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My Escape from New York: Reflections on the Internship and City I Left Behind

In the first days of 2020, I moved to Manhattan to begin my editorial internship at ADDitude. Ten weeks later, I was fleeing the city — running from a pandemic and grieving simultaneously for the anticipated loss of so much. Though I miss my internship and my time in the Big Apple, here is why I have hope.

I was sitting at my desk in ADDitude’s Manhattan office on Thursday, March 12, when my dad called me. This is the moment when I knew for certain that I would be fleeing New York City.

I had reason to think my internship in New York would come to a premature end once my dad started sending me graphs of COVID-19’s global spread — the bar graph comparing COVID-19 case diagnosis rates in America to those in Italy; the curve that we are trying to flatten; an infographic about transmission. A minute before calling, he had texted me, “now is the time to come home and protect your family,” and I didn’t know how to respond. He is a doctor, and I know that whenever he texts or calls me from the hospital, it’s important. So, I quickly moved into the hallway of our office building to take his call.

In the same voice that someone would use to say, ‘make the incision, stop the bleeding,’ he told me to move my flight from Sunday to Friday, and to move my destination from Nashville, Tennessee, to Greenville, South Carolina.

His urgency propelled me to open my Delta app and reschedule my flight immediately. The second I had secured the flight, I felt the weight of what was happening.

I realized that this was the last day I would sit at my desk. Most of the office was working from home that Thursday, testing out remote editorial work and server access from afar. I looked at the empty chairs where Ron and Lilly sit. I looked across to see Nathaly’s desk. I walked deeper into the office and looked at Hope’s desk, and then turned to see where Ann and Wayne work — Ann Gault’s jacket was still on her chair. I still can’t believe I didn’t get to say goodbye to them in person.

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After letting my coworkers know about my frantic escape plan on our daily editorial Zoom call, I tried to finish my editorial work, but something in me ached the whole time. It was so hard to give up the editorial work that had become so deeply meaningful to me. Even though the end was already near, ceding a day of this work to an unknown future hurt me.

At the end of the day, Susan, Ann Mazza, and I stood in an equilateral triangle — with 6 foot sides — and talked about how insane the situation had become. (The ‘situation’ had just been officially declared a pandemic.)

With Ann and Susan, I took in everything I was leaving: my desk, the city, and my coworkers. If emotions are colors, I felt them all bending in my stomach while talking in that equilateral triangle. The rainbow bending inside me wasn’t rigid; it was malleable and balanced — at least I wasn’t eschewing any emotion. Interning at ADDitude had been a dream, and I appreciated how happy my work made me as I felt deeply sad to leave. I was also scared to flee New York, but eager to see my family again after 10 weeks. I could clearly see all these opposing emotions — tangled and messy — in front of me. Was this closure?

I walked back to my Manhattan sublet, and everything was a little surreal. Whereas in the week before, people looked wary in the streets — jumpy, nervous, and fueled by an internal self-preserving instinct that was seeping into their facial expressions — now, they appeared in differing stages of coronavirus anxiety. People in suits ran into the subway, while others drank beer openly, leaning against the bases of skyscrapers.

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I hurried home, somewhere caught between both extremes of pandemic-panic: denial and urgency. My immediate future had never seemed so uncertain: I needed to pack up all my things quickly to pull off my hasty escape plan, and I still hadn’t heard from Dartmouth about the status of my upcoming spring term of college classes. My emotions were doing gymnastics in my stomach, but I packed up my things faster than expected and ate pizza from Grimaldi’s when I was done. When my alarm woke me up on Friday morning, I was surprised to remember that I was going to be in LaGuardia International airport in a few hours.

LaGuardia wasn’t a scene in the security check lines, and it wasn’t a scene in the waiting areas. I heard strong words exchanged from flight-help kiosks, but nothing that I hadn’t expected. The most surprising thing was the bathrooms.

I was deeply unhappy to have to use an airport public restroom in the middle of a newly-declared pandemic. When I went in, I saw three women in uniforms heavily intently spraying down every stall after each use. Their labor manifested as piles of emptied plastic spray bottles in the trashcans; It must have been exhausting. I am extremely grateful for the way they tackled the virus.

I broke the New York code of not talking to strangers to start a conversation with one of the women. We giggled about how absurd everything had become as she twisted the cap off of an industrial cleaning bottle and poured a third of it into the drain of one of the sink bowls. The purple cleaning agent swished around the sink bowl and turned lavender as it integrated into the bubbles left by previous women. She repeated that twice more, and when the bottle was empty, she added it to the growing mound of used cleaning bottles.

I kept thinking about the purple becoming lavender, the way the cleaning bottle spray sounded like a shuffling deck of cards over and over again, and the exponential growth of the used plastic spray bottle pile as I boarded the full flight to Greensville.

The next morning, I woke up in the anthesis of Manhattan: Rural western North Carolina. This area of the blue ridge mountains, the southernmost tail of the Appalachians, meets at the intersection of three states—North Carolina, Georgia, and South Carolina. It is a very different tristate area than the one surrounding New York City.

I looked at long, tall skyscrapers from my apartment’s window in New York, but now I stared at primitive skyscrapers: long pines and oaks that had dominated the skyline here for centuries. Ferns and wildflowers replaced concrete sidewalks, and birds replaced the taxi’s’ prompt communications. My family’s cabin hides here, in this forest that has the biodiversity to qualify as a temperate rainforest, and usually hits the rainfall requirement, too.

Being in this place has always made me feel like time had come to a stop, but this time, I felt disjointed by it. After a few days in the temperate rainforest, we drove back to Nashville, but time didn’t resume rolling.

Quarantine feels like swinging in a hammock that makes me motion-sick, but I can’t stop the swinging. I know so many people are nauseous, resting in these confusing in-betweens. In a nation established on the precedent of freedom, the idea of social distancing is nearly hostile. And worse yet, it’s lonely and scary. But it will save lives; this hammock is heavy.

By writing this, I am waking up and getting out of the hammock. I have realized that time isn’t going to start rolling again unless I make it. In quarantine, I have become acutely aware that I am an extrovert, and the way I can convince time to move again for me is by communicating with communities that mean so much to me. After reflection, I know that the ADDitude community is one of those communities that can move time for me — I am so grateful for ADDitude’s profound impact on my life.

My heart goes out to everyone impacted by COVID-19: those who are sick, those with sick loved ones, to our healthcare workers, and those who are already beginning to feel the negative impacts of social distancing. There is a physicality to being human, to human interactions, and I know that we all feel the acute lack of it now. I don’t know when that absence is going to subside, but in the meantime, I hope that everyone can find a feeling of togetherness — albeit, digital — in quarantine.

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Updated on April 24, 2020

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