I returned to NYC, where I lived before the pandemic, and it made me realize there's no place I'd rather call home

Joey Hadden
·6 min read
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return to NYC
The pandemic made me realize why I love New York City, and there's no place I'd rather live. Joey Hadden/Insider; Kena Betancur/Getty Images
  • After relocating to my mom's house in Austin, Texas, when my office went remote in March, I was eager to return to the city in late July.

  • When I came back, my life was very different. I was working from home, I had new roommates, and many of my friends had moved out of the city.

  • But feeling alone helped me appreciate the people around me, and made me take advantage of New York's parks, outdoor restaurants, and pedestrian streets.

  • Being back in the city made me realize that this is my home now, even in hard times.

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My mom sent seven plants to my apartment the day I flew back to New York City. 

I left the city in March of 2020, just before the coronavirus crisis accelerated and forced businesses, libraries, churches, and residents into lockdown. I spent most of the spring in Austin, Texas, working remotely from my mother's house.

Some members of my family told me they thought I should stay in Texas; going back to New York, they reasoned, would leave me lonely. But I was ready to go home because I missed being on my own.

Before the pandemic, I worked in Manhattan, played in a band, and my best friend in the city lived in my neighborhood. Most weekdays I commuted from work to either band practice or my friend's nearby apartment, and I got home around midnight just to sleep.

But when I returned this summer, things were different. Now, I work from home, my band is not in session, and my best friend moved to the suburbs. 

A small army of plants, my mom seemed to think, would keep me company. 

plants
Six of the seven plants my mom sent to my apartment in New York. Joey Hadden/Insider

When I came back, I was determined to make New York into a real home.

I was initially reluctant to leave the city, but as my friends left the city one by one, I started to feel lonely. As for the ones that stayed, we stopped seeing each other, and I realized nothing was keeping me in Brooklyn. I finally gave in to my mom's persistence, but I held onto my apartment. I wanted to return as soon as it felt safe. 

I watched New York go through the pandemic from Texas. Seeing the devastating death toll, the shutdowns of thousands of businesses, and eerily deserted streets reminded me how suddenly everything can change. Watching the city struggle through the hardships of the pandemic made me appreciate the time I got to spend in it, and led me to be more thoughtful about my life there moving forward.

When I eventually returned in late July, I was nervous that I would get lonely again - many of my friends left the city permanently. But if nothing else, living in New York taught me to be resilient. The city is my home now, and I was determined to find joy and people to share it with.

rooftop roommates
Spending a Sunday evening on my roof with my roommates. Joey Hadden/Insider

Before the pandemic, I didn't make much of an effort to get to know the people I lived with. This time around, after returning and learning I had two new roommates, I spent my evenings hanging out with them.

Now, months later, we feel like family. We play video games, watch movies, and dance in the living room. They make the mundane parts of my day more fun and meaningful.

I even mustered up the courage to talk to other people who live in my building, and I made friends on every floor. We meet up for chats in our backyard and on our rooftop. A few are from New York; others have lived all around the country. 

brooklyn bedroom selfie
I transformed my room into a reflection of my insides. Joey Hadden/Insider

I was also determined to make my apartment feel comfortable. In the last three months, I've turned my bedroom into my own personal dreamland: It's full of plants, activities, and photos that capture my favorite memories, from concerts and parties to vacations and family events.

I also started eating healthier, exercising regularly, and playing music more to keep my spirits up. 

When I left New York in March, I thought being with family was the only way I could maintain happiness during this dark year. If I had stayed with them, however, I wouldn't have built this life that keeps me in a state of relative calm during a time when that's hard to come by.

The new approach to my New York life goes beyond my apartment.

After a while, doing my job from Austin made me feel distant from my colleagues. I wasn't experiencing the same things as them - our routines were different, and our conversations always happened from behind screens. 

When I began working from my Brooklyn bedroom for the first time in months, it was refreshing to look outside and see the city. It was weirdly comforting to experience the same weather as my co-workers. Ultimately, being in New York makes me feel more connected to my job, which makes me happier at work.

room tour
The home office portion of my bedroom. Joey Hadden/Business Insider

Urban planning experts told Insider that the ideal neighborhood to live in during a pandemic should be walkable, with open public space and access to parks of various sizes. My neighborhood, and many others in New York, fit the bill.

NYC may have felt like a ghost town during lockdown, but the city felt so energetic in late summer and early fall this year. The weather was beautiful, and I rarely saw people without masks.

I went to outdoor bars and restaurants and danced in the streets. I spent sunny weekend days in parks with my buds. It was glorious, and it felt safe. 

Since some of my friends left New York, I've found myself feeling more grateful for my friends that are still here. I soak up every minute of our outdoor hangouts because I don't know how much more time we'll have together before another potential lockdown.

nyc halloween
New Yorkers participate in a socially-distanced dance party in Central Park on Halloween. Joey Hadden/Insider

Returning to New York made me realize it's where I want to live, even in a pandemic.

As cases rise and the winter seems more uncertain than ever, the possibility of another lockdown looms, despite the promise of a vaccine. But even if New York were to go dark again, I'd still want to be here.

I figured out how to make myself happy in the city. It's my home, pandemic or otherwise. Even though I still get lonely sometimes, I'm not alone. Spending hard times in New York inspires me to make the best of what I have.

Home, it turns out, is where my plants are.

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