My old block sits behind me, stretching far down to 9th Avenue. It still kind of looks the same, but not completely. Some time last year, I drove up the street — I might’ve been in a Zipcar rental — expecting to see the same red and white canopy resting over and protecting the door below it. Instead, that canopy was now a different color and I wondered whether “Ketly,” not “Kelly,” still lived next door. I remembered she would try to convert me and my family into Jehovah’s Witnesses, and she was so fucking persistent. She would preach the word of her church whenever we’d open our door to her and review biblical passages that made absolutely no sense. We opened our door with some hesitation every Sunday or Saturday morning, hoping to learn another lesson.
My brother had a speech impediment. He couldn’t speak until well past the age he was supposed to have been able to, according to speech pathologists. They said to my mom, “he‘s confused,” and not that we actually spoke two languages and cultures in our home, which meant that he was actually grappling with the two competing halves of himself. His speech therapist’s name started with a C – Courtney, Catherine, something along those lines. Christine. She owned a dark green or grey Jeep Cherokee that she’d always somehow manage to park right in front of this house with the red and white canopy over its door. How did she find that same parking spot every single time? These were the questions I never bothered to ask then, but now viewed as critical. She would play with my little brother on our carpeted living room floor and I remembered wondering whether or not her knees hurt from stooping so low to meet my brother’s gaze and mouth. Could she actually make out his words? How was she calculating his progress over time and why were these sessions so long? Who was this random, blonde, white woman in our house? She was sweet though, so every week, we welcomed her.
Nancy asks me why I chose this cafe today and I respond that I used to live down the block, and that I miss Sunset Park. I really do. I miss it with every inch of my body and mind. I yearn for Sunset Park every day I’m living in another neighborhood and not because one neighborhood is necessarily “better” or “safer” than the other because in reality, issues exist anywhere you find people. My old block sits behind me now because every day is an opportunity to remember a past that came and went too fast. Seeing whether or not the same Chinese stores from when I lived here still stand here brings some level of comfort, albeit short-lived. When I think about the games I used to play outside with my other friends on the block, a little hum emanates from within my vocal cords. I still remember some of their faces and how they smelled of our youth, our sweat, and even the 25 cent WISE potato chips from the bodega on the corner. I swear the bag of those cheap ass chips was always half-filled. On purpose.
I remember almost fighting some chick up the block who was half-Asian and half-Puerto Rican just because she looked at me the wrong way, or so I thought. My anger had no direction yet. The adults just watched, jokingly egging us on, knowing nothing would happen. We were just kids then. This was all before we had to worry about managing our finances and being priced out of our own neighborhood. It’s amazing how for as long as I’ve lived in Brooklyn, I still can’t speak all of its languages. I want to speak every language there is to learn here, regardless of where I am and what block I’m visiting or (re)-visiting. It’s a shame people don’t really sit on their stoops like that anymore. There’s a culture around stoop-sitting in New York that says you know what your neighbor is doing or saying at any given moment, and word gets around no matter which step you have your butt on. Despite all the gossip on this block or that one, how can I be both so tired of and attached to this place? Riddle me that.