Sticking together while staying apart

Sixty-two days have passed since my best friend, Stephanie and I have seen each other—three-mile runs in Central Park, shopping trips to Soho and mani/pedis at the salon have been replaced by mere FaceTime calls and texts in the face of COVID-19. Although only 95.2 miles apart, the absence of her company is achingly real, and it feels as if we're worlds away.

So we've come up with a solution. Each night at 6:59 p.m., I sit anxiously at the edge of the bed, fiddling with the phone in my hands in anticipation of her call: when the clock strikes seven on the dot, it rings excitedly, signifying the start of our daily dance celebration. As I answer her FaceTime, she instantly shows off her evening attire: a blouse and ruffled skirt paired with a beaded headband. I, on the other hand, sport a more casual ensemble: a tie-dye sweatshirt, joggers and sheet mask spread across my face. I prop my phone up on my nightstand, kick off my Ugg slippers and prepare to dance like no one's watching (because of quarantine, no one actually is). I shut the door to block out any noise emanating from the rest of the house and give her my undivided attention- standing solitary yet united as ever, our new tradition takes center stage.

She begins the video chat by turning the camera around to scan the streets of Manhattan—yet my hometown seems to have lost its magic. Yellow taxis no longer zoom by. Store windows cast a dull shadow over the city. Citizens' identities are concealed by masks covering the majority of their faces. But nonetheless, booming speakers ring triumphant on the Upper East Side, blasting the tune, "New York, New York." Although the traditional hustle and bustle are lacking, it remains 'busy' with people eagerly gazing down at the sidewalk from their terraces and rooftops, slapping pots and pans together like family bands. Unified by social distance, an air of optimism sweeps over the neighborhood, with each civilian seeking to celebrate rather than condemn the current global setbacks. As Stephanie's phone continues to pan the avenue, I imagine the smell of fresh NYC hot dogs wafting through the screen and I feel the warm city breeze wash over me in the chilly beach condo. I can't help but smile: the town I've come to know and love still stands strong, simply marked by a temporary obstruction to be resolved.

As we begin to belt out "these little town blues," Stephanie and I are overcome with a sense of hope, not only for our friendship but for our city to survive and thrive. Something about hearing Frank Sinatra croon moves us, lifting our spirits and temporarily obliterating our anxieties. Singing about "the city that never sleeps" awakens us from our slumber of self-doubt and fear about the pandemic; we may be caught up in the current storm that is our national crisis, but the fact that we're able to come together gives us faith that there's light to discover amid the darkness.

When the final verse starts to play, my bestie puts her phone down on the balcony for our grand finale: the kickline. The lag over FaceTime is undoubtedly an inconvenience, yet as my LED fairy lights flicker on the ceiling behind me, we still swing our legs from side to side, screaming out every word of the song with involuntary smiles spread across our faces. I hold on tightly to my sheet mask as we dance, giggling as it slips down my face and onto the wooden floor. We may not have our weekly workout session at Physique 57 or be able to brunch at Sant Ambroeus, but to our surprise, this moment means just as much (if not more). Indeed, sharing a special interaction through the screen each night has actually made us closer. There's something profound about always finding time to laugh together during the day, despite the distance and social obligations to fulfill at home. Traditions of our friendship have been rescripted, yet we move forward, open to change because it's the only way our relationship will preserve during these unprecedented times.

I've considered what the moment will be like when we reunite: as much as I want to race down the sidewalk and tackle Stephanie to the ground, we most likely will be six feet apart, waving through a window or talking through fashionable face masks instead. Our weekly workouts will probably be postponed to 2021. Our favorite scrambled eggs and lox dish will be delivered to separate homes for now. Cherished activities of our friendship will return with time, and we must mutually come to terms with the new normal. Social distancing may rule our lives for now, but that doesn't mean our connection has to crumble. After all, no pandemic can conquer our kickline.

This essay was first published in the Southampton Press.


by Carrie Berk | 8/1/2020