Guest Writer: Ana Gorski ’18

Ana Gorski, Guest Writer

I miss how the light plays off the buildings and creates brilliant shapes in the mid afternoon. I miss how the wind freezes off my ears when I walk through campus towards the Hudson. I miss the browns and greys of the buildings and how you get used to how large they are. Over time, I have gotten used to the city’s environment.

When I found out that school was being canceled the week before Spring Break, I was studying frantically for an exam. What I felt was some mix of relief and worry. I was thinking about when my exam would be and if it even made sense of me to fly all the way home for the extra couple days of Spring Break. The next day I packed my bag for the week and flew home. I was nervous and scared about the uncertainty of the situation, but I hadn’t begun to process what was unfolding. After moving out of my dorm (from across the country), taking online classes for a couple weeks, and connecting with friends via Zoom, I am still processing.

Right now, like many people in the community, I am at home trying to create a new sense of normal (usually failing). Under these circumstances, I often crave the stimulation that New York afforded me. What scares me sometimes is that I can’t tell if I miss it because of where I am now or what I hear on the news.

As I write, the number of deaths due to COVID-19 in New York City has exceeded 10,000. This is when the state is only counting the cases of patients that tested positive for the virus and later died. Even with this staggering number, there is not a reliable method for estimating the magnitude of the crisis. On April 10th the New York Times reported that “766 [individuals suspected of having the virus] were found dead in their homes” in the three days prior to the article’s release, increasing the death toll. While the numbers are underestimated, they still communicate the emergency of the situation. At the same time, low-income communities of color have been hit the hardest, bringing to light the contributing factors to major health inequities. According to Time Magazine, “More than 20,000 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Queens as of Saturday [April 4th]… and less than 500 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Manhattan.” This is when the per capita income in Queens is $30,289 compared to the $72,832 in Manhattan.

I don’t really know how to process this data. I can only take it and apply it to my imagination. I am not physically there as I would have been if another type of disaster affected the city. As grateful as I am to be home, I can’t shake a small feeling of guilt; I don’t know what kind of city will emerge at the other end of this and what the cost will be.

What I know about going to school on the Upper West Side of Manhattan is that as a college student, I felt that my reality was fully a product of my own effort. The city offers so much opportunity that it’s hard not to feel this way. This opportunity could look like the convenience of a subway ride, an internship, a visit to a museum to complete an assignment, or just being able to try something new. With so much to experience, it often becomes a question of how to prioritize and then how to accomplish.

The second thing I know is about space. For a morning job, I would take the Downtown 1 subway at 7:30am with morning rush hour. Often the cars were so packed that I had to balance carefully to not embarrass myself and fall on strangers. There’s a certain trust that’s cultivated from being in such tight spaces. Everyone wants to get to work, but at the same time in times of need (once my train broke down and all passengers had to file out back towards the light of the station), New Yorkers come together. While at times it’s disturbing to have minimal personal space, it could also be comforting to know that it’s a collective sacrifice that’s made to exist in the city. In these times, it can help to remember the many collective sacrifices that are being made across the country.

A New-York-in-lockdown threatens the New York that I have in my head. It threatens the city that encourages individualism and tenacity. It also threatens the city of proximity. What would it be like to know that through the walls of your apartment, people exist and you don’t know if they are okay? In a situation where isolation is the key to survival, this city must find a way that is entirely new.

Like many college students, I don’t feel like I am fully in San Francisco right now. Instead, I am waiting patiently for those questions to be answered, celebrating the victories and working through. This is a story of my experience in New York City. Part of what makes the city great is that many stories exist in the same space and mine is not special.