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Rebekah’s Pandemic Diary: Nightmare Edition

8 May

As if every day isn’t its own sort of scary dream, I have been blessed with some pretty fantastic nightmares recently. After each one of these I sit awake in my bed, trying to stay up long enough to reset my brain so I won’t fall back into whatever hell my brain had dropped me. Here are three I can remember.


The Man in the Doorway:

A few weeks ago, just as the stay at home order was put into place and my financial viability was thrown into question, I had my first of a series of increasingly terrifying dreams. In that first one, I was in bed when my phone rang. It was my dad who has, in real life, been in a habit of calling me and giving me sometimes daily updates on Cuomo’s press conferences which I find helpful because then I don’t have to watch them. I shuffled into the living space so as to not wake up my boyfriend or any of our pets and I realized that our front door was wide open, with just the screen door protecting me from the outside. And there in the doorway stood a man, staring in at me from our small fenced-in patio. I didn’t know if he had been standing there long, spying, or whether I happened to catch him just as he arrived. I think I was still holding the phone as I walked towards him to close and lock the door, hoping I was making the best bet and he was just a creep, but not dangerous. I awoke with a start as he reached forward and let himself inside the house.


The Women with Scythes:

This is a nightmare I think I have had before.

I was at a gymnastics meet, or so I think. I was there with a group of women and we were all wearing matching outfits. Red with some sort of writing on the front. I think maybe we were gymnastics cheerleaders which feels pretty on brand for me. I was carrying a balloon that I think was supposed to be a letter L – maybe I was supporting LSU? – but somehow I blew it up weird and it ended up all folded in on itself. I didn’t care though. I carried that fucked up L-shaped balloon up and down the hallway surrounding an arena with pride, cheering my head off. Apparently, though, we were only allowed to cheer a certain amount of times for each competitor. I got a little carried away and as I cheered I saw little boxes tick off, one after the other, sort of as a warning. As I ticked off my last box, I was approached by the other women in red, all of whom were now carrying scythes in their hands rather than balloons. They walked slowly and steadily behind me. No matter how fast I went, they were always there, walking, until one of them laid the point of her scythe on the middle of my scalp. I grabbed the handle of the weapon and tried to stop her. I looked in her eyes and knew nothing I could do would spare me. Behind her, dozens of identically dressed women, holding identical scythes, stared. She pressed the tip of her weapon onto my head and I woke up.


The Fire War

I was sitting in my car inside of a garage of a house that is not mine but in which I was staying. The car was facing the front of the garage, the garage door behind me was still open. I was sitting there in the front seat, I’m not sure why, when I noticed some blinking lights reflecting off my rearview mirror and onto my face. I opened the car door and looked and there, over the Hudson River, were planes dropping balls of fire. There were so many planes, so much fire. Rather than running and hiding I called my friend on the phone because, why not.

Friend: Oh hey, you okay?

Me: Well, there is some sort of a battle happening over the river so, you know, I could be better I guess.

Friend: Yeah, I just got an alert about that on my phone but it seems pretty harmless. Just some people dropping fire bombs in the river.

(?!?!?!?!?!??!!)

Me: Why now though? With everything else happening?

Friend: I think that’s exactly why they chose now.

As we were talking, a man who I had not seen enter the garage fled on my right side wearing dark clothes and a backpack. He left the building and, running, made a sharp right turn into the darkness. Mere seconds later, the planes appeared to be moving away from the water towards where all the houses were, where I was. One flew close to the garage and dropped something that looked like a suitcase. It fell and as it struck the ground it exploded into fireball that appeared to be moving in slow motion, directly towards me. I turned and fled back towards the car, knowing full well that it, me and the entire garage would be entirely incinerated. I could actually see clearly what the aftermath of the attack would look like. The last thing I remember before waking up was me saying into the phone,

“Please, please, please.”


So, that’s a glimpse as to how I have been sleeping. Needless to say I’m exhausted. How are you all holding up?


If you are enjoying my writing, and since a lot of the cafes are currently closed, consider buying me a coffee on ko-fi! It only costs $3 (or a multiple of 3 if you’re feeling frisky!) and would make my house-bound, under-socialized heart sing. To those of you who caffeinated me, I send you so much gratitude. And I send gratitude to all of you who took the time to read this piece and helped me hold some of these thoughts. 

