On March 13—Friday the 13th, as it happened—my husband was driving down a Polish highway when he turned on the news and learned that the country’s borders would shut down in 24 hours. He pulled over and called me. I bought a ticket from London to Warsaw minutes later. I don’t live there all of the time, but my husband is Polish, the only house I own is in rural Poland, and I wanted to be in it. The next morning, Heathrow Airport was spookily empty except for the Warsaw flight, which was packed with people trying to get one of the last commercial trips back into their country. During check-in, agents were refusing to board passengers without a Polish passport (I have one) or residency documents. Then someone realized that the new rules went into effect only at midnight, and so I witnessed a conversation between one of the stewards and two non-Polish passengers: “You realize that you might not be able to fly out again. You realize that you may be in Warsaw for a very long time …”
That same day, we called our college-freshman son in the United States and told him to get to the airport. He had been planning to stay with friends and family after his university closed. Instead, we gave him 30 minutes’ notice to get on one of the last flights to London, connecting to one of the last flights to Berlin. By the time he landed in Europe on Sunday, Poland had shut its borders to all public transportation. He took a train from Berlin to Frankfurt an der Oder, a town at the Polish-German border. Then he got out and walked across, carrying his luggage, as if in a Cold War movie about a spy exchange. He saw roadblocks, soldiers with guns, men in hazmat suits taking temperatures. My husband picked him up on the other side.