themselves from the shambles. In a last ditch attempt to remain part of the family, some of us went to extreme lengths to secure an EU passport, writing a new chapter in European history. British Jews whose German ancestors had been stripped from their citizenship by the Nazis applied for and obtained a German passport.
Because love trumps everything and love always finds a way, no matter how seemingly impossible it looks.
You can go away for a while but you can never truly leave those among whom you belong and pretend they don’t exist anymore. Whether you acknowledge it or not, our bond is unbreakable and so much more than trade agreements and silly euro-myths like the straight banana non-grata.
You chose to leave the family compound and move into a studio to be closer to Uncle Sam but your geographical coordinates will never change. The UK’s home has been continent-sized for longer than I’ve been alive and it behooves those of us who grew up together to keep a place at the table for you.
Know that you will always be welcome whenever you decide to come back, no questions asked, and we will help you to the best of our abilities. If you need anything, we’ll be on the other side of the Channel, our hand outstretched; whether you grab it is up to you but we will never take it away.
How do you make someone understand you love them when they’ve already made the decision to leave and cut off all ties with the family? We regretfully respect your decision, we understand you need time to find yourself again, and we’re waiting for you.
Whenever you’re ready to come home, please do.
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor now based in the Netherlands. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.