NEW York is known for being tough when it comes to finding everything from a job to an apartment or a date. But in recent weeks, the city has reclaimed the word and re-evaluated what it means to be 'New York Tough' - and that phrase's legacy will likely last a lot longer than the average viral hashtag.
The Irish in New York, who have hunkered down with frozen meals from Trader Joe's and supplies of Lysol wipes, are feeling more interwoven with the fabric of this intense city than ever before. We, too, fling open our windows at 7pm to cheer for the medical staff; finally catching a glimpse of what our neighbours look like. We're social distancing, but supporting each other from borough to borough with the abundance of technology at our disposal. We retweet and like hopeful #NewYorkTough video montages of our adopted home. When we have to go out in our makeshift bandana masks, we try to smile with our eyes to thank frontline workers. Because, as always, we are infinitely grateful for everything that this city has afforded us.
Like any New Yorkers worth their salt, we are tuning into Governor Cuomo's straight-talking daily press briefings to make sense of what is happening to the place we've already fought so hard to become a part of. Nothing can sugarcoat or diminish the reality. Each day, an average of 700 New Yorkers are losing their lives, as the number of confirmed positive cases state-wide crawls closer to the 200,000 mark. The unimaginable death toll, already five times the human cost of 9/11, doesn't even account for those who are dying in their homes.
Makeshift hospitals are springing up in Central Park and in a convention centre; even in the form of an imposing ship on the Hudson River. There are refrigerated trucks acting in the place of morgues, and a controversial contingency plan to temporarily bury the dead in public parks if needs be. This illness is revealing deep-seated issues about class and further exposing the flawed healthcare system.
Ambulance sirens are now the main timbre of the silenced city, and for several nights, the lights on the Empire State flashed as red as a bleeding, beating heart for all to see.
Yet in these darkest of times for our city, there are positives that we must repeat to ourselves.
Our measures, however meagre just staying at home seems in the greater context, are working: the curve is flattening. ICU admissions and intubations are down. People are being discharged from wards, even if 2,000 new patients are entering hospitals each day. The numbers in New York are extreme, but the state aggressively tested more people than the other leading states combined. There is hope amongst the heartbreak. Though I'm sure any doctor, nurse or hospital staffer can paint a far starker picture.
With this plateau, Cuomo has urged no one to get complacent, lest we reverse our efforts. Being 'New York Tough' now means one thing: stay the eff at home, if you're supposed to, for the greater good of the city and its people.
A friend recently said we all need to "pick our bubble and stick to it" - which made me think a lot about the notion of 'home' and the immigrant experience. While some have flown the nest and headed elsewhere, the vast majority of the Irish are still here in our tiny apartments that we pay too much rent for. We're waiting patiently for the light at the end of the tunnel, because we know New York will shine bright again.
When the Department of Foreign Affairs issued a plea for any Irish on short-term visas who are at risk of losing jobs and health insurance to return home immediately, it sent a ripple of panic through every household in Ireland (after all, is there a family on the island that doesn't have a relative or a friend living in the US?).
Suddenly, every phone was lit up with concerned queries about when we would be "coming home". When we boarded one-way flights, gave thousands of hard-earned cash to immigration lawyers and put ourselves repeatedly through the emotional obstacle course required to simply live in New York, we always saw the bigger picture: that this glittering city is our home. Every situation is unique, and if it comes to it, many may decide that it's safer to go to Ireland. But begging someone to "come home" isn't always feasible or fair.
As I said, we're safe for now in our 500 square-foot apartments, donating to important causes, connecting virtually and waiting out the storm. You don't need to put the fear of God into us more than it has already been instilled. We're reading the news as it pertains to New York and following the protocol that is being asked of us. No one can answer the looming questions about when this will be over, but as of Monday, Governor Cuomo maintains that we've controlled the spread and we are on the path to normalcy once more: even if that road could take 12-18 months. The conversations about "reopening" the state, little by little, are already starting to happen.
After almost five years living here in this city that I love the bones of, I've often believed the most terrifying thing was having to leave it all behind, unwillingly. At this stage, there's no point being a stubborn martyr about it, and if any of us has to eventually abandon our dreams because of Covid-19, so be it.
The Irish in New York have a certain kind of grit that we can apply to all situations, and we will weather this with our new neighbours, because home is where you build it. When the rules are eased, however long it takes, we will say that meandering this horrific experience in the epicentre of a global pandemic is just another thing that made us New York Tough.
Dublin native Freya Drohan is a writer and fashion editor in New York