This Is How New Yorkers Will Remember a Year They Can’t Wait to Forget


Shanell Duck, 33, hopes future New Yorkers can embrace hard-fought progress — or keep fighting for it.Credit...Brittainy Newman for The New York Times


“There’s some pieces of normalcy that I don’t really want back. Our normal wasn’t always ideal.”

said one New Yorker.


New Yorkers stand this week as the living footnotes of tomorrow’s textbooks. The year 2020 will be studied by historians, scientists and schoolchildren for generations, and yet, it will be known by many of those who lived through it for the singular moments that arrived behind a pandemic’s deadly waves.


Dimitrios Fragiskatos, forced to shut down his comic-book store in Brooklyn for almost three months, will remember 2020 as the year he launched an online shop, and regulars from his fantasy game tournaments helped it flourish.


“It was a kind of restoration of faith in humanity. Change or die’ — isn’t that the saying?”

Mr. Fragiskatos said.


Richard Schwartz and Amy Jablin, together nearly 10 years, will define the year by their October rooftop wedding, attended by four socially distant witnesses.


Sarah Goodis-Orenstein, a schoolteacher from Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn, said the pandemic, by erasing her commute, forced her to slow down and spend more time with her young children.


“There’s some pieces of normalcy that I don’t really want back. Our normal wasn’t always ideal.”

she said.


The Year Like None Before, the Year That Lasted Forever is finally drawing to a close, becoming a thing that happened even as its tolls follow into 2021. More than 25,000 New Yorkers who rang in 2020 died of the coronavirus in the months that followed. For those who bore witness, this has been a time for taking stock and taking a breath amid all that has changed.


The city ends the year hopeful, if unwell, its big annual party blocked off, and its people unsure of exactly how to celebrate, if at all. It’s a question familiar in other tumultuous years.


In 1918, as an influenza epidemic ravaged the city, Times Square was somber, “crowded, but the procession was as quiet as if on the way to the parish church,” The New York Times reported. In 1941, a few weeks after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, air raid sirens and 2,000 police officers surrounded Times Square. And New Year’s Eve the month after President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963 found many skipping the fancy balls and gathering instead for special evening church services.


Several New Yorkers, asked about New Year’s Eve plans, expressed shock it was almost here. In the year that seemed to alter the passage of time, when an afternoon or a month could go by practically unnoticed, and with all the familiar forms of celebration off limits, some said they have no plans at all.


Others had concrete aspirations and the tools to make them happen: a new down jacket, bought especially for dinner outside. A spot on the sofa and snacks for movie night. A glowing screen for those home alone, but among friends.


In Long Island City, Queens, the Hasman family — mother, father and daughter Sofie, 11, one another’s constant company since March — will each select two songs that everyone has to dance to.


“We’ll all dance together as a family, and just have to go with the flow.”

said Theresa Hasman, 46.


The dancing will cap a long evening: At noon, they will gather online with Ms. Hasman’s parents in her native Denmark — where it will be 6 p.m. — and have a glass of Champagne and watch the queen’s annual speech. Ms. Hasman spent 2020 making homemade masks for health care workers and patients when supplies were low. One mother who received a mask sent a message saying she endured labor and childbirth while wearing one.


“People wrote the nicest notes. I will always keep them.”

she said.


Some are keeping it simple. Vallnez Mozell, 44, from Mill Basin in Brooklyn, will end the year on her sofa with her husband, William, and their 6-year-old son, Rhys, watching some movie from the 1980s — “The Goonies” was a recent crowd-pleaser. Mr. Schwartz and Ms. Jablin, the newlyweds, will meet friends at a restaurant. Mr. Schwartz bought a new coat for the occasion.


One couple in Astoria, Queens, Ken Bergreen, an advertising manager, and his partner, Cassandra Lam, who runs the curry paste and hot sauce company Mama Lam’s, normally travel over the holiday — 2018 in Vermont, 2019 in Portugal. This year:


“No plans at all,”

he said.

Ken Bergreen and Cassandra Lam said they usually travel for New Year’s. This year they’re staying home. Credit...Brittainy Newman for The New York Times


Ali Lake, a New Yorker who plans to spend the night in Boston with one — and only one — old friend, Alexandra Yesian, will nevertheless be dressed to party.


