Riding a bus in Buenos Aires yesterday, the elderly Argentine woman sitting next to me overheard me speaking in English on my cell phone, so she asked me where I'm from. Since I LOATHE and ABHOR hearing that question, I was about to snap her head off... when something about her made me relax and go with it.
So we struck up a conversation: it turns out she lived in New York for 15 years, then in Austin, Texas for another 15 years, and recently moved back to her country of origin because... having developed complications from a "pre-existing condition," she'd suddenly found herself unable to face her medical bills in the US.
"Do you miss the States?" I asked her.
"Terribly," she said. "All my friends are there."
She asked why I live here... and I explained that I left New York after 13 happy years when I decided to start a family, and didn't have the guts to schlepp it like my other freelancer friends had done: not getting insurance until their fifth month of pregnancy to save money... lying to qualify for Medicaid... fighting hostile corporations, whose plans never covered you when the shit hit the fan anyway...
Plus it was the post 9/11 Bush era: we marched against the invasion of Iraq - NO BLOOD FOR OIL - but the forces of darkness were in utter, totalitarian control, the panicked American citizenry, spellbound like rabbits in the headlights, bowing to their every abuse of power. It had become clear that no one was going to be able to stand up to the sociopaths in the White House...
...and the only real and present item on everyone's agenda was the next terrorist attack: not if, but when it would happen. We watched the carnage in Madrid, then London. Obviously New York was up next: every subway a potential booby trap, every elevator ride to my 25th floor office a Russian roulette... And I wanted to have kids. And giving birth in a hospital without health insurance could run me 20 grand if, let's say, I happened to need a Cesarean. So I left.
Shit! I had no idea anything remotely like Obama was in the cards; certainly not in my generation. And yet there were those pesky Americans, at it again: confounding everyone's expectations, they kicked the evil junta out of the White House in the most spectacular possible way...
...and night before last they passed a universal health care bill. And President Obama sent me a nice thank you email for my civic efforts - yes, I hassled all my American friends to step up for health care reform. And it worked.
(The President even invited me to co-sign the bill - they're gathering the names of everyone who worked on the campaign as we speak. I asked if I could sign it even though I'm not a US citizen... they haven't gotten back to me on that one.)
And, what the hell: it makes me happy, even though I'm not there in person to reap the benefits. And though I can afford health care in Argentina, I never did have children after all - long story, not worth going into here -
"You should thank God for that," my bus companion cut in firmly. "Argentine men are way too machista. Take my word for it. You must never, ever shack up with one."
"Oh, no," I replied. "I've learned that lesson too."