Three months ago I left New York. I emptied the contents of my closet, packed two bags, and said goodbye to my studio apartment in Brooklyn. I didn’t know how long I would be gone or if I would come back, just that I had to leave. I was afraid of COVID, but mostly, I was afraid of being alone. It started with Cuomo’s stay at home order. I was the last person in my co-working space. I watched as people shuffled out of their offices and locked their doors. I wondered where they were going. I wondered what was next. I rode home in an empty subway car and somewhere between before Manhattan and Brooklyn I realized something that would change my life – I was alone.
My life in New York has always been about being alone. It’s the kind of city where you are alone, but never alone, where you can get stuck in a sea of people going quickly even if you have nowhere to go. Where you can be anyone that you want to be in the company strangers, knowing that statistically you’ll never see them again. You can go days without speaking to anyone but go to a bar and have the best date you’ve ever had, just listening to the couple next to you. It’s a city that never sleeps so you don’t have to. You can go anywhere, do anything, concerts, bars, theater and everywhere where there are people and no one notices or cares if you’re alone. You are on your own, but you’re never lonely, because you’re part of something, united, by a force bigger than yourself – New York City.
I built my life on being alone. My passions – writing, photography, art, walking – don’t involve people and are therefore self-sustaining, capable of great hurt, but never breaking. I was happy alone in my studio apartment. Then Cuomo issued the stay at home order and I realized all at once that I was isolated, more so than at any time of my life, and it didn’t feel empowering. It felt heartbreaking. It was like someone pulled a string somewhere inside that created a flood that came out all at once. Spilled out onto the table and then the floor, and I didn’t know what to do with myself. I wondered when the next time someone would touch me. My hair, my waist, the small of my back. I wondered if I would ever fall in love again. I wondered out loud and, in my head, and in the park. I wondered at Trader Joe’s the line wrapped around two blocks, people afraid of each other, impossible to touch. I wanted to be with someone. I wanted to be with everyone. I couldn’t go back to being alone. I wouldn’t go back. The only problem was social distancing. I couldn’t be with anyone and not for a long time.
So when my sister offered her third floor apartment in Pittsburgh I said yes. I thought I’d come for two weeks, just to get out of the city, I stayed three months. There were seven kids and adults in the house, and everything was taken care of. Breakfast at 8:30, lunch at noon, dinner at 6:30, kids’ bedtime at 8. Pool parties, s'mores at the fire pit, eating outside, drinking slushies (for the kids, alcoholic for the adults), I was part of a family. A real family. For the first time in a long time, and it felt right. It felt real. I wanted to stay.
I came home two weeks ago. It was time. Things are opening up. Life is starting again. I love my apartment and I love my neighborhood. I love New York, but I want something bigger than New York. I’m not sure what that means, especially in the time of COVID, but I think it has to do with people. I think it has to do with opening myself up again, unlocking doors welded, and finding new ways to connect with people. I want to end this with a proclamation of what I’ll do differently, but all I can say, is that I will fall in love again.