I arrived in New York at the start of Winter. I’ve never really experienced seasons before, and among all that I couldn’t control (would I like the city as much I thought I would? Would I make friends? How much of an imposter would I feel at work?) the biggest thing I could prepare for was the weather change.
Everyone: Be prepared for the cold! You’ll hate the cold! Buy thermals!
Me, day 4: Yeah, it was cold. But was it that cold? I can do this, surely.
Right before the first snowfall, after naively mistaking sleet for something charming, I was already counting down the days till Spring. The magical point in the year when averages sit higher than zero, until they finally hit that golden double digit mark.
A few weeks later, when Spring finally came around, New York went quieter. The C word started creeping through news updates. Whispers of, ‘should we really be worried around this?’, starting spreading around the office. As the subway flung us around on our morning commute, metal all scrappily and loud, people looked like surfers, refusing to hold the handrails and balancing with their feet. I remember internally chanting "don’t touch anything, don’t touch anything” as I scurried between trains, escalators, stairs, elevators, until I was finally at my desk. As if it had some kind of protective bubble around it.
Within days, life had suddenly changed. I remember making jokes to friends at work, including one very stupid post-it I left on their desk the day the office closed abruptly—“stay safe. don’t die. byeeeee”, clearly unaware of just how big this thing was, and how it would quickly impact the lives of millions. I received messages with similar jokes from friends, “rip the girl who couldn’t not touch her face”. I overheard early conversations where people judged others for not coming into the office anymore because of the “the risks”. What risks, they scoffed. The pandemic genre was (is?) trending on Netflix, and watching Contagion felt like some satirical view of the future. During week three of working from home, someone on my team suggested we grab dinner. But retracted. Yeah, guess we probably shouldn’t do that.
It’s so strange that life in a lot of ways has never been simpler (in a practical sense) and yet harder to parse (in every other). I realise that this simplicity stems from a mix of boredom, but also the luckiest form of privilege. I am safely at home, continuing to work. And I’m able to do so because of the thousands of essentials workers—or simply, people like us with loved ones, pets, families—who are still working like nothing’s changed, to keep cities like New York running, to treat the millions who have had their health impacted, and to tend to the needs of humankind that don't just stop in the middle of a pandemic (among the list: toilet paper, beans, and oat milk).
Speaking for myself and the bubble of people around me, it felt like at some point over the last few months, we all questioned and readjusted our views on the height of the severity—the measures that went from recommendations to requirements , the rules that went from suggestions to orders—until the numbers just kept lighting up our screens; splashed across the news, messages from family back home, every single tweet. It was here, and came with it were the sounds of ambulances racing through Brooklyn at all hours of the day, and reading and re-reading Unprecedented Times and The New Normal until it became the unofficial slogan of 2020.
There’s no quick way to answer the “how are yous" at the start (yet another) work Zoom call, the passing dms from friends, or the very concerned messages from a very concerned mum who happens to be 16,000 kilometres away. It’s taken me months (literally) to write this, which started as a note on my phone as I waited in a Trader Joes line in April (a very nice Spring morning in the double digits, I might add), and is now being edited (see: scrutinised) on a warm Sunday afternoon (which sounds swell, other than the raging humidity and humming window AC unit).
Fragments of this answer piece together as I scroll through the mess of unorganised photos on phone—a collection of small moments that have unintentional become a timestamp of the last five months; the simple things I've noticed that often get lost in the hurry of it all. This reads like a rosy-coloured silver lining, but it's really just a melancholy love letter inspired by Roger Cohen's ode to NY.
Thing 1: This old engraving of an intersection of streets.
Thing 2: An empty subway car at peak hour, as I was on my way to pick up a renewed passport, which now just feels like a useless bind of nice quality paper.
Thing 3: The first week after lockdown finished. Take out by the park. Naturally, handstands followed.
Thing 4: A small project I wish I was a part of. Fun Figma cursers, where I very much enjoyed hovering around as an avocado for the day.
Thing 5: This magnolia tree that convinced me I must have a magnolia tree in my front yard one day.
Thing 6: Absolutely no one in SoHo on a Saturday afternoon.
Thing 7: Melting ice cream cones from one of the many ice cream trucks round our neighbourhood.
Thing 8: These posters of encouragement hung up in apartment windows. I think this was my fave. I too hate Covid, but love cats.
Thing 9: I’m sorry but sunset views will never get old. This one was pretty spectacular. Also a big fan of looking at whatever the sunset’s hitting during golden hour. Matt Damon lives in one of these buildings, and Gerry and I always joke about how here’s peering at the sunset from his penthouse like the rest of us. How humbling.
(Thing 9 3/4: Another pretty glorious sunset.)
Thing 10: This sticker by Tim Lahan.
Thing 11: The third proposal I’ve seen in Central Park. I always wish there was place to send these so the couple could have a collection of hundreds of photos from complete strangers.
Thing 12: Cranberry Street. I wish I was joking about how many photos I have of this exact spot. But I love it, and I’ll probably continue to keep taking photos of it.
Thing 13: 9pm pizza during an unbearably humid night.
Thing 14: Post-its, paper, an actual whiteboard - January, 2020. Who knows when this will happen again.
There are lots of other artefacts we all have of this time—songs we listened to, books we read, side projects we started, routes we ran, but my camera roll has always felt like a nostalgic time capsule, and now more than ever before.
Signing this off sounds as if I’m now on the other side of it all, when I’m really still in the midst of some strange unknown (ahem, unprecedented) time. Maybe it is getting better. Or maybe I’m just getting better at sitting with the uncertainty.