“I bought this amazing sequin dress. Even though Alexandra will be the only one to see me in it.”

Ms. Lake said


New Yorkers looked back at the year that was, and noted where they had been pushed along to new and interesting places, and where the year had left them feeling stranded off to the side.

Virginia Gourin, 76, was a career babysitter for decades in the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Word of mouth kept her busy with toddlers — she converted one room in her apartment into something resembling the showroom of F.A.O. Schwarz with its big stuffed animals.

As news of the coronavirus began to intensify early this year, Ms. Gourin was at the carousel in Central Park with a 3-year-old in her charge.


She remembered thinking,

“This is like a dream — I hope something bad doesn’t happen.”

Her work halted immediately, leaving her lonely and adrift. She closed off the playroom, its cheerfulness unbearable.


“It’s heartbreaking, I aged.”

she said.


A high school sophomore from Long Island City, Kayan Abu Juma, 16, felt the opposite sensation. His growth into adulthood was stunted by the virus and the end of in-person school.


“At home, you really start to slack off. I’m really lost and I don’t know what to do.”

he said.


His plans for 2021 feel intensely urgent:

“I want to experience new things in life and look forward to what I’m going to do when I grow up. I know that I’m not supposed to worry about this now, but I really need to start thinking about it. Thinking that I’m going to be lost is really putting me in a state of stress.”

Elsewhere, New Yorkers found reasons to give thanks as the year wound down. Ms. Mozell, who makes accessories and shoes, pivoted to masks when the pandemic hit; one unique design commemorated Ruth Bader Ginsburg, while another bore an “I Voted” check mark.

Ali Lake said she bought a sequin dress to wear on New Year’s Eve even if she was only hanging out indoors with one friend.Credit...Brittainy Newman for The New York Times


Ms. Lake, a 28-year-old assistant at a literary agency, focused on writing an adventure novel for young adults. A couple in Sunnyside, Queens, Paul Metzger and Mary Giaimo, found great comfort in long walks —

“like a sacrament,”

Ms. Giaimo said.


Tselmeg Zuunbaatar and Nathan Kan, both college students from New Jersey who were visiting Central Park recently, met through friends,


“socially distant caught each other’s eyes,”

Ms. Zuunbaatar said, and began dating.


Others are simply looking forward to the end of this harrowing year.



To Jada Jones, 25, who moved to New York from Chicago a week before the pandemic arrived, New Year’s is just another holiday ruined, and dwelling on it only makes her strangely miss the dark days of March. Back then, staggered by the speed at which the city shut down and not knowing how long it would last, one could hope.


“But at this point in December I can say that, for myself and a lot of my friends, that we’ve fully transitioned. We’re no longer upset.”

Ms. Jones, who lives in Brooklyn, said.


Frustration has become resignation:


To have lived through history is to hope — or even demand — that it be remembered in ways that feel true and honest. New Yorkers in 2020 thought about what they want their future neighbors, their successors — the newcomers of 2050 — to know about what the city endured this year.


“I want people to remember that there are a lot of people in New York who are not rich and who need help. I think once this is over, it’s going to be normal to pay $20 for a bottle of wine — no, a glass of wine. That’s what this city has become.”

Ms. Giaimo said.


Shanell Duck, 33, hopes future Americans can embrace hard-fought progress in areas of race and economic disparity — or keep fighting for it.

“They are intense and draining conversations emotionally. So what is the willpower to continue?”

she said.


Mr. Bergreen, the advertising manager in Astoria, sought to remember the positive changes he saw out his window.

“For the first time in New York, everybody kind of stepped back and looked out for each other,”

he said.


Ms. Mozell would agree:

“They say New Yorkers are rude and inconsiderate — no. I’m proud of our city for that.”

she said.


Bob Cucurullo, a 67-year-old accountant, walked in Central Park with Charlie, his rescue dog, on a recent afternoon.


“I give 2020 two stars,”

he said — it could have been worse, in his eyes, and a vaccine brings hope.


He wanted to speak directly to those not yet born, who may someday read this paragraph.

“Don’t count New York out. We always come back.”

he said.

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