The world looked different when I decided to move to Los Angeles five months ago. A global pandemic had yet to lock us in our homes. George Floyd was still alive. We were allowed to hug our friends and families. And I could still attend the in-person recovery meetings that have been keeping me sober for the last two and a half years.
When I first moved to New York City eight years ago, I was fresh out of college and felt lost. In an attempt to numb my fears about what I would do with the rest of my life, I spent most of my weekends getting blackout drunk and fighting off vicious hangovers. I drank my way through New York on dates and dinners and used alcohol to make it through major events like Hurricane Sandy and the 2016 presidential election.
Then I quit drinking at 28, and everything started to change. Sobriety was like opening my eyes for the first time after years of sleepwalking. New York City looked brighter, cleaner and more inviting. Every morning that I woke up remembering what I had done and said the night before, New York started to feel more like home. And as I emerged from the fog caused by alcohol, a new community of sober women were waiting to welcome me back to earth. I was surprised; in stumbling into a recovery meeting, I had only been looking for suggestions on how to stop blacking out.
Despite my initial resistance, the women I met helped me anyway. They taught me how to navigate this strange new alcohol-free world I found myself living in and walked me through heartbreak and career changes. They taught me to laugh at myself, bought me candy when I had bad days and rode the subway home with me after meetings. They helped me find the confidence to pursue my passion for writing and cheered me on as I fell in love. Every small step across New York, with their support, pushed me in the direction of a bigger and better life — which is why it feels surreal to be taking this giant, cross-country leap without saying goodbye to any of them.
My boyfriend and I had been talking about moving in the months before covid-19 hit. He had been splitting his time between New York and L.A. for the past year for work, and it was both expensive and exhausting, not to mention left little room for quality time as a couple. The lease on our Brooklyn apartment was ending in June, and as a freelance writer I had the flexibility to work from a different city. It felt like the right time to start a new adventure. I was excited, but felt familiar old fears creeping in about starting over again in a new city. I comforted myself with the reminder that I still had time before my move; time for dinners with friends in favorite restaurants, long walks on crooked West Village streets, and cherished cramped basement meetings across Brooklyn and Manhattan.
But as New York City coronavirus cases escalated and the stay-at-home order went into effect, the city emptied; many who had the means left. My sober tribe scattered too, leaving to stay with relatives in New Jersey and Long Island and retreating to faraway home states like Colorado, Idaho, and Tennessee. Even the friends who remained in New York were off limits, as we were instructed to shelter in place. While I stayed in touch easily with family and my interconnected group of college girlfriends, some of my individual relationships with women in recovery felt more distant. Stretched across different time zones and without our regular physical meeting space, we were strangely untethered.
As March turned to April, I held out hope that self-quarantine would lift as spring settled in, that we would be allowed to gather in small groups again, maybe even hug each other. But it soon became clear that there was no going back to the way things were in the before times. No coffee dates or belly laughs or crying in close quarters.
As the country gets hit with one wave of grief and anger after the next, the idea of saying goodbye feels trivial and small. Do goodbyes even matter when so much of the world remains in a virtual state? I’ll still be able to log on to Zoom and make phone calls from Los Angeles. So why does it feel like I’m leaving New York in the middle of an unfinished sentence?
While I’ve been able to stay connected to my sober community through virtual meetings and calls, this type of goodbye just doesn't feel the same over the phone. To be clear, online meetings are still an incredibly effective tool for getting and staying sober. And I’m grateful that, unlike before, I don’t have to drink my way through uncertainty. But I’m craving the kind of goodbye that runs the risk of transmitting a deadly virus. The kind with speech droplets from laughter and shared stories in church basements, and tight hugs that defy the laws of social distancing. The kind of goodbye that says thank you for giving me this second chance at life. A goodbye with enough room for the question that I’m too afraid to ask: How am I going to do any of this without you?
Recent weeks have brought an unexpected return to public life as large groups have gathered across the country to demand justice for the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks and too many others. Floyd’s death put the privilege of my own desire to say temporary, in-person goodbyes into perspective, as he will never get to say his own.
These protests are also the first time many have been able to see their friends in three months. The reunions are bittersweet, marked by the knowledge that this world is heavier than the last time we came together. A few days ago, I met a good friend in a Brooklyn park where a vigil for Floyd was held. We hadn’t seen each other in months and stayed apart, socially distanced, masks on. I wanted to thank her for everything: for always holding space for me and loving me when I couldn’t love myself. Instead, we walked in silence for a while, grateful to not have to fill the space with Zoom-level small talk. It turns out that, even in person, some goodbyes are simply too big to put into words.