Because we’re holding our own in a great big storm
And though we’re cutting it close
We won’t let go
Oh no I can’t believe
Everything falling down around me
But now we’re holding our own
And won’t let go
“Great Big Storm” by Nate Ruess
I’ve been hesitant to work on my personal writing during the recent “long pause” and while stay at home orders remain in place. For one thing, my job in nonprofit communications requires me to write constantly. Since New York State officially began to close down in mid-March, I’ve written or edited over 50 emails and 200 social media posts. I spend my workday typing into boxes in Slack, Microsoft Teams, Asana, email, and the various other platforms required to maintain a remote workforce. Understandably, like many other people, at the end of the day I’m tired of screens, tired of typing, and lucky if I can rouse the energy to text friends and family to check in.
The other reason I haven’t written much is that I don’t think I have anything unique to share. Has there ever been an event that so completely absorbed the entire nation, media, conversation, and our minds for weeks on end? Sure, I have my own observations on life during a pandemic. As a newly minted New Yorker, I can speak to the strangeness of watching the city shut down and my world shrink to the blocks around my apartment. I can speak to the challenges of working remotely and how quarantine impacts my ADHD, anxiety and depression in profound ways, some good, some bad. I can write about what it’s like to work for a nonprofit that has volunteers feeding the hungry around NYC. I can share stories I’m hearing of COVID-19’s savagely unequal impact on the homeless, my black and brown neighbors, and anyone who isn’t privileged, to begin with, in this dense and expensive city.
Like so many, I lost a loved one during this time, although not to COVID-19. My Grandma De died in March of ovarian cancer after choosing not to undergo surgery. My mom bravely “sprung” her from her senior living facility right as the virus began spreading in Colorado, and cared for her at my parents’ home in her final days with the kind of love I can only describe as awe-inspiring. My family gathered on a Google Hangout to share memories, read poems, light a candle, and toast her memory. It was strange but beautiful.
Like so many, I am frustrated and anxious. I watched the city I love turn quiet and empty. I watched our nation’s “leaders” fail stupendously, stupidly and heartlessly. I miss my family and friends, I’ve been bored, snapped at my boyfriend for no reason, had mornings of paralyzing panic, and nights of tears. I keep track of the daily death tolls and hospital admissions and wonder how the city will ever reopen safely. I quickly became used to wearing a mask to go to the grocery store and sanitizing every item upon my return. I long for the simple pleasures of sitting in a coffee shop or browsing the library shelves. I feel robbed of spring in the city, my favorite season.
Mostly, I miss my New York, the one that made me feel alive, the place that challenged and thrilled me. The place I fell in love, where I wandered among the cherry blossoms of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden just a year ago, where I sat among the patrons singing their hearts out to show tunes at Marie’s Crisis in the Village. I even miss the subway stopping at Wall Street every workday morning, causing a little thrill in my heart. I work here. I live here. To say I took it for granted is an understatement, best captured in this perfectly articulated column by Roger Cohen:
Please, do not be proud. I know, we cursed you with irresponsible abandon. Forgive us, as I forgive you. We did not imagine the silence that could fall, the sirens that would fill the night, the sick and the dying, the doctors laboring on the 10th circle of the inferno, the ghostliness of shuttered stores, the empty skies, the canceled events, the post-apocalypse latex gloves scattered here and there. We took you too much for granted. Yes, forgive us for not giving daily praise for the miracle of New York.
I don’t miss the rats, crowds or crammed and cacophonous stress of navigating the city. But I miss the absurdity, the scale, the drama. I miss the energy. I miss Broadway and the skyline view from the Williamsburg waterfront. I miss people of a million shades and buildings of designs and functions going back centuries. I miss a city that made me feel confident because it seemed to care so little about me, yet accepted me so quickly: an anxious, none-too-stylish, dreamer with ADHD and my overwhelming desire for a bigger, more surprising, more magical life. How fragile that magic, it turns out, this city hanging on a million dreams, scaffolded by hopes and wishes. How lonely, a city without her restaurants and museums and tourists. No one, it turns out, moves to NYC to stay inside.
Like so many, my story is primarily, and maybe ironically, a love story. Love on a global scale, an unprecedented experiment in sacrifice to protect strangers. Love on a regional scale: nurses and doctors flying in to treat patients in NYC, hundreds of volunteers risking their safety to provide meals and meet basic needs. Love on a local scale: the nightly neighborhood applause for essential workers which also serves as a daily confirmation of something basic and yet deeply comforting: that we are all here, sharing so much. Love on a tribal scale: Zoom calls with family and friends providing much-needed laughter and release.
My story, forever changed by the unplanned, six-week experiment living with my boyfriend: just the two of us, his roommates having fled elsewhere. A story of the primal human desire to cling to the people we love and hold fast in the face of the unknown. A story of love amid grief and uncertainty, from our indoor picnic “date” with takeout, to the mornings I brought him coffee in time for his first work call of the day. A story of how we learned to carry each other and how much we truly need one another. A story I can’t describe except as a series of ordinary, extraordinary acts of love.
But the main reason I struggled to write lately is I finally realized one of my fatal flaws as a writer: I’m overly fond of a neat ending. I love to put a bow on things. I love a pithy last line. And the story I’m in, that we’re all in, will not enjoy a neat ending. My boyfriend has new roommates, so I moved back to my apartment alone. I’m proud of my work, but I’m burned out. The Zoom game nights and Skype reunions became less frequent and then stopped altogether. Everyone is drawing inward to conserve energy for the long haul. Nothing is novel. Nothing is fun. My world has shrunk down to the smallest of pleasures: rewatching favorite movies, a cold beer, clean laundry. It’s not enough. Everyone I talk to is bored, cranky, and tired, and feeling guilty for being bored, cranky, and tired when so many are suffering and dying.
Without someone to share chores and cooking, I’m forced to confront the ways I used the outside world and other people to accommodate the tasks that my ADHD makes difficult. I’m literally trapped with dirty dishes and an unmade bed, making me feel like I failed although I’m working full-time. In the last week, my old friends Anxiety and Depression crept out of their usual hiding places (somewhere just out of sight, but never far away) and started to press in. Every small thing takes an unfathomable amount of energy: returning a text message, making breakfast, cleaning the kitchen.
As a nation, as a world, we’re at what feels like it should be the end of a long road, but it’s not the end. We don’t know when this will end or what follows. Here in the epicenter, it could be months before a renewed energy permeates the boroughs. We’ve lost thousands of lives, and many more people lost their jobs and are hungry and desperate. I don’t know how to put a bow on that. I don’t know how to make it neat. I don’t know how to make it better. I can’t fix it. I don’t have a pithy last line.
All I can do is hold my love close and wrap my arms around him. All I can do is wake up every morning, make coffee, sit at my desk, and look out the window at a world that’s still turning. All I can do is write words of love. All I can do is focus on what’s in front of me. All I can do is try to stay safe and healthy. All I can do, all any of us can do, is carry on.
One thought on “The Long Pause”
You are a terrific writer!! You write what other people feel. And a wonderful, empathetic person. Never forget it…
You’ll get thru this just fine whether you stay here or move back to Denver.