The height of the pandemic left a lot of stores, restaurants, and recreational places closed. The hustle of New York City had come to a screeching halt leaving its residents scrambling on what to do next. Just like the rest of the world, we were forced to work and live in our houses on a 24/7/365 basis, and we were clueless for how long any of it would last. Making the best of the uncertainty, my wife and I decided to fill our weekends with as much as outdoor time as we could. Living and working in our four walls was more than enough during the week so the weekends needed to be broken up with fresh air and getting out of the house in the safest way we could find. It became a weekend ritual to walk the property of our local cemetery. It was kind of morbid looking back on it, but I was grateful to be in the sun and grass and trees at the time getting my mind off the present moment and developing a deep appreciation for nature that I’ve never had before.
The cemetery itself stands on acres of land that stretches throughout the neighborhood. You could walk through it and be on a completely opposite end of the neighborhood by the time you finished. It was great exercise but also amazing views of Manhattan in certain areas as well. When Covid felt bleak and my life as I once knew it felt as if it wouldn’t return being there and seeing that view provided a lot of comfort. The city skyline felt like something to shoot for, to look forward to and it was a much-needed reminder of sanity when everything felt rightfully insane.
This past September started my return to my so-called “normal life”. I went on vacation for the first time in five years in September. We flew to Disney World for our delayed honeymoon and stayed for a week’s time. Upon our return, I was asked back to work on a hybrid schedule. All this is way more overwhelming than I expected it to be. I dreamt of this day and yet I was so nervous to return to the hustle of the city life. The fear of the unknown was overwhelming to embrace. Who was safe? Who wasn’t? Will I get sick? A million questions flooded my mind. I began to feel guilty about questioning all of it. I was getting what I wanted for so long, what I had prayed for yet I was so paralyzed by the fear of the obvious unknown in front of me. I had this whole vision in my head of my triumphant return to New York City where I would rejoin my beautiful city and relish in everything that I missed so much. When my expectations weren’t met it sucked, and I was devastated and left drowning in a whole new pool of anxiety and all the symptoms that came with it. It was a hard lesson to learn in managing my expectations. We plan and God laughs, or at least my God does. Returning to Manhattan and all the of the life that came with it wasn’t how I imagined it to be yet I’m still doing it even if I feel like a baby deer learning to walk most days.
I’ve hesistated to write a lot about my feelings as of late. I don’t want to appear self-deprecating but I also don’t want people to feel like they’re alone in their struggles. We are all rejoining a world full of uncertainities and question marks. We’re being told that the pandemic is “over” and now we’re meant to go about our business like the world still isn’t sporting a giant band-aid over itself. It’s scary, overwhelming, but it’s something we’re all collectively facing so it feels almost remiss not to speak my mind on how what I’m going through. I want to end this piece with it does get better, it has gotten better. Every day presents a new change and my anxiety is never permanent. It’s a state of flow that I’m now hyperaware of which is both helpful and a little jarring. Life is weird but it’s just a matter of getting through one moment at a time.
When Covid hit, New York gradually started to shut down some of the biggest staples that kept the heart beating in our Big Apple. Landmark after landmark went down, but when Broadway went dark I knew that this pandemic was serious. I took the loss of the great white way harder than I wanted to admit. Theater was a part of the magic that my younger self found in New York City. It was my own oasis of a glittery escape in my own backyard. I pictured the normally lit signs dim as the streets lay deserted with no usual foot traffic and life to pound the pavement. Sad wasn’t the word, I was devastated with no control of what was to come and it was the scariest feeling to watch my city slowly go dim.
I know we aren’t out of the woods yet. The threat still remains real but we are figuring out every day a little more pieces to the puzzle. Science is working double time and the lights are coming back to my beautiful hometown.
The last time we saw a show was November 25, 2019. Katharine McPhee was back on Broadway reprising her role as Jenna Hunterson in Waitress. We’d seen the show twice by then but couldn’t resist going back to see our girl tear the roof off the place again. We were 13 days into our new marriage already kicked in the teeth by the thoroughs of life. We needed an escape desperately and Waitress more than delivered. Our mutual love for the arts is one of the many things my wife and I share and this show was no different. Life was good in that evening, there was no reality, no stress, we were having a date we both needed.
