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Culture

Living In New York City During The Pandemic: Loneliness, Stolen Dreams, And A Long Road Back

By Keelia Clarkson·· 4 min read
What It’s Been Like Living In New York City During The Pandemic

The city that never sleeps hasn’t woken up yet.

I think we’ve all grown up seeing New York City as almost invincible. It’s survived hurricanes, train crashes, and perhaps the most horrifying moment of every Millennial’s childhood, September 11. But even so, New York has always pushed forward, allowing these tragedies to make it stronger, its people more unified and resilient. 

When I first moved here all alone two years ago, I was taken with the city’s energy — its  people’s unyielding, brisk pace, its gritty beauty, its ability to make you feel like you’re part of a bigger story. That energy all the cliché rom-coms talk about is real. But when the coronavirus was declared a pandemic in March, that energy shifted completely.

COVID Forced New York To Hit the Pause Button

New Yorkers are known for being a bunch of curmudgeons, but we’re curmudgeons that do life together whether we like it or not, because we all live on top of each other. We all take the same stuffed-the-the-brim subway, walk the same bustling streets on the way to work, and hear each other living on the other side of our painfully thin apartment walls. While we may never know our neighbor’s name, we’re all part of the fabric of New York, sharing the experience of surviving in this messy, beautiful city.

Setting foot outside my apartment, even just to walk around the park across the street, felt illegal.

Becoming the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak changed the way New York functioned. None of us did life together anymore. The busy cafes where I’d stand around for half an hour trying to get a seat went out of business. The sidewalks I’d hurried down on my way to an audition were left eerily deserted. The people I’d just started calling my friends fled the city permanently. Setting foot outside my apartment, even just to walk around the park across the street, felt illegal. Loneliness, instead of being something I had the choice to fix, became a constant. The city that never slept suddenly fell into a deep coma, and none of us knew when she’d wake up.

The Purpose of New York Has Been Lost

Unless you’re from here, everyone finds themselves in New York for a reason, whether it be for school, a new job, to chase Broadway dreams, or as the answer to an adventure. And if I’m being honest, the ridiculously tiny, absurdly expensive, old apartments (along with the strange smells) are part of the sacrifice of living in the greatest city in the world. Ultimately, the real reason anyone puts up with pouring their hard-earned money into renting a puny apartment is for the chance to actually live in New York.

None of us came to NYC to sit inside our shoebox apartment for months on end.

But truly living in New York has been off the table for some time now. Sure, we’re still technically here, but the entire purpose, the heart, the joy of living in this city is gone. Businesses and jobs have been lost, communities have fallen apart, the hope of a better future has become hopeless for many. And for me personally, one of the few years I’d set aside to live here and pursue acting opportunities was stolen. None of us came to New York City to sit inside our shoebox apartment for months on end — but that’s exactly what we’ve been doing.

When Will New York Get Better?

In times past, no matter the tragedy, New York City has gotten back on its feet, ready to swing back and keep fighting. But the suckerpunch that COVID-19 threw knocked New York so far off balance that it’s unclear when it’ll be ready to get back up on its feet.

The fight to return to normal has dwindled after this months-long battle, and NYC just feels tired now.

Of course, we’ve made progress — outdoor dining and some retailers are open now. But the energy and purpose of the city and its people haven’t resurfaced, the fight to return to normal has dwindled after this months-long battle, and New York just feels tired now… Which leaves me wondering: When will my dear friend of a city get better?

Closing Thoughts

New Yorkers are driven and resilient. They want to get back to life and see their beautiful city wake up from her coma. While it’s proving to be far more challenging, and taking much longer, than anyone predicted, I can’t wait to have the city I love so dearly back.

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