It finally hit us when the lock clicked. I jiggled the handle same as always to make sure that the door was locked. A nervous tick well honed after 6 years of closing the same door. Except it didn’t matter. All that I was protecting was dust, leftover roach carcasses, and a dissembled smoke detector. It was official. We were no longer in the purgatory of being people in the process of moving. We had moved, it was over. We didn’t live in Bay Ridge anymore.
When I moved back to New York eight or so years ago Danny and I made a deal. I’d move back to the city I had just run away from 24 months prior if I could pick the neighborhood we lived in. From my first go-around in the city I realized that being close to the city itself (or a neighborhood with any semblance of popularity) just increased my own sense of inadequacy and heightened my drive to compete with others. Danger lies ahead. I wanted to be comfortable and I wanted to feel safe. I needed to bring some piece of Florida back with me. If I couldn’t have grits and central AC then I’d settle for large department stores and old people stuck in their ways. I wanted life to feel easier than it had during the first go around in the city. At least as much as possible with a daily commute with 8 million other people. We looked at a few different neighborhoods but there was really no question. If you want to be in Brooklyn but as far away as possible you move to Bay Ridge.
We got used to having to explain where we lived (end of the R train) and that it wasn’t off the LIRR (that’s Bayside). We used our hour long commutes to the city to read, stare at people (aka people watch), and master Peggle. At the end of the day we’d come back to a neighborhood that felt far and away from the hipness of a Brooklyn geotag. We ate at Emphasis. We drank at Three Jolly Pigeons. We avoided the city on the weekends and Century 21 on Sundays. We watched the neighborhood change and not change. We defended Bay Ridge against its naysayers and we watched our building slowly become whiter and younger as rents continued to push the hip folk into Brooklyn’s recesses.
We lived in two different apartments in the eight years we were in Bay Ridge. We were in the second one for 6 years. We got married in that apartment. We got a second (and lesser) cat in that apartment. We got bedbugs in that apartment. The bag would always be mixed but it was very much ours. We had neighbors that played late night salsa music, others we never saw, and a few that had very loud sex. For the last couple of years the building deteriorated. Rents were cheap (and stabilized) and no one seemed all that interested in taking care of the building or its tenants. What was the point if no one was paying that much to begin with? The building got infested with roaches and homeless people slept in the halls. Friends told us to move out. We ignored them all- this was our home. So what it wasn’t perfect?
When we started looking to buy we focused on Bay Ridge. We didn’t want to leave. Bay Ridge made Brooklyn feel like home, or at least as much as possible for a couple of lowly Floridian transplants. We looked at apartments all throughout the neighborhood. None compared to the location and space of our rental. They felt like downgrades. Longer commutes, less space, more money. So what they weren’t infested with roaches? No german cockroach was going to bully us into an impulsive decision.
So we kept looking and putting offers on places. Nothing was working. Friends told us to look elsewhere. The broker told us look elsewhere. Begrudgingly, we listened, but kept coming back to Bay Ridge. It was home. Nothing else felt like home. It took so long to make a place feel like ours. How could we just up and leave it?
We kept looking elsewhere (namely and in Jackson Heights and Kensington) and continued our daily debate of pros and cons of staying in the neighborhood versus leaving it. We eventually saw a unit in Kensington that we were excited enough to offer on and we got it. Friends said it was a good decision, logic said it was a good decision, and it was a good decision- but it had it’s consequences. It meant leaving our lives 2.7 miles behind. That distance sounds ridiculous but in New York a neighborhood is made up of your nearest delis, diners, and 99 cents stores. 2.7 miles is an unimaginable gulf. A competing store that is two additional blocks away? You’ll never go there. What would be the point? You have your deli and that other deli is meant for the people who are closer to that one than your deli. Moving meant abandoning these daily visitations with well known waitresses, deli owners, bagel makers, barbers, dry cleaners, pet shop clerks, and Rite Aid staff. The people that make a neighborhood a home. In a city of phenomenal change and inconsistency these mainstays kept me safe, sane, and happy.
To get us through the move we focused on what we were gaining. Living closer to friends. Owning. Excitement of renovation. Walking to Prospect Park. Shorter commutes. We repeated these facts daily as a Hail Mary to distract us from what we were losing. 3rd Avenue. 5th Avenue. Coszcal de Allende (nee Panchos). Owls Head Park. Barbers that give candy and vacation mementos. King’s window displays. Ragamuffin Parade. Spinach rolls from Elegante. The garlic sauce from Karam’s. Buybacks.
It could never equal out. We’re simply gaining and losing a lot, on both fronts. Of course moving is a logical and practical decision but it’s also a very emotional one. Getting rid of old furniture only to have our downstairs neighbor ask us to help her drag it into our apartment. The super telling us that we’re “good tenants” likely because we didn’t complain quite as much as we probably could have. Danny’s barber giving us matching New Orleans shot glasses as a parting gift. All of these things will change, and we’re ready for it. But it’d be an absolute lie to not admit that I spent the whole car ride to our new home, that doesn’t feel like a home, crying. Nothing compares to the feeling of home when you find it. It’ll take a long time to get there again, but I’ll start tomorrow by jiggling the door handle.