Today after 650 days since our last show and 555 days into the Covid-19 pandemic in New York, I can happily and gratefully say that we made our return to Broadway and back to the diner. I felt like a kid on Christmas. A bundle of nerves being exposed to crowds again (we were all masked and vaccinated or tested) but excited to be back in the theater. It’s been almost a year and a half since I’ve seen Times Square and today I took it all in like I was seeing it for the first time. Waitress was revived and brought to the Barrymore Theatre directly across the street from its original home at Brook Atkinsons. I’ve dreamed about this day, I’ve mourned the idea that lights would never come on again and I cannot explain how happy I am to have spent time inside of a Broadway show again. The world has a ways to go but these gifts of what was once reminds me to never take advantage of what you have in front of you because it can be gone in an instant. I am thankful, humbled. Thanks for taking to me to the moon, Waitress. I’ve missed you and I’ve missed my city more than I could explain.
Last year feels like it’s blended into this present year but there’s been some vast differences in my Summers. Last year, we spent vigilant and on guard. There was little to no eating out, no going places indoors, and nothing was truly certain. Truthfully, I was miserable if I’m honest. I’ve always thrived being near people and being in the thick of mental health struggles, I needed people more than ever. However, despite the struggle I was in best shape of my life. It is amazing when you’re limited with things to do just how creative someone can become. I spent more time outside, I walked the poor stumps off of my dog and I was more connected to nature (or as connected as I could be in a city) than ever before. There was a few silver linings that came out of the quarantine and my time outside was a massive one. I was able to find some sort of comfort in moving my body and embracing any fresh air I could get my hands on. It was a quiet time of learning and finding out just how creative one could get in hard times.
This year the world is waking back up again. While the Delta variant is still a danger, I find myself getting to do much more than I did last year. I’m able to see people in most settings, I’m able to go to dinner like we used to, I’m still working from home which sucks and makes the days really long but the weekends are filled with busy activities again. The world feels more awake and normal but I find myself lethargic at times. I miss being forced to do things that made me move more, I miss being outside on a constant basis. I know all of that is still attainable but the distractions are back and I’m struggling to find that necessary balance for both. Covid Summer gave me a lot to realize and I’m glad I did and this Summer gave me my time with family and friends back, who I missed more than ever.
Up until 2014 my experience in the LGBTQIA+ community was limited. I met my wife on MySpace. Some of you may have even been Tom’s friend too. Our presence in the community remained mostly digital even after meeting in person. There weren’t many resources in our youth, beyond Hillary Duff defending our identities as more than a slur. June 2014 marked our first Pride together. It was one year after Edie Windsor struck down DOMA. History was alive and witnessed before our own eyes. We were both eager to be amongst the community to celebrate history being made but also the intense love that was growing between us. The last Sunday in June came and we got up early to get a good spot to see the parade in Midtown and waited for it to begin. Our experience quickly started to turn from a patient waiting moment to immediate excitement. while we stood waiting for the parade to begin.
The Grand Marshal’s that year were Laverne Cox and Jonathan Groff. I am a huge fan of both so when my wife asked Jonathan Groff to take a picture with me I was speechless that he agreed. He was as handsome and good natured as I imagined and I was on cloud nine. As a millennial and Gleek, my heart exploded at the encounter and the day only continued to get better from there.
The parade started and we were engulfed by the community and its openness. The streets were packed with people like we have never seen before. Despite being out both of us remained passive in public in fear of being hassled for being openly affectionate with each other. To see so many people simply being free was a life changing experience for me. It gave a younger me the strength to live her truth as openly and as often as I could. The fear still presides but the memory of literally THOUSANDS of people walking up and down the streets of Manhattan with confidence in a parade of love of themselves and each other remains the North Star to me every time I want to question my ability to be open. My relationship has always been something to celebrate and be proud of and that experience will always engrain a sense of bravery and pride inside of me.
Today is the 51st annual Pride Parade in NYC. While I’ve decided not to go, my heart is with those young, old, and closeted and all, who could have the same experiences as I did that day. Whether it’s meeting your favorite LGBT celebrity, or finally being in person doing all the things you never thought you’d have the guts to do. Enjoy your time, be kind, be respectful to each other and HAPPY PRIDE NYC!