Brooklyn. It’s the city that warrants snide remarks about getting shot, the infiltration of hipsters and the bustle of Brighton Beach. It’s also the city that I call home. Now when people ask me where I’m from and I respond with “Brooklyn” they look at me as if I have two heads. NO. Where are you REALLY from? With a bit of exasperation I say Ukraine because that’s where I was born. It’s as if Brooklyn has a type of person, either the bearded plaid-wearing guy holding an organic chai matte latte made by vegetarian farmers in the hills of Peru or middle-aged women wearing impossibly expensive fur coats who live on welfare. It’s a city with a plenitude of diversity; the bodegas that are open 24 hours so that turkey sandwich you’re craving after taking a shady train, is the perfect complement to your drunken rants.
Don’t get me wrong; for over 20 years all I wanted to do was leave Brooklyn. I wanted to get to THE CITY. I mean Manhattan. It was almost the rebellious thing to do if you come from a traditional Ukrainian Jewish family, like I do. As a young female you don’t move to the city, you marry the Jewish accountant down the block and have two kids, living impossibly close to both your parents and in-laws, not surprised by the unannounced visits and pots of Borscht. I took the chance anyway moving into a very spacious (shocker) apartment in Murray Hill with a roommate. I was so excited! I couldn’t believe I actually left the nest and was now in my own, well half of my own place. This new found area was like its own little island: the ten minute walk to work made my depleting bank account worth it; the pizzeria next door was open all the time and let’s not forgets the bro bars. Everything was at my fingertips and I hadn’t had the chance to be homesick.
The confidence I experienced when telling people that I lived in the city made me feel like I accomplished something. Even my fake room – you know the kind where the wall doesn’t go all the way up to the ceiling couldn’t shake all the benefits. I loved waking up an hour later and strolling to work passing the dozens of coffee places: The Starbucks, the Le Pain Quotidiens, the Au Bon Pains and the Guy & Gaillards were bustling with men clad in pinstripe suits and women struggling in their Louboutins. In Brooklyn, all I had was the Chinese grocery on the corner that would serve lukewarm paper cup coffee and stale bagels. Weekly happy hours had allowed me to realize how close I really was to my apartment. I didn’t have to get on the Q train and spend an extra hour going home; a few avenues over and I could fall into a warm beer-filled sleep. On the other hand Murray Hill residents like to be out and about at all hours of the night and my “older” self couldn’t handle it. Sleeping with the windows open would be impossible as I tried to drown out the couples fighting, the trucks with their 5 AM deliveries and the girls discussing how they would get home to Long Island that weekend. At home, I would be surprised to hear a passing alcoholic.
I recently moved to the Upper West Side and I’m reminded of how quiet and peaceful a neighborhood could be. Families lounging in Central Park, as their toddlers run around gleefully make me nostalgic of being back home. During the summer I love going to the beach, on Brighton nonetheless and can always look forward to the loud-mouthed women who have no doubt packed hot corn on the cob or a pierogi for their children. Everyone knows each other and you can be sure that you’ll run into your mom’s schoolmate from Odessa whose son’s coworker’s cousin happens to be the guy you’re being set up with. No matter where I live now, Brooklyn is where I was raised. The city where my parents emigrated to from Ukraine has become so ingrained in who I am that I’ve formed a love-hate relationship with it. Today I’m in love.