The sirens grow louder at dusk. I get it. I’ve danced around anxiety before. It tends to make itself known late in the day here on the streets of Brooklyn when hope diffuses with the fading light.
COVID-19 attacks the lungs. I suspect it’s that moment when your breath grows short that you or a loved one makes the call. The sight of the masked EMTS’ faces illuminated in the ghastly glow of the ambulance dashboard is the stuff of films. It’s all a horror, this eerie silence that envelops the city after dark.
New York has earned the distinction of being the epicenter of the American coronavirus. We locked down a mere few days after Paris closed its doors. When my editor at INSPIRELLE asked me to write a piece about what it was like here, I wondered how I could capture the difference between these two beloved and symbiotic cities. Our bonds are so strong. I’ve been following the sad shadow of COVID through the vacant images of Paris, illustrated by so many on Instagram. One, in particular, shot by a friend of a solitary neighbor through a courtyard terrace, illustrated how lonely these times have been. I know. My wife of our famed commuter marriage is on a COVID task force in Chicago. My kids are away. I have not spoken to another human being, in person, in seven days.
I feared I might not find the words. I climbed down the four flights of my Brooklyn railroad apartment and walked out looking for a bite to eat. Then it hit me. La différence. In France, leaving the confines of your home without a signed permit, stepping beyond a 1-kilometer perimeter, or doing any outdoor sport during the daytime hours earns you a hefty fine. In Brooklyn, we’re permitted a stroll through the neighborhood, a sack of food from the local take-out joint, or a jog in the park. It all still comes with the recommendation of a mask.
New York locked down three days after France, but we clung to our stubborn ways. We re-jiggered our work schedules to the home office, along with our accompanying 1.1 million school kids. Liquor and grocery stores were deemed essential services and we lined up six feet apart. When teenagers insisted on pickup games of basketball, the Mayor had the rims removed rather than closing the courts. Our governor became a sex symbol and his brother, the voice of the stricken. In other words, we soldiered on.
Few of us are strangers to unanticipated pain. New York endured 9/11; Paris suffered the November 13 terrorist attacks.
Today, in these two great cities, along with the rest of the world, we tamp down anger and wrestle with fear.
We may be isolated, but I have reconnected with more friends by email than in the past dozen years. Confronted by an invisible enemy, we’ve embraced vulnerability and in the most disarming of ways, learned to generously share.
In time, while we may continue connecting online, I suspect our greatest desire will be to race offline. To share a pint. Pour a glass of wine. Grab a slice. Meet a friend. Take a walk. Pick up a fresh baguette and chat with the fishmonger. What’s fresh, today? Everything? Bon. I’ll have that! We might not come back with a roar, but the quiet chatter outside my Brooklyn window on this spring afternoon reassures me. We will come back.