Rebekah’s Pandemic Diary: This is Not “The New Normal”

29 Apr

The other day I was talking to my friend Ben about whatever it is we talk about these days. We have had an ongoing conversation over the years about the sayings that really just drive us crazy. One of the mainstays is Oprah’s “aha! moment.” We’ve also discussed Rachel Ray’s shortening of extra-virgin olive oil to “EEOO” which really seems unnecessary. It’s not as if it rolls off the tongue which, in my opinion, is what a good acronym accomplishes. Additionally, and I don’t think Ben and I have discussed this particular thing, I’m going to offer up the phrase “nothing burger.” I honestly don’t know how anyone can expect to be taken seriously when they say that something is a “big nothing burger” and yet I hear correspondents for news organizations use it on air without a hint of irony. In our chat the other day, Ben added another phrase to our ever-growing list, one that we have all been hearing quite often over the past few weeks. It will sound familiar to you.  “The new normal.”

I agreed with him without really examining why. This virus has been unkind to all of us to varying degrees (except maybe Jeff Bezos – I always gotta get those Bezos jabs in), but it has been especially unkind to Ben. I could understand why he wouldn’t want to think of this as the new normal, but how about me? Sure, I hate the masks and social distancing from my friends and family. I hate being out of work and having the days and weeks stretch out endlessly in front of me. I hate this feeling of uncertainty that looms over everything. Will my job be here when this is over? What will the city be like? Will my loved ones remain healthy? The more I thought about this idea of the new normal, though, the more and more I agreed with Ben. I had something of an aha! moment myself, if I had to really distill it down for you. I can not speak for Ben but this is what I came up with, this is where I landed on “the new normal.”

If we start to describe this as the new normal, we are resigning ourselves to that reality. And what is this normal, really. We are currently living in a state that is failing its population. And no, I don’t mean New York State, although there are of course plenty of issues here. I mean the United States as a whole. Over the past few years we have watched as Donald Trump and his feckless administration has dismantled our government piece by piece. All of the norms – those standards that are not codified in law but are instead just an accepted matter of course – have been destroyed. And even as we have watched this happen, have taken note of it, we have been unable to stop relying on the consistency of those standardized practices. This pandemic is the perfect example. I know that there are limits to what state governments can do without federal approval, but we lost precious time in fighting this virus because we all waited for a sign from the feds to tell us how serious this really was. And even as state and local governments started sounding the alarm, still far too late, Trump was using his Twitter account and the Office of the Presidency to spread the lies – not the misinformation, not the alternative facts, the lies – that this virus was nothing to worry about. That it was and would be, in the words of so many prognosticators, a big, old nothing burger. And yet here we are.

Accepting this time as “the new normal” means accepting that our government turns a blind eye to the suffering and deaths of tens of thousands of Americans. It means accepting that the President of the United States as well as tons of other (mostly Republican) politicians acted against the best interest of the population of this country. I refuse to say that there was inaction, because there wasn’t inaction. There was action. It was intentionally callous, cruel, short-sighted and tragically incorrect but it was action. The action taken to prioritize the economy over human health and well-being has been directly responsible for a much higher death toll than we ever should have seen. There are people arguing that sacrificing tens of thousands of lives is all well and good if it saves the economy. An economy that would have been in much better shape had this disease been taken seriously in the first place. An economy that was failing the majority of the population while enriching a few. An economy that, for the sake of low overhead costs and a little convenience, left millions of people vulnerable.

Accepting this time as “the now normal” means allowing demonstrations of military might to replace actual real, meaningful policy work to protect essential workers and all of us doing our best to contain the spread.  Just yesterday, in the middle of a fucking pandemic that calls for staying home, our government decided to fly a bunch of military planes over New York City, the epicenter of illness, death and suffering, to celebrate the first responders and demonstrate the strength of the United States military. We are supposed to stay inside. And so I ask: what is the purpose of flying military jets above the city if not to encourage people to go outside to ooh and aah as they fly overhead? And people did just that. Against their better judgement, against the directive to stay indoors and socially distance, people gathered in groups to watch something truly incredible, truly unnecessary, and incredibly dangerous. Will we have an uptick in infections in the next few weeks? Probably. And why? Because our government is callous and cruel. In an attempt to appear magnanimous in celebrating the frontline workers, the nurses, the firefighters, the mail carriers, the grocery store clerks, all the essential workers, our government made their jobs potentially more dangerous. Our government made us all less safe.

