Clonakilty native Julie O’Brien, who owns a bar in midtown Manhattan, The Junction NYC, continues writing in a series of letters from New York, where there are glimmers of hope that social distancing is working even as Coronavirus deaths still climb. Julie is married to Stevie and they have a two-year-old daughter Izzy.
Our lives have come to be defined by a word – Apex. If you look it up in the dictionary you’ll find it means the point where you reach the top of something, the high point. It now has a darker undertone.
In today’s world, a world shaped by Covid-19, apex refers to the highest number of cases in a state or country, after which the rate of infection begins to slow.
On a positive note, this means the virus is slowing down and hopefully will soon be managed. But forever more, millions of us will associate this word with death – the high point of our death toll during this awful pandemic.
Today, April 8, 2020, there are more than 140,000 infected with 6,268 dead in New York State.
We just suffered the highest single-day increase in our death toll in NYC and it has surpassed 9/11!
New York’s Governor Cuomo gave us some hope when he noted the three-day average of hospitalisations is down, indicating the state is “reaching a plateau in the total number of hospitalisations” and hopefully we will see the numbers flatten out.
A couple of evenings ago, following the nightly shouts and cheers and playing of instruments out of the windows in support of our wonderful brave doctors and nurses on the front line, the late Bill Withers’ ‘Lean on Me’ could be heard over the loudspeaker and it brought a tear to my eye, not really out of sadness, more out of awe and gratitude for these people who are leading the troops in the hospital battlefields.
It’s hard for me to see the positivity to this ‘plateau’ spoken of now. I walk outside my door and am confronted with masked faces, terrified eyes staring out over homemade masks. I’m guilty of letting my scarf hang around my neck to get a break from the suffocating feeling the protection carries with it. Dagger-eyes from a passerby prompt me to pull it back up above my nose.
The CDC (centre for disease control and prevention) has made a U-turn in their views on people wearing coverage on their faces here – everyone should now be wearing something, be it a scarf or a makeshift mask on their face. A week or two ago this was not the case, I think they were worried about the general population taking the limited supply of masks when our healthcare workers needed them so badly; but who can tell who is a silent carrier of virus and could be the cause of someone’s death just by taking a breath. Better to be safe.
I have gone into a store (supermarket) only once in the past four weeks, to get some groceries for the old lady who lives alone above The Junction. When I dropped them off, she handed me a bag of half a dozen masks. She knows I wear a scarf to cover my face on my trips outside of home. This is the same lady who has complained about the loud music in The Junction so many times that I cannot count it on two hands. We have become friends.
How many of these senior citizens will pass from the virus or from sadness, alone? Or perhaps this experience will help them to bond with a generation they do not understand.
Today, as I left to walk up to check on The Junction, I noticed all the cherry blossoms outside my apartment. It’s funny how something so catastrophic can make you start appreciating the little things. I always loved nature growing up in West Cork but life just sped up too much, too fast, I think. My cousin in Ireland used to build these incredible tree houses, probably about the same size as my current apartment, I kid you not! We would spend all day in the outdoors – say a hurried goodbye after breakfast with shouts following us out the door of “Be back in time for your supper”. Our only worry was getting home in time for supper. These are the kind of things I have time to think about now.
I do hope kids can carry on being kids when this is all done. My two-and-a-half-year-old daughter looked at me yesterday and said, “I miss teacher”. I was speechless. She is in nursery school for only nine hours a week at The Epiphany in Manhattan and the teachers continue to send us some classroom songs and craft projects that we do in the mornings. The fact that my toddler realised some things are missing from her daily routine life amazed me. What about the bigger kids that are cooped up in their homes, not able to go outside for an hour, let alone go gallivanting around the neighbourhood for half the day. How are they really feeling and how will they be affected by all of this long-term?
I’ve reached an Apex on several occasions in my life before: When I got my first job as a waitress in New York City having pounded the pavement searching for work and being down to my last dollar. When myself, John and Ivan got the doors to The Junction open for the first time. When I first kissed my husband Stevie after eyeing him from across the bar for years. When I found out I was pregnant with Izzy, which I thought would be never be a possibility. When I finished the NYC marathon after taking up running as a bet. When I touched the ground in Shannon, having not seen nor smelled the green of home for well over a decade. These are just a few…
I cannot wait until I get that feeling of great elation when the world turns right-way-up again.
Was it really ever right-way-up? I wonder if people will treat the world a bit better after this…other people, the oceans, the atmosphere, the land? Will this be a wake-up call?
We are already going to have to adapt our lives to change in one way or another after this. Why not incorporate some good habits into our daily routines while we’re at it. Recycle more, drive less. We can see now how the small things make the difference. In a city like New York, it takes its people to make a difference. We are tough, New York tough. It’s up to us what happens next.
I’m still waiting for the rainbow, the day we take on a ‘new’ normal. The day I might reopen the bar, the day that we may all start building our lives again, setting new goals and reaching a new Apex.
Julie has set up a GoFundMe page to raise funds to help her staff through this tough time. Only two of the 16 on the payroll have managed to file for unemployment. The phone lines are still jammed. If you can afford to donate the price of a pint or two to help out, follow the link below and be sure to stop by The Junction the next time you’re in New York where the welcome is always warm.