I moved here six and a half years ago and I’ve got to tell you – I don’t feel any more a New Yorker today as I did on that cold, snowy day that I arrived in a U-Haul from Boston. Through the friendships, the jobs, the apartments, and repetitive bus rides uptown, downtown, and uptown again. Though the late nights in Brooklyn, swanky dinners in Meat Packing, and the overpriced yellow taxis home before Uber and Via consumed my phone. I still don’t feel any more a New Yorker than I did the moment I arrived. Sure, I know the streets better, I can give directions to tourists and recommend the best restaurants in town. But the feeling of being a true New Yorker runs deep the moment you place your cardboard box of clothes and essentials down on your new, small apartment floor. When we make the commitment to sacrifice space for hope, that’s when your inner New Yorker is born. It’s a pulse that runs deep through the veins of those who gravitate here in hopes of a better future – filled with creativity, liveliness, and acceptance.
And then something happened. COVID-19 happened. And for the first time, New York no longer held its grandiosity. Instead of being the city everyone dreams of, it’s the place nobody wants to be. Violent crime is on the rise, real estate plummeted, and the list of closing restaurants increases by the day.
Recently I’ve had a recurring nightmare. NYC is being destroyed by some natural disaster like rampaging lightning bolts, catastrophic earthquakes, or insurmountable winds. The buildings are falling, the ground is sinking, and from a distance I watch the few New Yorkers left in the crumbling city, run for their life.
I looked into it. You know, some Google searches and self-exploration. And I realized that these nightmares espouse my deepest fear – New York will never be the same. Its persuasive beam of light is slowly simmering into a dark shadow as this pandemic rolls on. The hope that your life would transform regardless of your background, mistakes, or hometown reputation – is gone. New York was the Ellis island for our bullied pasts. A safe haven for those of us from small towns who wanted more and had nowhere else to run. Slowly, we would evolve out of our shoebox apartments and into high paying jobs to fancy the city as we pleased.
But now? There’s nowhere to fancy. The list of our favorite places, and those we aspired to go, have been replaced with silhouettes and empty streets. They’re gone. All gone.
Nothing changed from day one to day ~2,000. Sure, I had survived the expensive birthday dinners, crappy flings, abusive jobs, and shady street corners. But it all changed when we were forced to stay inside or mask up. Many of us lost our purpose, our community, and a sense of belonging. Most of all, we lost our friends. The people we always needed even before we knew who they were. The ones who shared our dream and made NYC vibrant, dynamic, worthy.
I hold on to the faith that this city will revive itself, but the reality is creeping in day by day. My nightmares are becoming true. Over time, the city that made us who we are will fade into a distant memory, only leaving sprinkled remnants of what was. The character we developed during New York’s glory days will remain, but the place we grew to love will be gone.