History & Now, Opinions

Why I’m glad I didn’t leave New York during the pandemic

A first-person reflection.

words by: Sahar Khraibani
Jun 11, 2020

Call me a romantic fool, but I’ve been scrolling down the #NewYorkorNowhere hashtag for an hour now. When New York was declared the “epicenter” of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was really hard to exist in the city – limiting interactions, sheltering in place, not leaving the neighborhood. It seemed like the New York we knew was a thing of the past. 

Home to many, the city was the place for outsiders – all kinds of outsiders, and we found solace in one another. A few weeks in, the city dwellers started leaving, back to the safety of other cities, or their original homes. Streets were left behind, and the sound of subways passing became louder: we realized, we could no longer hear people, so the city invaded the sonical space.


“Across the tracks you notice someone else who’s smiling, too. You catch eyes, nod your head, and instantly understand that this is a silent yet profound acknowledgement of a shared experience, a shared existence, and a shared belief that no matter how tough things might get, for people like us, it will always be New York or Nowhere.” – Quincy Moore


When I first moved to New York, I was writing weekly dispatches from the city. I had stored them in a folder on my desktop called [Dispatches from NYC] ready for whenever I needed to look back at it. It sat on my desktop for a couple of months, until of course, it got the spring cleaning it deserved and moved to the back files of a folder on my desktop called [DESKTOP]. Months in, I stopped writing dispatches, and instead spent my days and nights on the streets of the city. It felt fitting – why was I writing about the city I was living in yet only seeing it through a thin layer of glass? 

I distinctly remember the moment I fell in love with it. It wasn’t immediate, but rather a gradual falling, one thing adding to the other, the joy of anonymity, the excitement of recognizing a stranger’s face, being able to go from point A to point B on the subway without using Google Maps. It was gradual until one day, just like that, it clicked. This was the place, I thought to myself, this is my home. 


October 28th, 2017, I wrote: 

“I’m trying to understand the difference between solitude and loneliness. Solitude is loneliness with dignity. Everyone’s telling me that I need to develop thick skin for that. I’m still trying to find dignity in my loneliness.” A thought very much inspired by Maggie Nelson’s Bluets. 


November 1st, 2017:

Sometime between October 30 and October 31, I began to realize that New York is the greatest place to be. I don’t know if it was the massive Halloween parade, or the attack that happened earlier during the day (which didn’t derail any of the festivities) but there was something in the icy air that evening, as I rode the J train down to Bushwick. The greatness of this city revealed itself very slowly, and very subtly, through the sliver of a view of the skyline from the speeding train.


November 14th, 2017, in a document titled “New York was grand in more ways than one”:

Beautiful moments in New York: crossing the Williamsburg bridge into Manhattan on a spring Thursday night.

Beautiful moments in New York: arriving at the subway platform at the same time as the F train.


04.02.2018 :

New York found a way to steal my heart. It’s rough on the outside, but after a long while, the cracks allow you to enter, and somehow, suddenly, you feel like you won’t ever belong anywhere else.


* * *


It was the 11th of April, 2019, and New York did not seem to have caught up with spring yet. Drizzles of rain showered the streets and the lonesome went about wandering in the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

I had been waiting around for a seat at a restaurant, the app I was advised to get rang me up as third in line to get a table for three. Distraught with my day, and unable to shake off the feeling that something needed to happen, I stood on the corner of Broome and Orchard and looked down and refreshed my app. Looking down was a way to shield myself from this unwanted April shower, and perhaps from the begetting and merciless eyes of strangers. What New York gives, it delights in taking back.

On Orchard and Broome, I looked down and waited. The sidewalk was dull and unnoticeable. And then, as if materialized out of thin air, thin petals of a magnolia came to replace the droplets of rain. And faintly through the sound of the headphones I hear “spring’s coming, I’m telling ya.” The lady who owned the shop next door to the restaurant peered out and dispersed the petals, she looked at me, as if she knew I needed a sign, smiled, and went back in.

I picked up my phone and immediately sent my friend a message: “New York picks you up.” This, nothing else, “New York picks you up.” 



It’s been hard to see the city I love struggle, but everyday at 7 PM, when people of all walks of life peek their heads out their windows and cheer for essential workers, we all get picked up. New York picks us up, and I could never ask for more.