I didn’t see a single friend for a year and a half during the pandemic. My midtown Manhattan office closed and I began working remotely from my parents’ house in Connecticut. I went into the city to check on my coop and pick up my mail but the most I did was eat outside at neighbourhood restaurants—all alone. I kept up with friends through texts, calls, and social media but I didn’t make any plans. I usually wait for my friends to initiate things and nobody asked to meet up. Everyone was hunkered down. I finally moved back to my Upper East Side coop and an old friend wanted to get together after his trip through Portugal, Spain, and France. We had dated for several years when he moved to New Orleans and it didn’t last. We hadn’t seen each other for several years, but it was like old times when we met for drinks and then dinner at a Korean place. We talked about poetry and writing, teaching, and mutual friends from our urban writers’ colony that had been a second home for years. He wanted to come over for ice cream afterwards but I needed to go home. It was intense to see my first friend after so long and I needed to decompress alone.
I went to my first Covid-era party with friends after I moved back to the city. It was a book party in Brooklyn to celebrate the release of my Columbia Journalism School classmate’s memoir about becoming a celebrity party crasher in Hollywood and other locations. He met party crashers while he was working as a journalist with the Los Angeles Times. When he got laid off, he became a party crasher, too. He gave Clint Eastwood a neck massage mistaking him for an old boss. He ran into Jennifer Anniston who told his party crashing friend, “I know you!” He crashed the Oscars, the Golden Globes, with tricks he learned from other party crashers. He told stories and we laughed. He read excerpts and we laughed some more. Someone passed a joint around the room and I passed it along without joining in. A group of guys went for drinks after the party but I said goodnight and took the subway home.
Watching Golf with My Dad
I started running in the seventh grade with my father. We did a two-mile loop around our neighbourhood with gentle hills. It came easy to me. When we moved to a bigger house in the wooded part of town, we ran a longer route with hills that made me cry. I would sit down on the curb and my father always waited patiently for me to finish the run. I kept running after I left home and finished marathons and Ironman triathlons. My father kept running, too. He was also a golfer who played courses all over the world while he was on business trips. He wanted me to play golf like the rest of my family. I took lessons but it didn’t come naturally like running. I tried to be a good sport until I was hit in the head with a golf ball. It felt like a bullet and I fell to the ground. My new white golf gloves were coated with blood. A young boy came up and apologized for hitting the stray ball. I still have a bald spot just beyond my hairline. I hit balls with my father and nephew a few times, but I never played another game of golf. When my father retired, he began to play golf three times a week. He also watched golf tournaments on TV. After my office went remote at the beginning of the pandemic, I left Manhattan to work from my parents’ house in Connecticut. I stayed for a year and a half, and weekends I watched golf with my father. I got invested in the players like my father. Even though I moved back to the city, I watch golf with my father when I visit. We no longer run but we have golf.
I was so happy before the pandemic. I had a good job writing evaluations for specialty occupation visa applications. I talked about poetry with my colleagues who are poets and writers. I read at the open mic at my monthly poetry reading in the East Village. I went for long walks in Central Park. I visited my parents in Connecticut on weekends. I met friends for meals and movies in the city. Family and friends read my published memoirs and poetry chapbooks. I had never felt so happy. Then the pandemic shut down my office. My father suggested working remotely from my parents’ house in Connecticut and I left the city without any summer clothes. As warm weather came, I found old triathlon and biathlon t-shirts in my parents’ attic. I went to the city every few months to check on my apartment. And soon a year and a half had passed. My office was supposed to reopen after Labor Day and I moved back to the city. The reopening was pushed back by a month and then again and again. I have fleeting moments of happiness—after walking in Central Park, going to neighborhood restaurants, meeting with friends, and even going to a live book party. I hope I will feel the same overflowing happiness I felt before the pandemic sometime soon.
Karol Nielsen is the author of the memoirs Black Elephants (Bison Books, 2011) and Walking A&P (Mascot Books, 2018) and the chapbooks This Woman I Thought I’d Be (Finishing Line Press, 2012) and Vietnam Made Me Who I Am (Finishing Line Press, 2020). Her first memoir was shortlisted for the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing in nonfiction in 2012. Excerpts were honored as notable essays in The Best American Essays in 2010 and 2005. Her full poetry collection was longlisted for the Terry J. Cox Poetry Award in 2021 and was a finalist for the Colorado Prize for Poetry in 2007. One of her poems was a finalist for the Ruth Stone Poetry Prize in 2021. Her work has appeared in Epiphany, Guernica, Lumina, North Dakota Quarterly, Permafrost, RiverSedge, and elsewhere.