Updated: May 21, 2020
I turned 30 years old this year, March to be specific. In my mind, 30 has always been some sort of milestone. I don’t know if it means I’m officially an adult, well out of college and established in my career, or if I’m still a kid, trying not to take life too seriously. Either way, I don’t feel all that different, as people often ask after a milestone birthday. This birthday was different though, not just because it’s the start of a new decade, and the next one is 40 (gasp!), but because of the way it took place. 2020 started just like any other year, for the most part. Americans had a difficult end to 2019, with an Impeachment Trial of a sitting President, and we were all anxious to move on, no matter how you felt about the outcome. 2020 was meant to be a fresh start, the presidential campaign was picking up speed, the summer Olympics were set to take place, nearly all my friends were celebrating 30th birthdays, getting married, and having children. However, shortly after the New Year, the wildfires had burned down so much of Australia, we worried there wouldn’t be much left, and then Kobe Bryant was killed in a helicopter crash. There were whispers of a virus spreading rapidly in a city in China, but that was halfway across the globe. Surely, this was just a rough start and things would get better.
By the end of January, it wasn’t looking promising. The Chinese government had locked down the entire city of Wuhan, and the United States saw its first case. The WHO had declared a global health emergency and the Trump administration restricted travel form China. The virus had been given a name, Covid-19 (coronavirus disease 2019), making it all too real. Within weeks the virus had spread around the world, with the first American death coming at the end of February. Within the next couple of weeks a national emergency was declared and the CDC began making recommendations to slow the spread. Entire countries were going in to lockdown as the United States took the lead for most confirmed cases, New York surpassing other nations in cases. A global pandemic was declared and the end of March saw nearly every state issuing stay at home orders to flatten the curve. By this point, over a million cases had been confirmed worldwide, the death toll was rising, the economy was crashing, and people were self-isolating to help the effort to stop the virus from continuing to spread. You know all of this, we’ve been living through it together.
My “big 30” was spent with my parents at our house in New Jersey, cooking a meal for ourselves, no hugs or kisses, no party with my friends, just isolated in our house. Don’t get me wrong, I love spending time with my parents, and I am lucky they let me come over, since we don’t live together (shh!). This is never how I pictured my 30th year to unfold, obviously. In a sense, it has been a good time to reflect on myself and where I want to be at this point in my life. What have I accomplished? What are my goals going forward? I think this is something most people my age go through, at least I don’t think I’m alone. Certainly none of us expected to be living through a global pandemic, making that the top priority of this new decade.
However, despite my unhappiness about my birthday, I am one of the lucky ones. I continue to work at my office every day, relatively little changes have been made to my life due to the pandemic. I haven’t had to cancel a wedding, or wonder if I will be giving birth alone; I haven’t lost my job, and I am lucky enough that I can’t actually work from home, giving me an excuse to get out of my one bedroom apartment every day. I work in TV News, which to most sounds like a glamorous job. Lights, cameras, hair and makeup, beautiful people all around me. Sure, there’s some of that, but a lot of it is listening to the onslaught of bad news that pours out of the anchors mouths hour after hour. I’ve been doing this for almost eight years now (it feels like 20 sometimes), and it never gets easier. The first time I cried in the control room was in 2013 when Syria had used chemical weapons on their own citizens. I can still see the images so clearly, I’ll do you the decency of not describing them here. I knew it was something that would be burned in my mind forever. The crisis there only continued to get worse, and that’s when I knew I had signed up for one seriously depressing career.
Since then, there have been many difficult days in the control room, but also some really great days (mostly attributed to the good people I’ve had the pleasure of working with). Nothing could have prepared me for what we are experiencing right now. Tearing up in the control room has become somewhat of a regular occurrence these days. For a group of people that claim to be desensitized to bad news, from having to watch it all the time, there are few things that can break a person down at their place of work. This however, is unprecedented. At this time, my job is considered essential, though I’ve never felt any more important than anyone else, no matter what the job. My job is to broadcast the news to the American people, and that’s what we need, to know what’s going on.
When New York City first issued the stay at home order, I figured my career as a freelancer was over. But I was quite wrong, in fact it gave me a more than a full time job. Commuting in to the city went from an hour long train ride to a 20 minute drive, one that would take over an hour in normal circumstances. The city became a ghost town, and as shocking as it was the first couple of weeks, it became normal. Wearing a mask is now a habit, and washing my hands after everything I touch is just part of my daily routine. I found myself in a unique position, in more ways than one, I guess.
I quickly realized I was experiencing something historic, that very few other people were ever going to experience. New York City was empty. And I don’t mean Labor Day Weekend empty (everyone shipping off to the beaches for one last trip), I mean barren. I could walk for thirty minutes and not see another human being. The emptiness of Central Park felt unsafe, even in the daylight. The streets were quiet, not a single car horn or pedestrian shouting. My job had given me papers to prove I was an essential worker in case I was every stopped, including a letter from DHS. We began receiving hazard pay, because just coming in to work every day was putting our lives at risk. It was a city no one in their wildest dreams could have ever imagined.
I didn’t want to abuse my privilege of being allowed outside, but I knew I had to document this strange Manhattan that most would never see. I began talking photos and videos during my daily commute, sometimes straying from the path, like to see a particularly desolate 42nd Street during what would have been rush hour. I could stand in the middle of 7th Avenue in Times Square, looking all the way downtown and not even worry that a car or bike was coming towards me. I could stare down 57th Street, seeing New Jersey to the west and Long Island to the east, something that would impossible if there had been any cars on the road. There was a certain peacefulness about it, but in my mind I knew the reason was depressing.
As the city starts to wake back up, I find myself reflecting on the past few months, how lucky I have been to (more or less) lead my life as normal. I moved back to New York in February, after a brief stint in Washington DC, to be closer to my friends and family, who I have yet to see due to the pandemic. Somehow, I felt more alone in DC, away from everyone I love, than I do during the pandemic. There has been a greater sense of closeness, despite the fact that we are still separate. I never video chatted with anyone while I was living in the capitol, it didn’t seem necessary. In a sense, experiencing this together has brought us all closer. As I’m writing this, traffic is starting to pick up, more people are passing on the sidewalk, and the hustle and bustle of the city is starting to comeback, albeit slowly. Of course, we are never going to be where we used to be, but some semblance of normalcy is welcome with open arms.
I would love nothing more than to pop over to my best friend’s apartment to meet up for happy hour, and to play with my little cousins in the park, and to hug and kiss my parents, but I know that by not doing so, this thing will end sooner. Wear your mask and stay safe!