It’s hard to believe that just two weeks ago, if I stepped out of my apartment on 3rd ave, I would have been whimsically lost in the chaos of lights, faces and sounds. Today, walking Gizmo for a brief escape from NYC-apartment-confinement, I was overwhelmed by the empty silence.
The few people I did see scurried quickly along, their faces covered in masks, their eyes gripping the ground. Across the street from me, at Trader Joe’s, a line of masked apparitions standing six feet apart, wrapping around the side of the store.
Which is why I decided to look for bananas in the corner bodega at the other end of my block. I’ve been there a thousand times, always the same middle-aged arab man behind the counter – always the same courteous exchange of “how’s it going,” accompanied by a smile.
But today, all I noticed was that he wasn’t wearing gloves. Just as I’d hoped, they did have a stack of bananas – but looking at them, all I saw was how many invisible viruses could be lurking. I stocked up on non-perishables right as this all started, but fresh fruit, produce…those still require exposure.
Poor Gizmo. He doesn’t understand what’s going on – he still wants to take his time and sniff everything as we walk, trying to make the most of his time outside. He doesn’t understand why I’m more urgent with him now, hurrying him along, pulling him six feet away from masked apparitions we pass on the sidewalk.
When we get back to the apartment, I take off my jacket, shoes and hat – I keep them quarantined by the door. The first stop is the sink and soap, happy birthday twice as I scrub my hands, then wipe down the bananas with disinfectant wipes. Anything that comes through my apartment door gets wiped down with disinfectant.
It feels like the epicenter of a pandemic. So empty, yet still so biologically dense – who knows who has touched what when you step out of your apartment. So many people scurrying by all day long – leaving behind their viral fingerprints long after they’ve disappeared back into their bunkers.
It’s day 12 for me. Today has been the hardest emotionally. Last week distracted with the surreal – the figuring out of a new reality, the naive hope that we’d quickly return to normal. This week though, it’s all settled in – including the vastness of a still open ending.
I’ve wanted to write about this for some time, but haven’t had the words. It’s as indescribable as it is overwhelming.
Here, in NYC, we trade living space for the pulsing energy, the ecstatic unexpected and the human connections of streets that are quite literally alive. I can’t imagine the pandemic’s effects – the parade of closed signs, the ghost streets, the at-a-minimum-of-six-feet isolation – is more stark anywhere else in America. Here, we can hide from the virus, but we can’t hide from what it’s done.
Constant anxiety. For a few moments, every morning as I first open my eyes, there’s the nothing of waking up and collecting my senses. The anxiety isn’t far behind – and it doesn’t leave. I turn on Cuomo’s briefing. What are the latest restrictions in the city, what are the latest numbers, how are the hospitals holding up…there seems to be less room for error in decisions I make here. If it spirals, it will spiral fast. I can’t simply ignore it, my car is staged and ready to go just in case…
It’s all so overwhelming. The frustration with the glaring fallacy of predicting the rate of growth in confirmed cases when you have no baseline, and don’t contextualize against the increase in testing. The resigning helplessness when you realize logic doesn’t matter anymore, that fear is in control now – and fear is leading us. The anger at watching the partisan childishness you see in Congress, or on your social media feeds. The fear welling deep inside me when I realize we’ve started blaming, more than solving.. The horror and sadness you sink into when you think of the hospitals, a few blocks away from my apartment – the nurses, the doctors, the infected. Their victories, and their losses…
I take Gizmo for a walk on these empty streets and wish everyone could see how sick coronavirus has made this city…
But it’s not the only thing I wish people could see. I wish people could have seen the younger people helping the older people get things off of the top shelves in that crowded grocery store when I went a couple weeks back. I wish people could see the elderly being offered spots at the front of the 3 hour line.
I wish people could see the beauty amidst this darkness. The texts I get every single day from friends scattered around different corners of the city, just checking in, just lifting each other’s spirits. The bonds I’ve made with two neighbors in the building who I’d previously only exchanged passing hi’s with. The emails I get from nearby restaurants organizing food drives for the frontline hospitals nearby. The understanding emails our landlord sends every day, the resilient kindness I see in fearful eyes every day, and the smiles – the smiles old friends and new acquaintances bring to my face every day.
Someone who can make me laugh and forget all of this, even for a few passing moments, with their company.
I wish people out there could see the way people have come together in here…not just see the horrible headlines on TV, not just the sad,empty streets, not just the foreboding epicenter. In all of this, amidst the terrifying pandmeic, the resilient beauty is the most overwhelming of it all…
Today is day 12. It’s been almost two weeks. There’s still no end in sight. They say the worst is yet to come. We don’t know what’s around the corner. We’ll either face it together, or we’ll face it alone. Right now, that’s the choice that matters.
Be safe out there.