What happens to a girl when you take New York City, endless hours staring at concrete, and one pandemic?

An image of a green yard with trees in the distance.
The new view from the home office.

The rain is slow and drizzly. I can hear it falling on the leaves just outside my open windows. Other than the occassional bird chirp and the small clack of sound my keyboard makes as I write these words, the rain is the only sound I hear. In my kitchen, I’ve got a pot of coffee and, for the most part, everything is put away. But the rest of the rooms are like a boneyard of my life: winter clothes crawling out of half-open boxes, a mass exodus of tiny proportions; lamps still choking on their own cords from the movers wounding them so tightly; bare walls freshly painted, admonishing me for not putting something up to mark this spot as home. I know this all sounds ominous, but a move is chaotic and long and trying. Regardless, I sit here smiling and content.

Is it odd to say that I already feel at home, even after just one night, in a way I never felt in New York City? New York City was a gamble, both in terms of location and career, but in my bones, I knew I needed to take the risk. Making that jump proved, that even after 40, I could make seismic life changes that push me out of my comfort zone and out of the routine I had created for myself in Boston. Life was extremely good in Boston: I had my patterns, my steady job. I was contributing to my 401k, Friday night drinks with friends, the occasional musical, the hikes every couple of months. What began to scare me was realizing that I could see myself doing the same thing well into my fifties. I felt that in my bones and it scared me. There would have been nothing worse than waking up a decade from now with the realization that I had just let my life become plain. Or that I had stopped doing hard things because I didn’t want to give up my comfort. As a single lady without any sort of responsibility to a child or a pet, I wanted to take advantage of the freedom.

New York City, hoo boy, what an adventure those first few months were. Working more hours than I had in recent memory; meeting new people and nights out, which caused the next morning to be less than pleasant; lone, drunken walks down Broadway at midnight; bartering over a King Crimson vinyl record with a street vendor. Each eruption out of Penn Station like walking into my own made-for-TV movie. How glorious it was! Here I was, some country gal who feels more at ease in the mountains of Colorado or the rolling hills of Thoreau’s Concord reveling in her life among the steel pipes and concrete sidewalks of New York City. I was shedding my old skin, pulling on the new. I jumped wholeheartedly in, a child with both feet splashing into a puddle, and embraced my life in the Big Apple.

Then 2020 happened.

More specifically, the pandemic in New York City came crawling in, like a spirit in the night, slow and quiet, creeping into our homes, and people started dying. Once the virus exploded, it affected everyone. It took away our loved ones, people we just met, and relatives of coworkers. The ambulance sirens were a constant those first few months, especially those first few weeks when we were all trying to get a handle on what we were dealing with. Five or six times a day, the wails would beat out the chaotic heartbeat of the city and yet, during that time, the city felt like home to me. It became connected in much the same way Boston felt connected after the Marathon bombings. What is it about tragedy that pulls us closer? Between the clapping for our healthcare workers at 7 each night, Governor Cuomo’s noon-ish briefings each day, and the innumerable stories of New Yorkers helping each other, it felt good to be in the city, even though we disinfected grocery bags with Clorox wipes, touched nothing on our lone walks of deserted, empty streets, and worried constantly when hearing a cough at the other end of the subway car.

An image of an empty 50th Street in NYC during the pandemic
The view from the 50th Street subway stop on July 17, 2020. This place is usually packed.

We are about a week away from month five—MONTH FIVE—of these horrible times. I am pale. I have gained weight, at least fifteen pounds and, more than likely, it’s closer to twenty. I tried to stay sane and healthy in my shoebox of an apartment: yoga every day during the month of June, healthy meals all through April and May, meditation and being patient with my anxiety and fears, working innumerable hours because what else was I going to do? But that is not a life I can lead. I knew New York City was a temporary thing, a detour of sorts, before getting back to where I felt most like myself. This pandemic has merely ramped up the move out. The inability to go visit my family because of the risk I posed to them while living in the city also became a problem; I have only seen one family member, a cousin, since Christmas (and let me tell you…having him as a lifeline in New York City and actually being able to hug him was truly a life saver).

For the most part, I tend to view the world optimistically. I trust immediately and always assume people are their best selves. I think things will largely work themselves out. Humans are a resilient bunch and no matter the outcome, we adapt and continue on with life. I almost never dwell on what if. The flip side to having that kind of attitude is that I end up planning for the worst. I assume that things will fall apart, I will lose my job, I will get sick, I will be alone for the rest of my life (this is a practical consideration, not just a sad lament). Now, in the midst of the duringmath of extreme chaos, I believe one thing:

We will not have a semblance of normalcy until 2022.

