Becoming the Pariah

Below is the full text of a story shared by a woman whose neighborhood and friendships would never be the same. She was different because she was willing to think. Please contact Covid Stories Archive if you would like to use or reproduce this essay, in whole or in part, for your research or writing. Also, please consider sharing your own stories for preservation in our archive.

My story isn’t particularly dramatic or horrifying. I wasn’t publicly shamed, I didn’t lose my job. But I did lose the life I had built with my family and watched the city I had loved become unrecognizable and unlivable. 

I lived in a progressive Brooklyn neighborhood during the pandemic with my husband and three young boys. We managed to escape the city during the initial lockdown and returned 9 weeks later to a completely different place. Our life was just gone – the city was a shell of its former self and the pressure to conform to the strictest pandemic protocols was intense. 

I had started questioning things fairly early on. I was worried about the fall-out from lockdown from the beginning, but I became increasingly worried after NYC peaked (at a fraction of what was predicted) and things only seemed to be getting more intense/restrictive. I started reaching out to my network of friends to try to talk this through but realized pretty quickly that questioning anything was entirely verboten and that I was making everyone very uncomfortable. Some people were quite scared about covid. But I think others were just unwilling to rock the boat. 

As I look back now, I think what made that period especially hard (beyond the horrors of the actual pandemic) was the combination of watching my much-loved community fall apart like it did – everyone separated, things disbanding, anger, hatred, fear – along with the horrible realization that no one was even willing to talk about it. I had so many legitimate questions and issues (I did a lot of research), but I was treated like a crazy conspiracy theorist. I never thought it was possible we could completely reorder the world the way we did -in a panic – and people would treat you like you’re nuts for wanting to talk about it.

I watched the rhetoric in the world around me – in the news, in my community, on social media. I saw the things that were being said about people who thought like I did; I felt the anger of my neighbors when I let my kids run around outside without masks. And all that time I couldn’t defend my character to them because no one was listening. I couldn’t lean into the community of people who truly knew me, because they weren’t willing to talk to me about it. And they certainly weren’t willing to speak up on my behalf. The discussion had been closed and verdict was in for anyone who held views like mine. I had become a pariah in my own home – the place where I had built my life. 

I think for many months I was just paralyzed by the horror of it all. How quickly everything went to shit. I think I knew on some level there was no going back. Even if every detail of my life was returned to pre 2020, I can never un-see the way people acted during that period of time. It took me many more months to let go of the life we had in Brooklyn. We eventually left to travel and then took an assigment overseas. We do plan to return but we will be starting over completely – in a new neighborhood, forging new friendships. 

I’m still sorting through all the layers of this debacle, but it’s been nice to get more perspective as time passes.

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