Felt like a Holiday, Felt like a Home: Love Letter Poem to NYC

Dear NYC but mostly to Brooklyn,

You and I both know that sometimes the glass door just shatters, and the only choice becomes, to rebuild. Leaving means rehashing so here we go. Ten Brooklyn homes in 17 years.

16th Street. That’s where I first lived after my big surgery, where I created home through garment rack and altar and a curtained off area in the living room of the DJ’s apartment. That’s where, after stopping at both The Rising and Ginger’s I heard about a research paper on Isa B. Wells, or more accurately I didn’t hear about the paper but instead found someone special to love.

6th Street. I remember sitting in the hospital of a Chicagoland suburb on the phone with D. She had scoured out an apartment but it was way way way down between 4th and 5th Avenues in the Slope. Seventeen years later nobody uses way way way down to describe that area anymore. First, the Peruvian restaurant arrived on 5th Avenue and then, everything else followed. Now we can’t afford to live on 4th Avenue and neither can its own long term inhabitants. We almost fell for it though and gave everything to live on 4th last year but thank goodness we didn’t since the school zones changed soon after, cutting 4th Avenue out.

9th Street. That’s the house where I sat in the living room and watched my workplace – 7 World Trade Center – crumble down live on TV.  My bosses knew I was in midtown that morning so they didn’t have to say – but wait where’s Sunu – she’s a morning person – we should find her too before we exit the building. That’s the same living room where I sat with a weekend visitor from another city who had come into town just to take me on a date. That’s the house where O didn’t stay over and didn’t stay over and then did.

4th Street. That’s the place where I first became an apartment owner. I renovated the bathroom & kitchen and only then did the apartment become taken over with roaches from the senior citizen lady’s apartment just above. I had an entire wall of double hanging closets though and one entire section just for my shoes. Except for the roaches I adored my first co-op apartment. By the grace of God and the magic of real estate I paid off my $100,000 in law school debt when I sold that apartment.

Carlton Ave. That’s the yellow house where, God rest her soul, I found out that our landlord’s wife, someone my own age, recently passed away from cancer. I was so envious of her back then, when I would see her at the basement laundry and she was pregnant just as I received miscarriage messages on my voicemail. Now she’s gone and her guy is raising their eight year old daughter. Oh the wastefulness of envy. Prayers for her entire family.

State Street. That’s the apartment where we lived like we were fancy for one year. An entire extra bathroom for our guests. An entire extra bedroom for our offices or guests. We had zero overnight guests that year though because of homophobia and my own year of grief.  Mostly I filled that room with internet searches for grief related to miscarriages and infertility. We did manage to entertain on Christmas Day though. We fought that morning and I took my anger out on making my most memorable chicken curry; everyone asked for thirds. Rebecca & O’s Mom beat us in Scrabble and all the trash talking made it feel like a holiday, like a home. In January I surprised O with a large gift wrapped flat screen TV that she still uses to this day. Only now do I wonder if this gift was to make up for everything that would go wrong later that year, before it all went right.

Eastern Parkway. That’s the apartment where E put up the glass mirror, the bike rack and decided ,sort of, to put up with me. The day I arrived there I walked into that basement like apartment, stood in the middle of the tiny kitchen, and cried. For having left the shiny apartment on State Street, for having left seven years with a good partner, for the fact that they promised to install a working microwave but had not done so. They fixed the microwave much sooner than expected but then the mice arrived. I stayed at Shalu’s a lot and ate at Cheryl’s a lot and drank at Sepia sometimes and survived too many break-ups with the carpenter that year.

Eastern Parkway (again, but this place had a view and a cross-breeze). That’s my second apartment on Eastern Parkway directly across from the Museum and the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens. Three adoption home studies, meeting my mentee Sierra, waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting for my baby to see the light and another to fly across the ocean to be my daughter. That cold winter a man was murdered related to one of my court cases and for the first time I was afraid to be alone. I slept on O’s couches for that week and Marie went with me to the apartment to get my clothes. I went to the funeral with a colleague and he was surprised when the Indian girl knew the words to all the Christian funeral hymns. When the roll is called up yonder, I’ll  be there. That was the home where I started my MFA program and taught Creative nonfiction at Queens College. Where E waited for a long time for me outside in the cold. Then Satya arrived, just one week shy of age two. It was her first home in Brooklyn. Where on her first night, she cried so much and would not let go of my hand so I just kneeled down next to her bed for most of the night. Now when we drive by that block she says Hi, old apartment.

East 43rd Street. That’s the house where I realized the outer end of my limits. I felt all the lack there was to feel and only some of the joy.  Transportation, clutter, ghosts, SuperStormSandy. Somehow the list of challenges in that space only multiplied with time.  A home filled with love and heartbreak and despair. I am still afraid to visit that home to this day but I do it anyway. Some spaces I failed to transform and so eventually abandoned. I feared we too would turn to dust if we remained there.

Willoughby Street. That’s the tiny apartment full of light and accessibility and loneliness and joy. Many nights of wishing we could hop into the phone and be in one place. Moved there with the promise of the R train – the R train that would get me to work easily and Satya to school easily. One week before moving in though I learned from my friend at the MTA that the R train was going to be shut down for post Super Sandy Storm repair. For one year. And so, there was no easy. Instead we skipped along the hallways between the Q train and the R train up at Canal Street and doubled back downtown. Sometimes it’s easiest to travel further and find your way back. As counterintuitive as that seems, the other commuting options were too unbearable.

Oh NYC, we managed. To see the joy and despair side by side on the train daily. When Satya asks why folks are sleeping on the sidewalk what do you say to her?

How can we pay tribute to the tissue thin lives contained in the folds of those 2001 newspapers — pictures and stories less alive than on the “have you seen ” posters from just the months before. To the ones I know and the ones they know you have my heart. On every anniversary and every day in between. For me 7 World Trade Center was just my workplace and litigation cases and buildings. Even still it almost broke me.

Oh NYC – on the Q train when Satya says look look I can see the Statue of Liberty, there is nothing better than that. When I walk your Brooklyn Bridge to work from Fort Greene I take your picture every single time.  Last time I saw the stationed policeman also taking a picture of you on his phone. In that way (only) we are the same.

But remember this, my NYC, I took pictures of you even before there was any inkling of leaving you.  I was overtaken by your beauty, even before we knew that I was soon leaving you.

Love,

Sunu P. Chandy
Brooklyn, New York

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