There’s something so comforting about an old neighborhood. Your feet know right where to go. Everything looks familiar, even things that have changed. The sidewalk feels right, the sun slipping past the buildings warms you in just the right way. It’s a simple serenity feeling.
I had cause to be in the old neighborhood this weekend. Greenpoint. A hood that will always be special to me, because it’s the place my son first lived, the place we first brought him home. It’s a real thing, that first home. Not for child, but for parent. This is the place my life changed forever, this is the place my life got better, this is the place where my life stopped being about me, and I didn’t mind at all. I was glad of it.
This is the place where I read you Willa Cather while rocking you to sleep, and stayed on rocking, and reading to myself, while you slept a perfect sleep in my arms.
This is the place where we gave you the bed room and moved our bed into the living room. This is the place where we hired a cleaning person, because nothing we could do on our own would make the 1930’s converted commercial building good enough for your first homecoming. This is the place where we moved when we left Manhattan for good and forever. The place we moved when we needed a cheap apartment from which we could pay off old bills and repair our credit, damaged from years of paying for an apartment we couldn’t afford. This is where we lived when I learned to bake cake, and muffins, and pie, and to prep a week’s worth of baby food on Sunday afternoon. This is where I learned to do with less sleep, and even less drugs. This is where it started coming together, our grown up life. This is where shit got real, and matter suddenly seemed apriori again.
This is where I went off the pill and found out what my hormones are really like. This is where I learned to love that ride. This is where we welcomed all the grandparents to our home, proudly, like maybe we’d done something good for once, for the first time, without worrying that we’d left the bong in plain sight.
This is where I learned that love is a gift. That love is given to us, and all we need do is share it. Love is not created, each instance of love is just the sharing of that original love, perhaps God’s love, spreading out between us, between parent and child, between lovers and friends, between neighbors. This is where I learned that to give love only increases the amount of love you have to give.
I was helping out on a documentary, and it was a joy to do it, because for some perverse reason I like to spill my guts, the dirtier and more humiliating, the better. Perhaps it’s like some kind of penance for me, but I don’t want to dwell on it. I left the studio and felt compelled to walk by the old apartment, to stop in the fancy cheese shop and pick up some provisions, much like I used to when we still lived next door, to walk by the boutique where I indulged in expensive organic tshirts as a kind of coping mechanism during the lead up for C’s neurosurgery.
I turned right off West Street and walked past the old playground, where I’d pushed C on the swings so many times, allayed his fears about going down the slide, opened our first picnic at the picnic table. I walked up Franklin, rife with beautiful boutiques. Stopped in at Raised by Wolves, where I’d purchased my now favorite shoes, probably the last big purchase I’d made in the hood. A few shops were gone, new ones had taken their place. I turned right onto Green, admired the luxe condos I’d admired when they first went up, though I knew it signaled the coming end of our time in Greenpoint. Left on Manhattan, past Freeman, and there it was. My son’s first home.
I hadn’t thought about how to get there, I just followed each step. It’s the same route I used to take coming home from the playground, I’d window shopped in the same windows, wanted to emulate the same style. Kids run past, I wonder if these would have been my son’s friends, if I would have known all their names, said hello to their parents. I looked up to the second floor, the three windows that used to be our view out to Manhattan Avenue. C’s old window has Hello Kitty decals in it now.
As it was, I was the silent outsider. I was the person taking photos of memories. The cheese shop lady remembered my son’s name, but not my own, I didn’t remember hers either, but it didn’t matter. We shared kindness. I bought aged Gouda, the kind my friends Rachel and Nick call ‘crack cheese’ because of how delicious it is, and the hard little salty crystals it contains. I bought Siracha Pees and local honey, chili sauce. There were some delicacies I left on the shelf: the local ricotta and prosciutto, which I can get in the new neighborhood, both better, and cheaper, at the old Italian specialty shop where Dave buys big fat pork chops.
Heading back out into the unseasonally warm, bright weather, I thought of walking straight down Manhattan Ave, past the Greenpoint stop, onto the next one, just to remember things while walking. I came to the old Polish butcher shop, Kiszka, and popped in for some kielbasa, something we hadn’t had in ages. As I stood in the long line, that snaked around the tiny shop, I realized I didn’t want to walk all the way through the past, carrying kielbasa and cheese and nostalgia, I just wanted to get home and see what C had been up to.
Children arrive at a realization of their own consciousness fully aware of who they are, and where they’re standing. At the point when cognition clicks for them, it is actual, and serious, and deserving of equal consideration. They can’t see how much of their life was lived without this awareness, when a parent was acting for them, deciding for them. My first memories of C were formed here, while his permanent memories are just now starting to take shape. To me Greenpoint is the beginning of everything that his life is, that our life is together, and for him it will always just be the stuff of his personal legend, stories he remembers because of the telling, not because of the experience.