Accepting this time as “the new normal” means accepting a mounting death toll as a part of our day. It means seeing today, seeing right now, as a line stretching before us for eternity. It means saying that science, that ingenuity, that medical advancements will not help us become safer moving forward. Accepting this as the new normal means growing accustomed to this lose and not fighting to remember that each and every one of the people who have sickened, suffered and died was an individual with a life, with memories, with knowledge. To me, accepting this time as “the new normal” means not learning from the mistakes we have made and not realizing that this country is not the best country on earth, not realizing that our country is failing, because it is. A failure that also is not normal.

So, I agree with Ben. This is not the new normal. This is a painful, terrible time that is going to change all of us forever. We will not be who we were when this is all over. We will fight to regain some of what we lost and we will work to improve upon what was not working, what got us to where we are right now. Because right now? Right now is everything but normal.


If you are enjoying my writing, and since a lot of the cafes are currently closed, consider buying me a coffee on ko-fi! It only costs $3 (or a multiple of 3 if you’re feeling frisky!) and would make my house-bound, under-socialized heart sing. To those of you who caffeinated me, I send you so much gratitude. And I send gratitude to all of you who took the time to read this piece and helped me hold some of these thoughts. 

Smiling During The Times

23 Apr

Just so we’re all on the same page, I am calling this current period of our communal lives “The Times.” There were “The Before Times,” there will be “The After Times” but The After Times won’t be the same as The Before Times because of what we are living through right now. The Times. With me? Great.


I know that there is this idea that people in New York City don’t make eye contact, that we don’t smile at each other. But that is simply not true. That might partially be the story of those of us who, over the years, have tired of the throngs of tourists making the city so crowded that we cannot enjoy some of the amazing things it has to offer. Try walking, running, cycling or driving across the Brooklyn Bridge at any time that isn’t a pandemic and you’ll see what I mean. But more than that it is the story told by the many visitors to this city who have, over their lifetimes, been told countless stories about the coldness that will greet them when they visit here. The people who have not realized that New York City is one of the safest big cities in the country. Those who somehow don’t understand that there is a symbiotic relationship between a city and the people who live within it. People visit New York because the city is amazing. The city is amazing because the people who live here have made it so.

In The Before Times, I would walk around the city and make eye contact with people and then I would smile at them. Not a smile that would invite conversation, mind you. I didn’t have time for that because I was for sure running 5 minutes late for something. But a small smile that said,

Hey, I see you.

In a crowded place sometimes we struggle to be seen.

But now it is The Times. And during The Times people are wearing all manner of face coverings. Surgical masks, N95s, scarves, bandanas, homemade things, those creepy ones that I think maybe are gas masks – Eric says respirators – but either way they make people look like they are either underwater explorers or serial killers. I hate the masks. I hate all of them. I hate wearing them and I hate seeing them. Don’t get me wrong, I understand why they are needed and I wear one because it is the only option if you give a shit about anyone other than yourself, but I still don’t like them. They make it hard to breath, they make it look like we are at war (which I suppose we are) and, perhaps most troubling for me, they make it hard to smile at people.

Today, for example, Eric and I took Goose for a walk and got the things we need for the next few days at the store. Eric did the shopping and I stood outside on the sidewalk with Goose, mask firmly in place. For those of you who are making all the wrong choices and have never met Goose, here is her Instagram page. You’re welcome. Point being, Goose is very cute. People LOVE Goose. Usually, in The Before Times they would smile at her when they walked by and then I’d smile at them and then Goose would wag her tail and everyone would be happy. But now they walk by and I look at them and try to figure out if they are smiling and in the meantime I smile behind my mask and then maybe they are trying to figure out if I am smiling and maybe they also are smiling behind their mask and so there we are, blankly staring at each other, smiles completely obscured, not knowing what the fuck to do. We just make a lot of really intense and confused eye contact. So I wonder, Should we all just print out pictures of ourselves smiling in The Before Times, laminate them, wear them around our necks and then hold them up in front of ourselves at the time when we normally would be smiling? And maybe actually are smiling but no one can tell? Do we force everyone to watch America’s Next Top Model and spend their time standing in front of a mirror practicing their smize? Do we use the Defense Production Act to force companies to create see-through masks so that we can be safe out in public and also be able to communicate nonverbally? Do we walk by people and just say “I am smiling at you right now?” I don’t know. I am truly at a loss.

