My Breakup With NYC During COVID-19

Dear New York City,

It’s been seven years that we’ve been together, but did I ever tell you about the first time I saw you, and instantly fell in love? I was probably five or six years old, and it was 3:30 in the morning as the engine to my dad’s blue 1992 Suburban hummed as he turned the key, ready for a weekend getaway in Broadalbin, New York. As we pulled out of the driveway, I reminded my mom to “wake me up before the bridge,” because that moment of driving over the Throgs Neck Bridge meant that I’d get to see you, even if just for a few short seconds. The darkness of the sky amplified your outline, and the energy of your lights shined so brightly and confidently that it put me in a trance. I saw you from a distance, and I knew that one day we would be together.

Fast forward to the spring of 2013; we finally became official when I moved into my first apartment in Astoria with Kate. We fell in love with the apartment, signed the lease first, then called our families to make sure we could really afford it, and then toasted to our new life in New York City over bacon grilled cheese sandwiches at Dillinger’s Pub. It was magical, and I vividly remember saying those words in my head a few months later as I walked out the door of that apartment and made my way to the R train to start my first day at a new job in the Financial District.

I later made a move into Murray Hill in Manhattan, where I lived for four incredible years, and most recently, my very own studio apartment in the Upper East Side. An apartment all my own that I would have never dreamed of having by 28, and with a breathtaking view of the Empire State building skyline! As I think back to the amazing times we’ve had together, a tear forms in my eye because I know things between us aren’t quite the same anymore. Our love has grown over the years, and I am so thankful that I’ve had you in my life, even though the entire experience with you wasn’t always great.

Where to start? Do you remember that time in late December 2013 when there was no heat in that Astoria apartment? Or how I could have started my own exterminating business with all of the water bugs and cockroaches that I killed for Kate and Kathleen? (RIP). What about the time that man on the 6 train near Union Square shoved me, then threw his slobbery lollipop stick at me for absolutely no reason? (He missed, but you get the point). Or, my most recent New York moment, that I am sure made me a true New Yorker; that time I stepped in fresh dog shit and didn’t realize until I went through the first part of my day. Thanks for that. Even though there were some shitty times (pun intended), you always found a way for me to forgive you by sharing something beautiful just around the corner.

We’ve built so many incredible memories together, and racking my brain for every moment that made me fall in love with you a little more each day is hard to put down on paper.

· The love notes painted on your sidewalks and buildings.

· A day trip to Smorgasbord in Williamsburg with Holly that led to a spontaneous feather tattoo.

· That 65-degree Friday in February 2016 and seeing your electric skyline view from a rooftop bar in midtown during happy hour.

· A brunch outing at Mazzetto’s with Kathleen, Sam, and Kat and a few mimosas later ending up at a random apartment in the Financial District, sneaking onto their rooftop terrace, and stealing some incredible city views.

· Every Cheer New York event in Central Park that required us to be there as the sun was rising on a Sunday morning.

· Complaining about the commute back and forth to Chelsea Piers for Cheer New York practices, but loving every minute of those three-hour practices, getting kicked in the chest, and building beautiful friendships.

· Spending quite a bit of time at the Flying Cock in Murray Hill. Such good times.

· Those frequent happy hour(s) spent with coworkers at Sterling on Stone Street.

· Every Sterling holiday party.

· The amount of time and money spent indulging in mango margaritas with chips and guac at Mad Dog & Beans.

· That wine tasting class in the Financial District with Kathleen, learning about tannins and drinking at least four too many tasting glasses.

· When Holly and I went to One on One in the Lower East Side, and I picked up a new boyfriend by critiquing his handshake and giving him my business card.

· Annual Christmas traditions with Kate visiting the windows at Bergdorf Goodman, and perusing the store as if we would ever plan on buying shoes that cost $1,700.00+.

· Standing in Times Square in January 2019 and seeing Jacob experience New York City for the first time.

· Post Brooklyn Pride parade in June 2019. Covered in glitter and dancing for hours at House of Yes in Brooklyn, and having the most liberating, care-free, wonderful night.

· Meeting every incredible friend that I would not have in my life today if I had never moved to New York City.

Some of my favorite memories with you have just been walking through your streets, taking a wrong turn, and somehow managing to stumble upon something new, beautiful, or sometimes questionable. Every memory with you, shitty or not, will stay with me forever. Sure, could I have probably bought my own four-bedroom house, a super nice car, or paid off my student loans quicker if I hadn’t spent the last seven years with you? Probably. Would I have changed being with you all this time? Definitely not. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m so thankful for the life-changing experiences we’ve had together and for the people you have brought into my life because being with you for all of these years has made me into the person that I am today.

In March 2020, when I boarded that plane from JFK airport with Kate for a weekend getaway in New Orleans, the thought never crossed my mind that closing the apartment door behind me would be one of the last times that we’d be us, together, living life as we usually would in New York City. But you became sick, things quickly changed, and we both knew that we couldn’t be together like before. Spending almost a month and a half apart was devastating. I was back at home on Long Island with my family, and I cried over you daily. I didn’t know what to do or how it would ever be okay again. I know they say that the test of a strong relationship is to stick it out and fight through when times get tough, but we both knew that space was the best and safest thing for both of us. Deciding to break up with you is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.

Since making that choice, I’ve come back to visit you a few times. As we entered Long Island City in my dad’s beige 2018 Buick, I saw your skyline from a distance, and tears welled up in my eyes. We both knew that you still weren’t doing well, and as much as I wanted to spend just a little more time with you, it felt strange seeing you again, which made it feel harder to be around you. I’d go out for a cautious walk, and look for inspirational signs from you that things were still the same or that it would be okay, but I didn’t see anything. It wasn’t until my third mini visit to see you again that our breakup was starting to feel real, and I finally began to feel the acceptance and confirmation that we would actually be parting.

It was just past 7 pm, and the chants and cheers throughout the city started to quiet. I was gazing at you through my apartment window as the sun was beginning to set when I noticed a peculiar image on the side of my apartment building. A ray of light from the sunset reflected off the building in the shape of a heart. I stared at it for a moment, trying to figure out if it was a paint marking I hadn’t noticed before, or if it was you, giving me a sign that what we had together all of these years was real and everything was all going to be okay. A few moments later, the heart was gone, and I knew you were sending me that signal I had been hoping for.

Over these past years, you have been adventurous, challenging, loving, empowering, unpredictable, magical, beautiful, inspiring, uplifting, incredibly frustrating, reassuring, romantic, expensive, whimsical, smelly, hopeful, and so many other things in between. What we’ve had together has been indescribable, and for everything you have been to me over the years, I thank you. If there is anything you take away from this, know that the adoration I had for you when I first saw you all of those years ago, is how I will feel about you every time we pass each other from a distance or if we are ever together again.

Love always,

Sara

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Sara Balaban

Recruiter turned Employer Brand enthusiast who enjoys uncovering unique stories & being a people advocate in and out of the workplace. Oh, & I love to travel!