Eye of the Storm, Writer discusses experience as a New Yorker during COVID-19

By Samantha Milowitz || Staff Writer

Most people find home to be quiet, comforting, a place of peace. My home was never about the quiet; growing up in New York City, I took comfort in the blazing sirens, the cursing in the streets in the middle of the night, the noise. When I went to sleepovers at my friends’ homes upstate, I was often restless at night as the only sounds were those from the crickets in the bushes. I became desensitized to the noise and it rocked me to sleep as a child. New York City was never a typical home, but it was my home. 

After being ripped away from my home abroad in Copenhagen within 24 hours, I wanted nothing more than to be in a familiar place: home. At one in the morning on March 12 I got an email from my abroad program, DIS Copenhagen, that the governor of Denmark had decided to close all schools and universities in Denmark which would effectively end my program. I had felt it coming for a couple of days of course; my friends from different countries were on their way home, some of them already home. DIS had approached the situation slowly, canceling things a little bit at a time but still remaining unsteadily optimistic saying they had “no intention” of closing the program. But I knew better. COVID-19 had taken the abroad experience and smashed it into nothingness. I called my parents at one in the morning Copenhagen time, eight at night their time, and told them that I would be coming home within the week. Within the next hour, President Trump made a statement on TV stating that there would be a travel ban for anyone coming from Europe back to America that would be put into action on Friday. My friends from America called me and texted me all at once, telling me that President Trump might not let me back home, that I had to buy a ticket now, that I had to hurry. My family and I didn’t know at the time if the travel ban meant I might not be able to get back into America after Friday, but we didn’t leave any time to deliberate. By three in the morning, I had a flight booked for 3 pm back to America which meant I had to pack up my things now. In the hallways of my dorm room, I heard other students packing in a flurry: calling their parents, throwing away books and papers, some of them leaving for the airport without even booking a flight. I finished packing just as the sun rose and figured sleeping would just prolong the jetlag. So, I made breakfast, piled my giant bags into a cab, and that was the end of my abroad experience. 

I woke up in my bed the next day. All at once, it had felt like I had never been in Copenhagen, like it was all some mysterious, amazing, long dream. In the span of one day, I had been transported back home, but home no longer felt like home. New York City remains at the forefront of the COVID-19 spread in America. New York City has had over 21,000 cases as of Thursday morning and the numbers continue to rise. Every store is closed, restaurants are only serving takeout, and everywhere you go people walk around in masks and gloves. Walking around the streets today, I never had to wait for the green light to cross; there is no traffic and the streets are barren, leaving plenty of room for people to walk 6 feet apart from each other. While the grocery stores remain open, a red piece of tape marks the floor where customers should stand so that they are six-feet apart from the cashier. People move to the side on the street to keep distance from strangers, and everyone looks down at the ground, afraid that anything, even eye contact could leave them to contract the disease.

It is the first time in my life that I have seen my city empty, depressing, barren. The life I can always count on it having ceases to exist and I don’t have an answer for when it will come back. It is the first time where New Yorkers have no idea what to do; where we have nothing to do besides walk down the street and hide in our small apartments. It is the first time where I look around me and feel that we, New Yorkers, are petrified. New Yorkers aren’t supposed to be afraid; we grow up with rats in our apartments, hobos following us to the doors, motorcycle gangs driving down the streets at random hours, murders down the street. We are built to have no fear. But I can see it in myself, in my family, in my neighbors. We’re scared. 

My friends from other parts of the country have been reaching out to me; checking in on me to make sure I’m not sick yet, that I’m okay. The more I have to reassure them that I am okay, the more I find myself doubting that fact. Am I okay? Will I always be okay? Is the nightmare about to end or is it just picking up speed? There is nothing to do but wait now. I have nowhere to go anymore, not to Copenhagen, not to F&M, so I will have to wait it out here in the eye of the storm. 

Stay inside. Wash your hands. Don’t touch anyone. 

Do these things so the people that have to go out, have to care for the sick, don’t have to.

Stay safe. 

Junior Samantha Milowitz is a Staff Writer her email is smilowit@fandm.edu

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