When the world shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic almost exactly a year ago, what I missed—instantly and with an intensity that gave me literal stomachaches—was my friends. I’d gotten so used to seeing them for nights out, dinner parties, and hungover coffee strolls that adjusting to months of near-total isolation was harder than I wanted to admit to myself. When I saw my friend Maya in person again (albeit outdoors and at a distance) for the first time in late June, we both humiliated ourselves by not-so-subtly tearing up.
Now that I’m vaccinated, I wake up nearly every day in a state of joy that I would have found unfathomable during the long, hard months of winter, when I forayed outside only to meet up with friends for occasional, freezing outdoor meals or park jaunts. It’s not just the prospect of being able to socialize indoors again with other vaccinated friends that has me feeling hopeful, though. It’s also the prospect of rediscovering my relationship with myself, a bond I used to nurture with regular solo dates to restaurants, galleries, bookstores, and other favorite spots across New York City—and that I’ve been forced to neglect almost entirely over the past year.
I grew up as a fairly weird, socially anxious child on the Upper West Side, which meant that many of my most cherished memories of the city were made alone—from wannabe-precocious trips to MoMA (no, I didn’t understand any of the art, but I loved the gift shop!) to the simple trek to Lenny’s Bagels around the corner for a hot chocolate and extra-large muffin. As I got older and relocated to Brooklyn alongside many of my best friends from college, I became more of a joiner, but I still hold a special place in my heart for a day spent on my own in New York.
Over the past few months, though, a mix of seasonal depression and COVID-19 anxiety has prevented me from spending much time outside my apartment unless I had a solid, social reason. I knew I’d feel better if I went for a solo walk around Prospect Park or stopped by my local coffee shop for a latte and a chat with the cute barista, yet nine times out of ten, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. My vaccinated status certainly isn’t carte blanche to throw caution to the wind—especially with the troubling new COVID variants emerging at home and around the world—yet receiving my Pfizer shots has made me feel a little bit more like a New Yorker again rather than a situational shut-in confined to my bedroom by fear. It was Djuna Barnes who called New York “the meeting place of the peoples” and—somewhat less high-mindedly—Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and the City who said, “You’re never alone in New York,” and as we head into a tentatively hopeful spring, I’ve chosen to believe them.