357 Stockholm Street
Our first night in Brooklyn our apartment was empty, except our pillows, luggage, and sleeping bags. It was lousy and it was exciting. We opened the kitchen window and stepped out onto the fire escape and looked out upon something like a movie set. There were yellow-lit windows, and laundry lines, and the outline of TV antennae, and Brooklyn! Underneath a brown lit sky, we stood taking it all in, waiting for Brando to come out our neighbors’ window and join us for a smoke. It was a new world, before the cats, before even furniture.
That night we slept in out bedroom with no fans, just the windows open to the hot August night. Although carpeted, the floor was painfully hard. Before sleep, we ate cheap ice cream, mint with M & Ms from the deli across the street, and watched Dirty Dancing on the laptop. It was hard to imagine the next morning, never mind the next 7 years.
Graham convinced me it was okay to paint the walls. I had grown up being told that the only acceptable color on a wall was white. For years I had craved a red room, but like so much weird programming I wouldn’t allow myself any color. Graham said, “Let’s make this place our own,” and so we did–we went wild with color: green, pink, blue, and red rooms. I remember painting the kitchen first and slapping on the amazing Jamaican green, and saying: Here goes nothing! I see how clearly now that painting those walls was to color a larger space in my life in general. It was one of the first antiquated ideas to go—and there would be more.
How can you know what a place can mean when you sign a lease? It was a shabby apartment, in a then undesirable part of town. We painted it bright colors and tried to make into some sort of sanctuary from the insanity of Brooklyn and New York living. This was a hard thing to do. We heard everything through the thin walls and ceiling: the morning alcoholic retching next door; the young woman upstairs screaming at her 4 year old son; the front door slamming downstairs. Yet we turned on music, cooked, spotted a red cardinal out our kitchen window.
Like everything else we tried to make in New York, that apartment ended up making us. I proposed to Graham in the living room. My water broke in the bathroom. We ate Thanksgiving dinners in our pajamas in the kitchen. We had fights in the hallway. I made both my books in the spare room, where I eventually put my son to sleep in every night. We had kittens one spring, bed bugs in another. We wanted to move, but then never did.
The last afternoon we were there, Graham took Gus out to the car to drive him around the block so he could fall asleep. I vacuumed each room, hearing the tin sound of empty rooms—that sound I hadn’t heard since we moved in all those years ago. The walls were still brightly colored, but banged up and faded. I wasn’t sorry to leave, but I couldn’t help crying as I wound up the vacuum cord. I said thank you to those walls. Thank you for the sense of life you gave me, thank you for housing my family. Thank you for being not just an apartment, but also a home. I took a last listen to the late afternoon summer sounds of Brooklyn. Then I took one last look at that Jamaican green of that kitchen. “Here goes nothing,” I said and walked out the door.