Evacuation was a far thought from my mind when I first heard about the COVID-19 virus.
Like everyone else, I settled in my blankets and sipped a cup of tea while looking out the window of my Harlem-border apartment. The skyline of New York City glinted just south of me, shimmering light down to the sidewalk. The City that Never Sleeps bustled about on its way to work, a heart pumping millions of its residents through its subway ventricles. The city was alive, more alive than it had ever been before. A little disease could wreak no more havoc than it has already seen.
Even as news reports blared preliminary warnings, nothing really changed. Times Square harbored more tourists, Grand Central Station kept chugging along and sidewalk vendors continued shouting their wares. Everything was the same in this metropolis, and as I walked to work every day, feeling the bristling breeze against my skin and staring into the sun, I never knew that a city that survived terrorist attacks and intense socioeconomic upheaval would be brought to its knees by the Coronavirus.
New Yorkers are tough. I had met them, lived with them, experienced them at their best and their worst. I was one. And I knew their preparedness, their sometimes Nihilistic outlook on tragedies. They have grit and stamina enough to power the whole country. This was all going to blow over, I thought. It’s just another virus, just another flu, just another cold. We would scale back nonessentials for a couple of days and then be back to business. Everything would go back to normal, and I would be on my way back to watching rats scuttle away beneath my feet while I waited for the 6 Express train.
I was wrong. It’s not. This is far more serious than we ever could have imagined.
I’m stepping away from opinion pieces this week to pour out my heart and experiences to you all. Living in New York City has been my dream since I was a child, though in the wake of the Coronavirus it is turning into a nightmare. Evacuating my beloved city has been one of the hardest choices I have ever had to make.
I don’t mean to cause, spread or plant alarm with this article. I just want everyone to read my thoughts and experiences so the reality can set in.
Evacuation was a last-ditch effort for me. Frozen meats and vegetables filled my freezer, and I had enough water to outlast several droughts. I was ready to hunker down and outlast this disease until I heard that the powers-that-be would be enacting a domestic travel ban. Then I knew I had to get out.
My good intentions and plans no longer mattered; I had less than an hour to throw some clothes in a suitcase, grab my backpack and books and scramble out of the city.
Tension mounted on the New Jersey Turnpike as my ride drove inland. The saddest sight was not the line of cars fleeing the city, not the empty lanes on the other side of the concrete barrier, but the scattered homeless people in the middle of lanes, palms open for one last donation from the fleeing crowds. At least I had a home to run to. They didn’t.
Moving home temporarily has not been difficult per, se—rather, it was more unexpected. I find safety and love with my family, but New York City has my heart.
Moving has not come without its fears. I battled with these thoughts as I prepared to come home. Coming from the state with the largest number of confirmed cases in the country, I had to wonder if I would be putting my family and friends in danger. I am not sick, but could I be passing on some germs to those around me?
I found comfort in listening to doctors. For the good of everyone, listen to doctors and social distance yourselves. These people have degrees; they know more than you, I promise. I know it is difficult. Humans are social creatures. We crave the comfort and security often found in each other’s presence. Even as an introvert who enjoys her silence and peace, I have found myself itching to go out and reexplore my hometown.
But I won’t. I social distance for my 102-year-old grandfather, who, though strong and healthy as an ox, is not immortal. I social distance for the immunocompromised in my community, even those I don’t know who could be severely impacted by me unknowingly.
Evacuation has not been easy. But it is necessary. And hopefully, it is only temporary. If we all take precautions, we should all turn out alright.