I met my Brooklyn best friend at the playground one day, a few months after moving into a new neighborhood with my husband and 2-year-old son. When my son started playing with her daughter, we realized that they went to the same daycare. We were both pregnant with our second children at the time, and we bonded immediately. It turned out she and her family lived only a few blocks from us and owned a fixer-upper townhouse, just like us.

For the next few years, our families were inseparable. When our babies were born, she and I were together nearly every day of maternity leave, navigating our strollers onto the subway to explore new stores and restaurants. Over the next couple of years, theirs was the family we’d gather with for Saturday night pizza, for trick-or-treating on Halloween, and for Sunday afternoon diorama-making. Our children went to summer camp and soccer class together. We toured different Pre-K programs together, choosing the same school so the children could be in class with each other.

Then the pandemic hit and, literally overnight, she and her family left the city for good.

Most of the time, you know who the leavers are going to be.

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I’m used to people moving out of New York. The city is expensive, challenging and living here feels tenuous. Every so often somebody leaves, moving to the suburbs or back to wherever they are from, where they can afford a single-family house with a yard. Any longtime New Yorker has experienced the sting of these occasional goodbyes. You get used to it. You find other people to drink craft cocktails with.

But most of the time, you know who the leavers are going to be. The couple living in a tiny apartment who just had their first child. The friend who talks in increasingly glowing terms about her upbringing in California or Minnesota. Usually, these people are not subtle about their intention to eventually leave the city, so you know not to get too invested in them, to steel yourself in advance for their eventual departure.

But with my best friend, I was blindsided. In my mind, she was a committed New Yorker, like me. I’ve lived in the city on and off since 2001, and she had been here since 2003. She and her husband own a house here. They had just renovated their kitchen. I knew her husband had dreamed of moving back to his hometown in central New York, but it seemed impossible work-wise.

Knowing all of this allowed me to believe that they would be around for the long term. We let our guard down and let them in. Our families became entwined in the type of rare and precious friendship that we thought we’d never find—she and I were close, our children were inseparable, and even our husbands got along. They were our people.

But when school was canceled in the pandemic, everything changed. My friend and I both packed up our families and left the city temporarily in search of child care. She moved to her in-laws’ home in central New York and we went to stay with the children’s grandparents in North Carolina.

My family came back to Brooklyn, but once my friend got out of the city, she started seeing things differently. She and her husband were fairly certain they could work remotely for the foreseeable future, so they decided to stay in the small, lakeside town and rent out their house in Brooklyn. They are in the middle of buying a home. She told me the move is permanent.

“The lake and the town are beautiful,” she texted me after breaking the news. “The house is really large. The school is walking distance and top rated.

“It’s really hard to make a case for Brooklyn under these circumstances,” she texted.

I was devastated, though I knew my loss was minor compared with the many other ways Covid has wreaked havoc on people’s lives.

Also, I understood the impulse. The town they moved to looks like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting. At the beginning of the pandemic, I daydreamed about cute little Connecticut cottages with front porches, homes where my children could run around the yard maskless. My friend was making this dream come true for herself, and I didn’t blame her one bit. But her absence made me sad.

I saw my friend and her family recently, when they were in Brooklyn for a funeral. I was thrilled to see her, but when our children started giggling as if no time had passed, it reminded me that we hadn’t filled the hole they left in our lives, and maybe never would.

Then, over an outdoor beet-and-goat cheese salad, she told me that she’s lonely in her new town. She said she hasn’t seen her family for a year, and it has been hard to make friends in the pandemic.

None of us will emerge from Covid unscathed. Even if we didn’t get sick. Even if none of our loved ones died. Even if we didn’t lose a job or a business. Even if we managed to buy our dream home. The virus took all our plans and assumptions about the world and tossed them into the air like confetti. It turned leavers into stayers and stayers into leavers. But mostly, in ways life-shattering or simply just sad, Covid robbed us of our people.

Write to Candace Taylor at Candace.Taylor@wsj.com

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Appeared in the April 23, 2021, print edition as 'The Pandemic Turned Stayers Into Leavers.'