21st Century Woman

Sunday in New York

The city is like poetry: it compresses all life, all races and breeds, into a small island and adds music and the accompaniment of internal engines. The island of Manhattan is without any doubt the greatest human concentrate on earth, the poem whose magic is comprehensible to millions of permanent residents but whose full meaning will always remain elusive.”
E.B. White, Here Is New York

If you ask me, the most spectacular view in all of New York can be seen from the Brooklyn Bridge. This is ironic, of course, given my extreme fear of heights and anything associated with heights (like bridges, or mountains, or Ferris wheels), but it’s true nonetheless. On a good day, the sky is blue and the water sparkles, and the skyline is so magnificent that it will make you believe in an America that doesn’t actually exist.

But that’s the god’s eye view of New York—the one that only exists for those who can’t see the city for what it really is, a complicated collection of streets and stories and histories and garbage…so much garbage. If you could levitate to the West side of Manhattan, you would see that everyone has spilled out into the parks to have their picnics, their family reunions, their daughter’s quinceanera. They have brought their grills and balloons and boomboxes, and the musical cacophony is so great as to be indistinguishable. They will carry on like this until the late hours of 11, midnight, even one am. And if it rains, they will huddle under trees and wait it out, knowing the sun will return and they will dry off. Their resiliency is admirable.

And if you were to pick up again and fly over to Brooklyn in the early hours of a Sunday morning, you would see the Hasdic men with their hats and payot and black coats. You could follow them for a long while and still never see them “arrive” anywhere. If you keep moving, you’ll find yourself in Prospect Park, which at this hour is just a haven for dogs and their people. Hundreds of dogs sprint on a wide open field, and they are the happiest they will ever be in their lives—at least until next weekend, anyway.

You could lift off again and travel just one block or a maybe a hundred, and you would find a scene that you won’t find anywhere else in the world. That’s Sunday in New York.

After today, there are just two Sundays left for us in New York, for now anyway. While my job remains remote through the end of the year, David’s job has called him back to DC to assist with planning for the next version of these life-altering events. The two-city life we’ve been living for the past few years doesn’t make sense under those circumstances, so we are packing up our things and returning to the District for awhile. We’ll be taking over a lease in NoMa from someone else who is coming to terms with their own version of “doesn’t make sense anymore.” It’s next to the NPR headquarters, which even for me is a bit too on the nose.

We both decided it made sense not to return to Adams Morgan, a place we loved and lived for so long. That was a different life, and to return would be pretending like New York never happened.

“…like New York never happened” is so uncomfortable to think about that I don’t think I will.

I didn’t write much here for the last few months, because what could I say? I couldn’t say that living in the epicenter of the coronavirus was so surreal that I’m not sure I’ve even processed it yet. I couldn’t say that we watched people take a shit behind a tree in the park because there were no public bathrooms left anymore. I couldn’t say that the drug dealers on our block became so bold that they cut a hole in the bumper of our car so they could stash their drugs there. I couldn’t say that we watched the park across the street become a sort of Hamsterdam, or that so many addicts lay motionless on the sidewalk in the mornings that you eventually just assumed at least one among them might be dead. I couldn’t tell you how much it hurt to see people with paper masks and holes in their gloves picking up groceries for people situated safely in their apartments. I couldn’t tell you how much I judged people for not accepting the risks themselves, and how one night I cried so hard over the inequality of it that I made myself sick. I couldn’t tell you that we watched the protests from one street over because our jobs wouldn’t allow us to join. I couldn’t say that walking through an empty Times Square is so strange that you will pinch yourself to make sure its real. And I couldn’t tell you how hard it was to stay in the same 600 square feet all the time, even with the person you love.

I couldn’t tell you about the good stuff either. Like how grateful I was to have a roof deck I could sit on alone for hours. That our neighbors looked out for us (as much as people can from behind their doors). That we could buy a car that would allow us to safely eject to the middle of the woods when one more minute inside would be the end of things. For Manhanttanville, which we visited almost every day for 4 months, and for The Grange, and Oso, and Frijolitos, and Harlem Public for figuring out how to safely stay open for the neighborhood. I couldn’t tell you that I’m grateful to live in a city that has invested in parks and green spaces that are available to every single damn person regardless of how much money they have. I couldn’t say that drinking iced coffee in the East Village after the peak of the first wave felt more exotic than traveling anywhere in the world. I couldn’t tell you that riding a bike along the Hudson on a Sunday in May was what heaven looks like, I’m sure of it. I couldn’t tell you about the inherent solidarity with those who stayed in New York—the unspoken sense of having survived something together. And I couldn’t tell you how often I would just look across the table at David and think, “We’re alive. We’re alive. We’re alive.”

A long time ago, long before I lived here myself, I remember telling a friend that it must be strange living anywhere else after living in New York—the world must feel smaller and less interesting. I still think it must.

See you soon, DC.