People crowded the streets from sunrise until sunset every day; every block was alive with civilians who were walking their dogs or on their way to work. New York City, frequently referred to as the city that never sleeps, was just that. Every street, of every neighborhood, all five boroughs, was always crowded with people. The streets were never empty, and with the weather getting warmer, people were out more than ever. Every morning, the Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts were filled with people trying to get a quick coffee and sandwich before heading to work or school. The parks contained dog owners who were conversing as their pets sniffed each other, and the playgrounds were packed with children playing after a day at school. New York City had never been more alive than it did in early spring 2020.
I had been living in the Bronx with my mother and in Queens with my father. I went to school in the Upper West Side as this was a good middle point between my two apartments. Middle school wasn’t the best period of my life, so I was glad that it was coming to an end, and I could transfer out of the school I was attending.
When New York began to see rising COVID cases, particularly in Queens, my friend Sonia and I thought that the best way of being safe would be to wear latex gloves. Our last day of school was on March 10th, which fell on a Tuesday. That day I had worn a pink dress and had paired it with a jean jacket, and remembered having come home in the best mood because I had spent all of my afternoon out with my friends at the Frederick Douglass Playground a block away from my school. That night, however, my Dean sent an email to the parents. The email stated that they would close the school for two days because a student in our school had come in contact with somebody who knew someone else that had COVID. At this time, any sort of contact with somebody who might have had the virus was a huge deal. They wanted to deep clean the entire building to ensure a safe return to school. Of course, the news that school was closed for two days was the best thing that could have happened.
The two days were extended into the rest of the week, and then it was announced that we would remain closed for another week. After that week passed, they extended the closure until after our Spring Break. Two days eventually turned into the rest of the school year. The school I was attending was private and it wasn’t the most affordable. With the worry that I may not be able to continue at that school, my mother realized that it might have been time to move to an area that was more affordable.
New York City has always been an expensive city, but with the pandemic, finding a nice neighborhood to move to wasn’t easy. There were many factors that came into finding a place to move to aside from making sure that there was a nearby school that would provide a good education, such as ensuring that I was still near my father and that my mother could get to work on the East Side. Finding a new house became so difficult that it took us over a year to settle on a place.
The process of finding a new house wasn’t all that unique for me. I had moved around 8 times, switched schools 4 times, and lived in 3 different countries. I was familiar with what it was like to move, to pack everything up, and leave everyone behind. We spent months looking for a new place to move to until we finally settled on Edgewater, New Jersey. It was right across the Hudson River, only a 30 minute bus from the city, and was a decent distance from my father’s apartment in Queens. I recall my mother telling me when I got home from school one day that she had found an apartment “in a very nice, quiet area.” At first I didn’t think much of it, I just told her that I was excited to move and start a new life. But then it hit me – New Jersey?
Living in New York, I had gotten used to hearing motorcycles racing on the main road outside my house, the ice cream truck around the corner in the spring and summer, the constant honking because of the city’s traffic, and so much more. There wasn’t a time in which it was truly silent around my Bronx apartment. So when my mom told me about the silence, and how little people there were, I realized that this move would be completely different from what I was used to.
Living in New Jersey became a total change for me. I realized that there are barely any buses, and that they only run around every 30 minutes. I found that there wasn’t a deli or corner shop nearby where I could go get a BLT or an Arizona late at night if I was feeling hungry. My school was so much bigger than what I was used to. Everything felt so extremely different. I had moved before, but this time it left a heavy feeling in my heart. From my living room window, I could see the Manhattan skyline, and found myself sitting at the window wishing that I was one of the little people walking through the streets of Soho.
Because I had moved so much throughout my life, and lived in so many different houses and apartments, I never had an idea of where my “home” was. I didn’t really feel attached to any place, nor did I feel homesick for any of the places I had lived in. It wasn’t until I moved to Edgewater that I realized that my home isn’t a building, but rather a city.
New Jersey is where my house is thanks to COVID. But New York City will always be my home.