Yesterday, I went for a drive in my car. I was the only person in the car so I wasn’t wearing my mask. When I stopped at stop signs and people crossed in front of me, I would smile at them and they would know. And even though they were wearing masks, I believe they were smiling at me because they could see my smile and read my nonverbal message of

Hey! I see you!

Honestly, I felt so free just being able to interact with the world in a way I was accustomed. I was able to speak the language of facial expressions that involved more than my overly expressive eyebrows for which I currently am more grateful for than ever before. And it was weird because never in my life, in all the time I have spent thinking about the privilege I have, did it ever occur to me that smiling is a privilege. That smiling at someone, and being smiled at in return, is a gift to be treasured. I have caught myself a few times, while wearing the mask, not smiling when normally I would. I have caught myself wondering what the point is. But there is a point. Because there will be The After Times. And even though The After Times will be so different than The Before Times, at least we will be able to smile at one another on the street and in the store.  I am really looking forward to that. Because for all the things I feel sad about, I feel most sad when I smile at someone and they don’t know. I feel sad for the smiles I haven’t knowingly exchanged. The ones I haven’t received and returned in kind. Or the ones I just didn’t know I was given because I couldn’t read what was happening underneath the mask. I deeply feel the loss of those random moments of brightness. I miss strangers. But more than that, I miss their smiles. I can’t wait to see them again.


If you are enjoying my writing, and since a lot of the cafes are currently closed, consider buying me a coffee on ko-fi! It only costs $3 (or a multiple of 3 if you’re feeling frisky!) and would make my house-bound, under-socialized heart sing. To those of you who caffeinated me, I send you so much gratitude. And I send gratitude to all of you who took the time to read this piece and helped me hold some of these thoughts. 

Why is This Year Different From All Other Years?

9 Apr

Growing up, there were a few holidays the paternal side of my family used to get together for. Thanksgiving (or Franksgiving as we have taken to calling it), Hanukkah, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Passover. After Papa, my grandfather, passed away in 2010, we stopped convening for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. We continued doing Franksgiving and something chill for Hanukkah – although now it features less presents and more pot brownies. The one holiday that has changed very little is Passover. We have the same brisket-stained Haggadahs from the 1960s, we make the same jokes, we fill our table with food, family and friends and, even though there are no young children around, we still search for the afikomen that my father, rather than my grandfather, hides somewhere in the house.

This year, however, is different.

This year, instead of sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic crawling my way through Staten Island to get home for our pre-seder drinks, my boyfriend Eric and I cruised back to New Jersey in a cool 30 minutes.

This year, instead of walking into a house filled with delicious smells, loud voices and big hugs, we hung out in the driveway at a safe distance, a paper bag full of brisket, salmon, flourless chocolate cake and vegetarian matzoh ball soup occupying the space between us.

This year, instead of staying up late goofing off with my siblings, Eric and I sped through the Lincoln Tunnel to leave brisket on my brother’s stoop, my sister reported to work as a nurse in a hospital in North Carolina.

This year, instead of seeing extended family and friends, everyone stayed hunkered down at home.

This year, instead of my grandmother holding down her spot at the head of the table, we are without her; she passed away this fall.

This year, instead of getting together we all stayed apart.

I know that if we want this disease to pass over us, we did the right thing. We are doing the right thing. Staying home – or staying a safe distance from our loved ones – is what will allow us to gather for events in the future. It is what will make Passover next year so much sweeter. But it certainly doesn’t make it suck any less right now.

So here is to hoping that as a result of our actions right now, next year will be like all the other years, for my family and all of yours.

Happy holidays, friends.


If you are enjoying my writing, and since a lot of the cafes are currently closed, consider buying me a coffee on ko-fi! It only costs $3 (or a multiple of 3 if you’re feeling frisky!) and would make my house-bound, under-socialized heart sing. To those of you who caffeinated me, I send you so much gratitude. And I send gratitude to all of you who took the time to read this piece and helped me hold some of these thoughts. 

