Child Cannot Remember Life Before Pandemic
“Were there escalators or stairs? We ate pierogies?”
This morning, I asked Kina if she remembered a little food hall in our neighborhood. We used to go there to eat pierogies and play skee-ball when she was just old enough to eat pierogies and still too young to play skee-ball. There was a chalkboard wall that Kina would scribble on while we finished our food, and one of her favorite singalong artists would play there from time to time. It was a crowded little indoor space that was a perfect winter dinner refuge, back when you could find effortless refuge.
That food hall closed sometime in the last two years, one stall at a time and then all at once. I hadn’t set foot in there since a couple months before the pandemic, in the same way that I hadn’t set foot in most New York City restaurants in the months before the pandemic; I didn’t think to.
I have a video of Kina on my phone, in fact, from the last time I went to that food hall—on Halloween in 2019 . She and her friend Niki are sitting on a decorative bale of hay at the entrance of the food hall eating some of their hard-won candy. Kina is dressed as a witch and making a face as she realizes that the lollipop she’s just licked is a pickle lollipop. “It’s soury,” she says. She is not even three years old yet.
Kina remembers that moment, but only because she’s watched the video so many times. She doesn’t remember the pierogies, or the skee-ball, or the storefront where her friend Ari did his singalongs. When I asked her if she remembered eating there, she stared off into space for a while and asked if it was down an escalator (it wasn’t) or near a park (it wasn’t). She tried to recall the pierogies, but it just wasn’t clicking. Two years is a long time ago, when you’re five.
There are many things that Kina no longer remembers—not just the experience of having a carefree indoor meal. There are classmates she can’t recall, play spaces she’s forgotten, and an entire year of school she barely had. Everything she knows about being here is how it feels for us to be here now. So while I feel a profound sense of loss—of safety, freedom, calm—she feels… right at home. She can’t feel that sense of loss because she didn’t have the capacity, as a two-year-old child, to remember the thing she’s lost. She doesn’t need the refuge that we do.
It’s not all lost, fortunately. She remembers all her teachers: Ms. Ines, Ms. Mita, Ms. Jamika, Ms. Olenick, Ms. Perez, Ms. Chelsea—she can rattle them off like patron saints. She remembers her friends, even after they’ve gone away, and especially those who have come back. She remembers trampolines. She remembers family. She just doesn’t remember not having to be so careful.
After the food hall in our neighborhood finally closed, its last stalls stripped out and the doors firmly locked, they put craft paper up on the windows. I’ve passed it a few times in the last couple of months and tried to peek inside. There’s something else moving in, but I can’t quite tell what the new thing is—certainly not any better than Kina can remember what the old thing was.
Like us, it’s stuck in limbo.