In mid-March, the week before New York City went into full lockdown due to coronavirus, my husband and I were standing in line at the grocery store. Like many people, we were stocking up on essentials—canned beans, toilet paper, pasta—not knowing what the next few weeks would look like.
My husband turned to me and said, “I got a text from the landlord, he wants to talk to us.” I had a bad feeling that what was coming wouldn't be good news, and my fears were confirmed later that evening when we were asked to move out. Their family situation had changed, and they needed the space back.
We’d lived in the same apartment for the last four and a half years; a rarity in New York, and the longest we’d lived in one place together. It was our home. Over the years, we’d hosted Friendsgivings, dinner parties, cook outs, birthday parties, and friends and family from back home in Canada. We had completely settled there, and had no intentions of moving for the foreseeable future. Truth be told, moving was the furthest thing from our minds when the pandemic hit.
Like the rest of the world, 2020 was not turning out to be the year we had expected. But in addition to the uncertainty caused by the pandemic—a collapsing economy, closing borders, normal day-to-day life coming to a complete halt—the one constant that we had in our lives, our home, was being ripped away from us. Not to mention that moving is expensive—especially in New York—and because our rent had been so affordable for the past few years, we knew finding a new apartment would mean paying more.
It was becoming clearer and clearer that the city that we loved and called home would no longer be the same.
For several days after learning this news, my husband and I went through a spectrum of emotions. I started off feeling resolute, determined that I would find a nice place and everything would be fine. My husband, on the other hand, took it harder from the outset; we would have to say goodbye to the deck that we were so lucky to have and on which we had spent so many years growing tomatoes, morning glories, lavender, and herbs.
But over time, even my confidence shrank. New York City went into full lockdown and predictions of how many people would fall ill and die in our city due to coronavirus were grim. I don’t think I’m being dramatic when I say it felt to many of us like the world was ending. It was becoming clearer and clearer that the city that we loved and called home would no longer be the same.
As my anxiety ramped up and the doom and gloom set in, I had many conversations with my mum about what we should do. Should we pack it all in and move back to Canada? The borders were going to close; should we try to get back to Canada before we were stuck? Take this eviction as a sign that our time in New York was over?
I have to give her credit though; as much as my mum would love us to live closer to home, her advice was always the same: now is not the time to be making huge life-altering decisions. And she was right: unlike many New Yorkers, we still had our jobs, savings, friends, and a life here. Moving back to Canada would feel like giving up, and we weren’t ready to give up on New York just yet. And when my husband, a PhD student, found out that his application for sixth year funding was approved, moving apartments started to feel less like a burden and more like a chance to focus on something not pandemic-related.
Still, it was clear pretty early on that moving in a pandemic wouldn’t be simple. Apartment-hunting in New York is hard at the best of times, but there were even fewer apartment listings than usual. And because of social distancing, we wouldn’t be able to ask our friends to help us move, and we didn’t know if moving companies would be considered an essential service.
For weeks I scoured apartment listings, and in April we began applying for apartments. Social distancing and the uncertainty caused by the pandemic meant we had to complete entire applications before even got to visit an apartment.
It was clear pretty early on that moving in a pandemic wouldn’t be simple. Apartment-hunting in New York is hard at the best of times, but there were even fewer apartment listings than usual.
After losing out on a near-perfect apartment with a shared backyard, we found a bright, sunny two-bedroom that was having an open house the next day—not being able to take public transit, the fact that it was only a half hour walk away from our current place was a big bonus.
When we arrived, we both fell in love with the apartment. It was on a quiet street in Bay Ridge, just around the corner from one of our favorite grocery stores. It was the apartment of my dreams and a definite upgrade for us: a pre-war townhouse with original features including beautiful hardwood floors, a clawfoot tub, and two fireplaces. It didn’t have the outdoor space we wanted, but it was—most importantly—below our budget, so we jumped on it. We filled out the application, attached a cover letter and all the financial documents we could think of, and were approved the next day to move in twelve days later.
While the lead-up to move-in day was emotionally draining and challenging for my husband, I saw it as a way to focus my anxious energy. I started planning how I would set up our furniture and where I’d hang our favorite pieces of art, so grateful to have something to focus on and look forward to in the midst of everything.
Move-in day was not without its challenges. The moving company arrived with a truck half-full of someone else’s things, on its way to Florida a few days later—they told us almost all of the moves they’d been hired for during the pandemic were people fleeing the city. They had another truck come to help, and once they removed the giant marble slab statue with six golden horses pulling a carriage, we started loading our furniture and boxes.
Moving during a pandemic taught me not only to focus on the bright spots, but to be grateful and know how fortunate we have been when there are others who have lost so much.
Finding a parking spot for a truck in Brooklyn is never easy, so our landlord graciously offered to move his car to make room on the street, but it had been so long since it was used that the battery was dead. After my husband and one of the movers helped push the car to the other side of the road, the truck backed into the spot, just barely squeezing in under a tree.
But things went more smoothly after that. Apart from the fact that all of us were wearing masks, and the movers gloves, it felt like a pretty normal move. Yet wearing masks would inevitably make it harder for the movers to breathe in a situation that’s already physically-exhausting, and just by doing their jobs, they were putting themselves at risk for infection.
Four and a half hours later, we were moved in and the hard part and all of the uncertainty of the past two months was over. I remain incredibly grateful that I was able to have this to focus on and that we were lucky enough that it was more of a happy distraction.
It’s not lost on me that other people, especially now, do not have the means to turn this awful situation into something positive. Moving during a pandemic taught me not only to focus on the bright spots, but to be grateful and know how fortunate we have been when there are others who have lost so much.