A Lesson from the Past. Thank You, Mary

2 Apr

I had this customer years and years ago. Her name was Mary. Mary was a breath of fresh air, the customer we wish all of our other customers could be. There was a lot about Mary’s life that I didn’t know, but what I did know was that her bar friends were her family. We were her family and she, in turn, was ours. She was a light and part of that was because she always cared. She asked us how we were and then she listened, she remembered, she followed up. And we listened to her. Which is why I bring her up today, in the midst of this pandemic.

Mary lived here in New York City through the 80s, 90s and beyond and throughout all that time was a mainstay in the LGBTQ movement. My first real understanding of the ways the AIDS crisis ravished the gay community was through the stories Mary told me. One story in particular. She explained to me the fear people felt, the conflicting information that was shared and the lack of desire that companies had to do extensive R&D, all of which was brought about largely due to the anti-gay bigotry that permeated society at the time. And she told me what it was like for a woman who cared for ailing friends at home, who visited them at St Vincent’s and who went to their memorial services. She went to so many memorial services. She told me once, and this is something I will never forget, that when the deaths slowed and she looked back at the previous decade she felt as though a plane had crashed. There were so many people gone.

Today, I just sat back and imagined that: a plane full of people you know, or your friends know, lost over the course of a decade. It has always, thankfully, felt so impossible to me. Until, all of a sudden, now.  A friend of mine said to me earlier today, “This thing just keeps circling closer and closer.” She was right. I got cocky. My friends who had it were experiencing mild cases or were, after weeks of sheltering – and coughing – at home, finally seeing a light at the end of the sickness. It was terrible, they said, but they would be okay. I knew, intellectually, we were only at the beginning of this surge but still I was counting my blessings. Hoping that somehow this scourge would pass me and my friends by, leave us unscathed. I knew, also, that it would, without a doubt, effect us all. It would, in the end, reach all our doorsteps. And it has.

The thing is, and I truly believe this, that when someone we love loses someone they love, we lose someone too. It is our job to protect our loved ones from pain. We can’t always do that, of course, but we can hold some of it for them, we can lighten the load. We can hear the stories they tell and share the tears they shed. We can give them an audience, give their person another place to be remembered. And I think we are going to be doing a lot of that going forward. For a lot of people. And maybe we will need people to do that for us.

My head is all over the place. I feel like my brain has been taking cues from those news alerts my phone has been getting constantly. So much news. So much to digest. So many people to check on. How do we keep track of it all? How do we manage it?

We just manage, I guess. Right? Unless you have some ideas?

I guess before I go I will just say a few quick things. Most of us, even if we get sick, will be okay. Most people will recover. That isn’t a comfort to those who don’t, and it isn’t a comfort to those who lose people. And that is not at all to say that we shouldn’t celebrate the good things that happen, that we shouldn’t enjoy our exciting moments (like the fact that my sister Lucy got accepted to Duke’s NP school for September!). I just can’t stop thinking about Mary and her airplane analogy. I truly never thought there was the potential that I would live through something like that firsthand. Yet here I am. Here we all are. And although Mary isn’t here for me to sit and talk to like I did so many times in the past, the fact that she taught me that lesson, that she took strength and perseverance from her experiences, and that she continued on with open arms and an open heart gives me hope. So I am holding on to that as tightly as I can.


If you are enjoying my writing, and since a lot of the cafes are currently closed, consider buying me a coffee on ko-fi! It only costs $3 (or a multiple of 3 if you’re feeling frisky!) and would make my house-bound, under-socialized heart sing. To those of you who caffeinated me, I send you so much gratitude. And I send gratitude to all of you who took the time to read this piece and helped me hold some of these thoughts. 

Our Grief Journey Alone…Together

29 Mar

I have been thinking a lot about grief over these past few weeks. I am certain I am not alone in that. Because the reality is that even if we don’t personally lose someone, or we don’t have a good friend who loses someone, there will be a collective grief that is shared among all of us. For those of us in epicenters like New York City, New Orleans, Wuhan Province in China, massive swaths of Italy and Spain, parts of Iran, the chance of us getting out of this unscathed is miniscule. We will all experience personal loss and we won’t be able to do it together, sharing the same space. So with that sad and depressing mood set, I am going to carry on with some of my thoughts and worries about this very topic, in hopes that some of you can relate or that, perhaps, we can have more open conversations about what this feels like and how we proceed. Maybe we can move forward as the community we are, regardless of how physically separated we all currently find ourselves.

