I Miss This Time, Already
Why it’s possible to feel nostalgic for something that’s terrible and sad
In Regular Times, walking home through the East Village on the first warm evening of spring would be like swimming upstream. Groups of people would drink spritzes and rosés in the open-air bars on St. Mark’s Place. My neighborhood would normally be a noisy, multi-block fashion show of tourists and NYU students debuting their warm-weather ensembles.
But last week I took a walk around the East Village on a lovely, springy night and heard birds and the rustle of trees (debuting their new green leaves). It felt romantic even though, or maybe because, I was alone. It was nice to walk around a fairy-tale part of the city and not see couples caressing each other’s hair over a bottle of Lambrusco. On St. Mark’s, I was delighted by an unexpected scene: a jazz band played, wearing masks and toe-tapping at a distance from each other and onlookers, with a Venmo sign instead of a hat for cash and coins. People sauntered in the middle of the street. Bars had converted their big front windows into take-out operations, offering cocktails to go with ambiguous legal implications. The street had transformed into a New-Orleans-esque boulevard.
It’s the scene I’ll tell people about someday when they ask if I stayed in New York during the pandemic. Maybe they’ll ask if it was, in any way, kind of fun. I’ll squirm as I honestly reply, “Yeah, it was actually kind of fun… sometimes I miss it.”
In singular, beautiful moments like this, I feel something I call “pre-nostalgia”: preemptively missing the experience I’m already living. But how is it that I’m finding myself pre-nostalgic for the most egregious health crisis of our era? I think it’s the same reason I sometimes miss the time when I was in a hospital bed for weeks, or the way I get nostalgic for being in the throes of grief or heartbreak. We build a world in these times, and the world becomes our home, and we can get homesick even for places we hated.