There is a lot of talk about how a vaccine will be available come 2021. That may be true or it may not; I am in no way qualified to have an opinion on that. Even in the best case scenario, if there is a vaccine on January 1st, 2021, it will still take months to vaccinate people, maybe even years. A certain segment of Americans will not get the vaccine and many that want the vaccine will not have access to it. Add to the pandemic that we are in the middle of social and political unrest, causing some very real consequences to American lives, and you can see the writing on the wall. The normalcy we had counted on—that I had counted on in order to make big life changes—is long gone and not coming back for some time.

Living in a shoebox of an apartment is fine. I’ve done it for most of my life, living in tiny spaces. But these spaces were offset with lots of outdoor space, whether it was the Colorado mountains or the woods of Walden. I eventually found out at about the ninth week into the lockdown that a shoebox apartment with a concrete view out the window would cause me to go mad. The only thing that changed with any regularity was what the neighbors across the courtyard watched on their television each night (people’s fascination with reality television is so very interesting). Add to the very high rent and uncertainty of our collective financial futures and my waffling between going or staying ended up in the go column.

Now, almost two months since making that decision, I can’t get over how much space I live in now. And not just in the apartment but with the yard, the surrounding areas, the towns. It isn’t until about twenty minutes from my new home that there’s any sort of traffic or mass of people but, even then, it’s nothing like New York. Or even Boston for that matter. There are very many similarities between here and Lincoln, MA, although this place feels richer, danker, greener. The thick, bulbous, cumulous clouds hang like a drop ceiling of the heavens and touch the verdant, sapphire green fields, verigated lines of meaty, black soil interupting perfect rows of corn. It is exactly out of a movie.

It feels good to be back home, where home is the open space, the self-reliance, the opportunity to walk barefoot in the grass, where animals outnumber humans and crickets, cicadas, and katydids create the 24 hour soundtrack on an endless loop. Where food delivery isn’t a thing and cell reception is just about non-existent. This feels right. This feels like the me I know.

I admit, I do feel cheated out of my New York City experience, if I’m being honest. I could have stayed, for sure, but the experience would have been nothing like I expected. You know me, I love change and I love the experience not working out as expected but this is a pandemic and there are just too many unknowns to contend with. When in survival mode—because, make no mistake, Americans are in survival mode—we go back to the things we can control and to the things that make us comfortable.

The pandemic has changed things for me. 2020 was meant to be my year of expansion but, instead, it has become our collective contraction. I have a novel about 1988 East and West Berlin rolling around in my head that hasn’t been worked on in months. I’ve wanted to complete my degree for years. I haven’t built a bed or desk or even a simple side table since moving from Lincoln. This next year or two will look smaller than I intended but I plan on it being no less rich. I enrolled in two courses at Harvard this fall semester. I’m forcing myself to work a normal eight hour day. I’ve pulled out the Berlin research, notebooks of notes and maps of the city. And I’m looking at building the book cases I need rather than buying them. I’ve begun to re-evaluate. I’ve spent most of my adult life chasing bigger money and bigger titles. And now, truth be told, I’d almost rather go shovel shit out of the horse stalls down the road. No more worrying that I’m missing an important call, no more worrying that I’ve steered my people wrong or made a wrong decision, no more worrying about weekend releases or the tech support rotation calls. No more staring at this screen for so long. These are my dreams when the days become long and the eyes bleary. I still enjoy my career and my job, I enjoy building software, and I like managing people (I actually think I’m pretty good at it too). But, like I said, the pandemic has made me—not rethink, that’s not the word. Maybe refocus is a better descriptor.

But more than the career, more than a degree and an unfinished novel, I realized it’s okay—that I’m okay—if I don’t go explore, if I feel content being on my own. I’ll travel again. I may find someone to share this life with again. But this pandemic has allowed me to find out that it’s okay for me to be on my own; that I actually really, really enjoy it. Who would have thought I’d end up in this tiny New York town, a single lady of almost forty-two, a stone’s throw from Pennsylvania and New Jersey, happy with just the crickets and a cup of coffee? I suppose this is what I have found out: that change and movement is balm for my soul but that city life should be left to small sojourns. There is a calm and peace I feel here. I did not realize just how much I missed that in the city.

As a closing note, I want to point out that these thoughts and my ability to carry out my decisions comes from an immense place of privilege. I have not touched upon the social issues that have occurred during the pandemic in the above post but that doesn’t mean I have not had hard conversations, educated myself, or come to understand the white, female privilege I have. I know that I have been afforded many advantages that others did not—and still do not—have. While the pandemic has changed things for me, I haven’t experienced loss nor am I in an at-risk group. I am working on ways to wield my privilege to benefit others (largely, up to this point, it has been donations to the Southern Poverty Law Center and Black Lives Matter) but since I am still learning and growing, I do not want to write about that which I am only just now scratching the surface of. Please know that while this post doesn’t bring up the issues directly, it is something on my mind, as it affects friends and coworkers and I believe that those with privilege (whether that’s the color of one’s skin, one’s role in an organization, or one’s socioeconomic position) need to support those with less privilege.