Stay safe, stay healthy, I love you.


A few months back I listened to an episode of the podcast Terrible, Thanks for Asking that dealt with the aftermath of September 11th. The short description of this particular episode was, “A lot of people share a national tragedy. But not everyone shares it personally.” The woman being interviewed, Babs, lost her husband in the attacks on September 11th and through the episode she made this point that really stuck with me. She said that September 11th is a day when we all mourn; for her, though, it is the anniversary of the day that her husband was murdered. It’s hard for her to share that date with every other person; it’s hard for her to demand the space that she needs for her own personal grief journey when she feels a pressure to leave space for the grief journey of so many millions of people. It makes her angry. And then, in that anger, is a sense of guilt. Loss is… so much to process. I have thought about Babs a lot. And the tons of other people who are like Babs. Those who lost their loved ones on September 11th, but also those who lost their people on other dates that have, to varying degrees, become national days of mourning. I’m thinking of the Sandy Hook parents, the family members of the Oklahoma City Bombing victims, the survivors of all the mass shootings we have had over the years, the victims of hurricanes, earth quakes, wildfires. How hard it must be for those people to share their grief date with so many strangers, that day that changed their lives forever the day that catapulted them into the holding pattern that is so closely tied to loss. Yesterday, someone was here. Today, they are not.

And now, here we are, all of us alone…together. We are in the midst of a pandemic that has already killed tens of thousands of people worldwide. Those numbers are rising very, very quickly. Estimates are that in the United States alone we could lose over 100,000 people, more if we don’t contain the spread and protect our hospitals from complete collapse. New York is being pummeled. There is so much grief, so much heartbreak. And I just wonder, how do we process it all? How do we survive this? And how do we, in this time of worldwide trauma, find our own space to mourn our own losses? How do we share this trauma space with so many millions of others?

I’ve been thinking back to when my last grandparent, Bama, passed in the fall. I have been thinking about how lucky we were to lose her before all this, and how awful it must be for those people who have loved ones in old folks homes and care facilities who cannot go visit. How hard it must be if those people pass during this time – whether related to COVID-19 or not – and how they find the space for grief. I have guilt about this sense of relief that I feel, that we lucked out somehow, losing her when we did. A lot of the comfort I got when Bama died was in welcoming people into our home for Shiva. It was in hearing the stories of others who remembered her as she was, before her mind started to go, before she needed round-the-clock care. It helped me wash those last few months from my memory, even if for a moment, and remember her laugh, her humor, her giving spirit. I don’t know how I would have waded through my grief if it weren’t for that shared space, those stories. Would I set-up a zoom meeting? I am afraid that I will soon find out. That a lot of us will.

What do we do? How can we be here for one another through this when we cannot sit across a table from one another, when we can’t embrace? How do we share our stories? Mourn our loved ones? Carve out our own grief journey amidst so many others? How do we potentially take a few different grief journeys at the same time? How do we hold the pain for our friends so they can get a small bit of relief? How do we bury people? When do we bury people? How do we share our news? And how do we, in the middle of all of this, make bit of space to be happy? How do we laugh? Tell me: how are you laughing?

I keep thinking forward, into the future when all of this is over. I think about the sun shining, of all of us emerging from our homes with bleary eyes, stretching our arms above our heads looking around us and realizing the world is still here. In this vision in my mind, it is as if we have all woken from a long, terrible night sleep. It’s as if we were at war and one day, in one moment, that war is declared won. But that is not how it will be, I don’t think. There won’t be a singular moment of triumph. There will be a petering out, and then slowly, slowly we will all be forced to reckon with what is left, with who is left. We will be navigating our new reality. Getting whatever closure we can for our experiences, for our loss. We will finally be together again only now we will have this new shared trauma among us. At the same time, each of us, to varying degrees, will be carrying our own unique piece of it. We will be on our own grief journey alone…together.

It is so much. So very, very much. I am feeling helpless, afraid, sad, angry, worried about what the future looks like. And I really, really miss hugging my friends. So in this time I am doing push-ups so when see each other again I can hug you so much more tightly because we will have a lot of hurt between us, and a lot of time to make up for.


