March 31, 2020
Forest Hills, Queens
They’re so many things I wanted to write about here. I wanted to write about fear and chaos, connection and hope. How we’re living in such a moment of moral crisis and moral opportunity. How small the world has become, in such simple and beautiful ways: shared images or videos of impromptu concerts and arias, homemade meals, words of comfort and gratitude . . . and also in shared and potent feelings of rage and resistance. Mostly, I wanted to write about the things we share.
But somehow, every time I sit down, all I want to write about is New York City, where I live. How impossible a feeling it is to miss a place so profoundly when I’ve never left it. How displaced I feel from the New York City I know and adore beyond measure.
As New Yorkers, we spend so much of our daily lives out in it. This is the longest stretch of time I’ve spent not riding the subway. The longest stretch I’ve spent solely confined to my neighborhood of Forest Hills, Queens, far from Manhattan and Brooklyn, far even from Astoria, Queens—all the other places my near and dear friends and colleagues live. And as the pandemic accelerates here and I see in the Times these images of tent hospitals in Central Park, the plans to convert the Billie Jean King Tennis Center, a few miles from me, into a temporary hospital—well, New York City seems so far away. The true ravages of war lie just beyond sight. Sure, I write my checks to local nonprofits. I purchase local and often at my local grocer and CSA and bookstore. I sign my petitions and make my calls. I try to be a good citizen and neighbor.
But I can’t evade the pain of feeling that I’m far, far away from my city. An expat within. I feel the constant worry and helplessness most of us feel—that’s understandable, expected, maybe even necessary. What’s harder to voice, what feels selfish and narcissistic to admit, is the piercing nostalgia I find harder to shake every day. The fear that the NYC from Before—where mom-and-pops, the weather-blistered bodegas and dim dive bars and beloved revival movie houses and all the last, shabby or still-grand vestiges of the Great NY—won’t be there when I get back. When I get back from this haunted place, the lonely space before the daunting After. So maybe this isn’t about New York City after all. Maybe it’s about the chasm many of us are feeling between all our Befores and Afters. Maybe that’s something else we share.
Stay healthy and safe,
In lieu of payment, our friends and contributors to the Corona Correspondences are dedicating donations to nonprofits and independent businesses in their communities. Abbott’s contribution will be directed to the Book Industry Charitable Foundation.