“So, are you going to leave New York City now?”
“No. I am not leaving New York City now.”
“This is a big deal, Theresa. I mean seriously big!”
“Oh, trust me. I know this is big. But I’m not leaving New York. I wouldn’t even if I could.”
Friends ask me this question after every disaster or challenge. Will this be the last straw that finally makes me leave New York? The World Trade Center bombing in 1993, the terrorist attacks on 9/11, the power outage in August 2003 and Super Storm Sandy in 2012. This time, though, the question pisses me off. This is my home. My town. MyNew York City. I’m not leaving it. And, if I were to ever do that, I would not move to a “safer,” “more civilized” or “less expensive” city in the United States. I would leave the country. NYC isn’t a place for me to live; it’s in the blood that runs through my veins. My funeral desires are clear: I want to be cremated, put in a firecracker and exploded over Manhattan so I never have to leave the city. Even if this administration succeeds in driving us from the country, I still want to come back to NYC for eternity.
I won’t deny that it’s very hard to see what’s happening here. It guts me every day. This virus makes me feel lost, sad, aimless, confused, angry, scared and exhausted. Sadly, the shock of standing in line outside a grocery store has worn off. But the frustration of routine items being out of stock has not. I’m tired of wearing a bandanna as a face mask, putting on gloves and spraying down the carts with my travel-size bottle of bleach solution, careful not to get any of it on my clothes. I’m distressed over our laundromat closing, and anxious about where we will get our clothes washed now.
My chest gets tight and I get tears in my eyes when I think that Abe, the dry cleaner who helps me when my zipper is stuck, gives us rose bushes for our terrace, and brings us pistachios from his native Iran, may go bankrupt from this pandemic. That Alex, the cobbler who’s fixed my shoes for almost forty years, may never open again. He’s already had to close one location a few years ago because of tough times. I pray that Jimmy in the deli, who lets me pay for coffee later when I don’t have cash on me after the gym, survives this virus after being exposed to neighbors and strangers daily. My heart breaks when I think I may never again see the guys from Double Dragon Chinese, who regularly deliver edamame, seaweed salad and General Tsou’s chicken — “Extra hot sauce, please” — to our front door. Or that Gaia won’t be around to serve her fresh arugula and frittata Sano sandwich or that Café Himalaya may have served its last spicy potato and pea salad.
I’m profoundly moved by what people from across the country and around the world are doing to help my city. I’m forever grateful to the nurses and doctors flying into the belly of the beast to support our medical teams working tirelessly to save my fellow New Yorkers from dying. I thank the U.S. Navy, which anchored a floating hospital in New York Harbor, and the engineers and soldiers who turned the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center into a 4,000-bed, field hospital. I am so appreciative of the states of Oregon and California and the country of China for sending us respirators. With the herculean effort all of them are making risking life and limb and sending supplies to help my city, why now, of all times, would I abandon her? How could I? I understand it’s probably one the most unsafe places on the planet right now, but New York City is bleeding and in tremendous pain. She is going to need me to hold her hand, serve her soup and help her stand again when this is over.
So, for now, I’m doing my part and staying home. I’m going through closets and drawers and finding things in our apartment I forgot about while I was living in my busy city. I’ve pulled out the sterling silver flatware and Wedgwood bone china we’ve forgotten under the bed for several decades and set a pretty table at night. I’m drawing again. We’re watching Ozark on Netflix and reruns of sitcoms from easier days. And I write, the one thing that saves me every day.
At 7 P.M. I go out on our terrace and see neighbors on theirs and strangers across the street and up and down the block hanging out windows and standing on fire escapes. All of us clap and yell, “Thank you!” for two minutes in solitude and gratitude to all those helping on the front lines. I’m not going anywhere. I will wait patiently until this is all over and be a part of the recovery. I love you New York City, and I will never leave you.