If you are enjoying my writing, and since a lot of the cafes are currently closed, consider buying me a coffee on ko-fi! It only costs $3 (or a multiple of 3 if you’re feeling frisky!) and would make my house-bound, under-socialized heart sing. To those of you who caffeinated me, I send you so much gratitude. And I send gratitude to all of you who took the time to read this piece and helped me hold some of these thoughts. 

Who Will We Be When this is All Over?

25 Mar

The other day during a press conference, New York Mayor Andrew Cuomo said, “if you want to go for a run, God bless you.” So, I went. I ran in the middle of the empty streets and, when cars turned up, I headed to the sidewalks and gave others a wide berth. I dashed back and forth from one side of the road to the other in an attempt to have the sidewalk to myself, to give the appropriate and responsible social distance. I felt a certain amount of guilt through the entire process, wondering whether the people in the occasional passing cars were looking at me thinking I was selfish, careless, putting others at risk. I got nervous when rounding corners, afraid of being face to face with another person, trepidatious in a way I haven’t been since walking home through the French Quarter of New Orleans late at night, my restaurant-issued suspenders dangling down my legs. There were a lot of robberies in the Quarter at the time, not so much of local workers as tourists, but still, you had to have your wits about you. I have felt safe in New York City for a very long time now, this dense city where I feel most comfortable around throngs of people. Now though, I feel safest alone, when keeping a reasonable distance from everyone else.

It’s strange, to walk along empty streets, surrounded only by shuttered businesses and empty-looking apartments. Stranger still to pull close to a building when another person approaches, giving them plenty of space to pass, making eye-contact in a sad, weary way. We all have a common enemy but we don’t know who among us carries that enemy inside, who among us leaves it behind on door knobs and grocery store shelves. We are fighting an invisible executioner, one who lies dormant in some while it ravages others. We are left asking these huge questions: who do we know that we will not see again? How will we let people know we love them? When will we be able to mourn those deaths? Will we ever be the same?

There is something about going through a collective trauma, it seems. A population, a place, is never quite the same after. New York City – no, the world – post September 11th was a wildly different place. New oversight, new expressions of racism, new fears, a new mayor who shuffled in businesses and legislative changes that altered the face of the city forever. New Orleans was vastly different post-Katrina. A city was drowned, and terrorized and those in charge largely looked the other way or celebrated the effects wrought by the changed population. So many people who had made their homes there, who had lived there for generations, fled and never returned – whether they hoped to or not. And many of those who did return came back to destroyed houses, changed neighborhoods, and a bureaucratic nightmare.

So I am left to wonder: what will become of us after we “flatten the curve,” after we make it through the heat of the summer months and assess the losses? The lost friends, family members, favorite businesses, people who left to ride it out elsewhere and decided against coming back? What replaces all of that? How do we move past this experience?

Trauma changes you, we all know that. It alters the fabric of your being. New York, despite what people say, is a friendly place. Blunt perhaps, but friendly. A smile and nod on the street is almost always returned in kind. Streets are neighborhoods, people working at local businesses are friends, sometimes even akin to family. We love hard and we love deeply because, when you’re surrounded by so many strangers day in and day out, finding a familiar face in the crowd feels like magic. The longer you live here, and the more people you meet, the more magic you experience. And let me tell you: it never gets old.

So again, who will we be? After months of staying home, crossing streets, taking precaution after precaution, fearing the enemy that might dwell within, and whether it will be your undoing, will we go back to normal? Will we crowd bars and restaurants, congregate in parks, walk close to strangers on the street and exchange a handshake, a high five or a hug with people we know? Or will this fear embed itself inside of us and turn the friendly, helpful, community-oriented New Yorkers that we know we are into the rude, avoidant New Yorkers people have always claimed us to be?

I don’t have any answers, of course. None of us know how long this will last, what sort of wreckage will remain when we emerge from the safety of our homes on the other side. But I really hope that, after this is all over, I don’t cross the street to avoid someone heading my way, that I proceed without fear to my local bar and grocery store, that I am not afraid to leave my home. I hope we learn from this, that we love harder, that we lean on one another and we proceed with our crowded, overwhelming, busy existence, staking out a place in the grass on a sunny day to enjoy a moment of solitude in the company of thousands of people we haven’t yet met.

If you are enjoying my writing, and since a lot of the cafes are currently closed, consider buying me a coffee on ko-fi! It only costs $3 (or a multiple of 3 if you’re feeling frisky!) and would make my house-bound, under-socialized heart sing.