It’s Just Normal
On April 24th, 2020, Kings County, New York, surpassed Queens County, New York, with 4,344 deaths from Covid-19, making it the deadliest county in the US. That day, Brooklyn was home to nearly 10% of the entire country’s coronavirus deaths. In fact, of nearly 2.5% of all deaths in the world. With only three hundredths of one percent (0.03%) of the world’s population—that’s 833 times what it should be for that many people.
Scary as hell living in Brooklyn, the deadliest place on earth for Covid-19. For a few grim weeks.
We all know what happened in NYC—Lockdown. Essential workers only. Schools closed. Public transit cutbacks. Masks. Hand washing.
No vaccine in sight. Only a vague idea of how to treat it.
We had tests, sure, but all they could tell is was “you’re sick” or “had been infected at some point in time.” Or weren’t now nor ever had been infected. That and assure you your cough wasn’t Covid-19. Is it?
If you found out you were infected, tough luck; the hospitals were full. Hell, even the morgues and funeral homes were overflowing. Refrigerator trucks, stacked full of the dead, sat in streets. (Yes, in Brooklyn, but several neighborhoods away.)
The bad times.
My family and I, though, were lucky. Stuck at home, yes, but wife, son, and I worked and did school. Just like in a sci-fi horror flick, we left only when necessary. Spoke the shibboleths: Be safe.Wear your mask. Did you wash your hands? Like a religion. For death lurked invisibly. Hiding. Someplace near. Ready to punish anyone for the sin of carelessness.
A steady stream of news showed body count rising. People wearing rubber gloves. Bottled water missing from shelves. No toilet paper. Forget Clorox or other heavy-duty cleaners—kills 99.9% of germs. We bought whatever we could. Washed hands when we got back home. Every time. Like penance.
Fortunately, we could get food delivered. Wine too. Restaurants and Liquor stores were considered essential. Along with grocery stores and pharmacies.
For our family, the virus nipped at our friends and family. One friend hospitalized in March for two weeks. Another suffered later and less but lost her sense of taste. It hasn’t returned, months after recovery.
We are grateful for our good fortune. That nothing worse has happened to anyone us nor anyone we’re close to. Here or in other cities around the world. We’re still hoping that our luck holds.
And yet, here, in Kings County, we have felt our breath come back.
With high vaccination rates and compliance to mask mandates, infection rates have fallen, and so hospitalizations and deaths. Restrictions have been lifted. Little by little. And now, restaurants have opened. Gyms. Theaters. At least those that could survive on carry-out, delivery, and zoom classes. School will return in the fall.
And with the whole family fully vaccinated, with the NY State Excelsior Pass active on our phones (proving both doses and waiting time), we started venturing out into the streets. Sans masks.
Last Friday, we three walked a couple of blocks to Lombardo’s, a small family-run pizza place. We sat indoors. With most of the tables full. Of maskless strangers. Laughing. Telling stories. Wine flowed. Pizzas came out, hot and steaming, landing on pizza stands. Almost like normal. Like before the virus—the staff still wore masks. Reminding us of the past 14 months.
Walking the streets the past couple of weeks, we’ve seen people out and about, doing what they did before. Mostly. There are many closed storefronts. A decent number of people sport masks up and over nose and mouth, or under chin.
But. They are taking Strolls. Going to the park. Shopping. Smiling. Nodding hello. Walking dogs. Shaking hands. Hugging Kissing cheeks. Complaining about the garbage. Petty arguments erupt here and there. All the usual stuff.
Or so it is here, in Kings County, the once deadliest place on earth.
We don’t know what will happen to all those empty office buildings and hotels in Manhattan. Tourists basically don’t exist. It’s strange being able to stroll along 34th street without being bumped into. And take your time at the MET. Think crowds. No one cutting in front of you to take a selfie or sit with sketchbook in hand. That will all come back in time.
As it did after 9-11, the Spanish Flu, the Great Depression, hurricane Sandy, the Civil and World Wars. Scratched up a bit. With new faces on the sidewalks. New storefronts lining the streets. But the same old city Frank and Mick sang about. You know, the Big Apple, “To live in this town, you must be tough, tough, tough, tough, tough!”
I know my family is far luckier than many. But we, all of us here in this town, are resilient. Even if it feels like the world has changed into something alien. But, we’re not emerging into a new normal. Just normal. For change alone is constant.