LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
The Canada-U.S. border has been closed to nonessential travel since March 21, and it's going to stay closed until at least June 21. One activity that's not considered essential - attending one's own wedding. From member station KUOW in Seattle, reporter Eilis O'Neill has the story of one engaged couple who are struggling with love in the time of COVID.
EILIS O'NEILL, BYLINE: Twenty-six-year-old Ryan Hamilton lives in Bellingham, Wash. Twenty-five-year-old Savannah Koop lives just across the border in Abbotsford, British Columbia. They met on a dating app last year, eventually got engaged and set their wedding date for May 8. But then the coronavirus pandemic started taking off in North America. And on March 20, the news came about the border, effective the very next day.
SAVANNAH KOOP: I think I bawled.
RYAN HAMILTON: I remember you messaging me and saying, like, it's closing.
KOOP: We had this, like, one-day panic.
KOOP: Should Ryan come up? Should I go down?
O'NEILL: They were thinking about trying to cross the border before it closed.
KOOP: I don't think I could think straight that day.
HAMILTON: Oh, not even a little bit.
KOOP: There was so much pressure that day to make a decision.
HAMILTON: That was tough - to feel like we had one last lifeline.
KOOP: And then the day was over, and I think that that was incredibly heartbreaking.
O'NEILL: The day their wedding was supposed to be - it came and went. And the border stayed closed.
KOOP: And I had this thought - we could at least see each other, like, across the borderline, right? Maybe we should meet there. I'm so sick of FaceTime. Ryan's phone's always dying on me.
O'NEILL: So they looked at a map and found a place along the border where they could park, one on each side of the ditch separating the two countries.
KOOP: I am sitting in my car, and I see Ryan's car coming up. And I'm just like, oh, there's Ryan. Like, I can see him. I cried so hard. It was just, like, streams of tears coming down my face.
O'NEILL: But see each other is all they could do.
KOOP: It's quite a wide ditch. It was too wide. It's, like, way wider than six feet.
O'NEILL: They went for a walk on both sides of that ditch.
KOOP: It was so special. And then we started to make it a habit. And...
HAMILTON: The next week, we went almost every day that week.
KOOP: Yeah. Eventually, we see more and more families and couples doing the same thing.
O'NEILL: But more recently, they did get to be a little closer. The Peace Arch Park reopened. That's a park on the border between Washington state and British Columbia where pedestrians from the U.S. side can meet pedestrians from the Canada side without officially having to cross the border. Now Hamilton and Koop can get together after work, hold hands, share food.
HAMILTON: Why do you have lipstick all over your mug?
KOOP: 'Cause I put lipstick on, and then I drank.
HAMILTON: But you never have a messy mug.
KOOP: I know.
O'NEILL: They say the dates are nice, but what they really want is to be married.
KOOP: We haven't been indoors together in almost three months. It is, like, surreal to be like, oh, Ryan's supposed to be my husband right now, but he's not.
HAMILTON: And it's weird not being able to just even start our life together.
O'NEILL: While they wait for the border to open back up, Hamilton and Koop have been meeting with immigration lawyers and financial planners, doing their best to map out the future. They say they have faith things will work out eventually.
For NPR News, I'm Eilis O'Neill on the U.S.-Canada border.
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