When we first got married, my wife and I moved into a sleek 6-story walk-up in the fruit streets of Brooklyn Heights. Those were the good old days, before kids, before responsibilities. We both worked at City Hall and it took less than ten minutes to get from home to work. The front of the apartment faced the Brooklyn Promenade and Manhattan skyline with million dollar views of the Brooklyn Bridge. Our cozy space looked backwards into a thicket of trees, bushes, shade, and chirping birds. The rooftop deck, newly remodeled to perfection, gave us panoramic views of the New York Harbor in ways perhaps only the Lenape could have seen in pre-colonial days. We called this apartment our Honeymoon Suite and were only there for one year.
Next, we moved to the backside of Fort Greene to the building on the corner of Clermont and Myrtle Ave with a Walgreens on the first floor. It was mediocre new construction with very poorly laid bamboo floors. But it was a spacious two-bedroom, two bath, and modern layout with 10′ ceilings, beautiful natural light, and laundry in unit. This is the apartment our first born came home to. Across the street was a family-oriented Nigerian Mosque/Islamic Center. I still go there and there are still familiar faces from the days I would pray incessantly for our child to be born healthy while my wife prayed that he have curly hair and be beautiful (he is healthy with curly hair and is gorgeous).
When the pressures of child rearing in NYC mounted, as finances became more and more strained, and as the cost of rent, food, child care became prohibitive, my wife made a decision.
“We need to get the hell out of NYC,” she said.
We started selling our things, searched for jobs, and landed in Richmond, Virginia. I’ll never forget driving the small U-haul away from Clermont and Myrtle with family and friends waving goodbye. In that moment I felt I was leaving forever and that I was a failure – my birthplace, my hometown, chewed me up and spit me out.
The night we arrived in Richmond, it was muggy, sticky, and I was exhausted from driving and listening to the second round of the NCAA tournament on the radio. One of my favorite teams, the Syracuse Orange Men, were losing and it felt like a bad omen. We found a loft apartment to sublet in a renovated stove factory adjacent to railroad tracks and the local speedway. We unloaded our belongings. Looking back, most of our things never came out of the boxes. We heard trains rumble by often and it was a calming sound to relocated New Yorkers. One night, I was shaken by the buzzing sound of a thousand gargantuan bees. I went outside and thought the world was ending when the locals told me it was just NASCAR. Our first son learned to crawl, then walk, in that loft. I adopted a local high school team and watched them win the Virginia State Championship, the same night we started to pack our bags once again. We were headed back to Brooklyn. Suburban sounds, confederate statues, and southern sensibility just didn’t cut it for my wife and I. Once again, I found myself in a U-haul, stopping in Delaware to watch the sun rise, continuing on to Brooklyn, triumphant.
We stashed half of our things in a storage unit belonging to my mom since the 90s — when Fort Greene was basically all Black. We moved into a glorious one-bedroom on the second floor of a beautiful brownstone on Lafayette and Grand, on the dividing line between Fort Greene and what’s now called Clinton Hill — previously Bed-Stuy. We welcomed our second son in that apartment. For those short five months, there was a constant ebb and flow of house guests – so many at times that there was no place to walk with all the people sleeping on couches and covering every inch of the floor. The tiny little kitchen fed everyone, there were no bugs, and at night we sat on the stoop. In the days we went to Pratt and the little guys rolled around the lawn barefoot. It was a lovely, lovely home.
Today, we’re in a three-bedroom co-op that we responsibly purchased and that will allow us to stay in Brooklyn without getting priced out for some years to come. We live so close to the rising, vertical part of downtown splayed with cranes and construction equipment that my son often asks, “Dada, are we going to build a building?” “Maybe one day,” I tell him. We can walk to all of our previous homes. We can also walk to bridges, subways, farmers markets, and Barclays. We renovated, emptied that old storage unit, purged all manner of extraneous stuff for fear of becoming hoarder-like. We still host visitors but have more space to walk. They come from all corners of the globe with poetry, jewelry, revolutionary ideas, books, wisdom, stories, smiles and love. Our boys see the whole universe come through these modest doors. And yet… I still wonder what is next. Where will we live next?