Sandra Hurtes. Photo courtesy of the author
Sandra Hurtes. Photo courtesy of the author

By Sandra Hurtes

From “The Ambivalent Memoirist

Manhattan is now my home. But today I look over my shoulder at the Brooklyn that raised me. I look into an obscure distance and wonder, am I where I belong?

My former neighbor Rick is moving after thirty-two years in his Brooklyn Heights apartment. He’s found his place in Palm Springs, where friends wait. They’ll set up a lounge chair for him around their swimming pool, put up the burgers on the outdoor grill. Unlike me, he is making a giant leap.

I moved to Brooklyn Heights in 1977 when I was 26. I signed a three-year lease and stayed for twenty-seven years. When I left for the wilds of Manhattan, Rick and I had said a sad good-bye. Our longtime Brooklyn friendship had a certain kind of safety that had reached an unexpected depth; tears poured from my eyes. With Rick on the eighth floor, me on the ninth, it seemed as if we’d shared a duplex. Rick is gay, and our seeming “co-habitation” was uncomplicated. We were aware of each other’s movements, the tap running, my footsteps on his ceiling—his singing in the shower drifted through a space in the pipes. We could tell when there were four footsteps, instead of two, and hence knew when we’d have intense relationship conversations in the elevator.

Although Rick wasn’t born in Brooklyn as I was, the borough seeped into his blood in the way Brooklyn does. There’s that homey, yet upscale paradox—you stand on line to get into an Italian restaurant in Boerum Hill—yet nothing with red sauce appears on the menu. You walk up Court Street and slip into an unimaginable number of pizza places, with slices sold through storefront windows.

This afternoon Rick and I are meeting at Fortune House on Henry Street; it’s my favorite Chinese restaurant because it’s so Brooklyn. When people ask me to explain that, I’m at a loss; Brooklyn is a feeling and a nostalgia: Cokes sipped through straws at Packman’s Candy Store on Schenectady Avenue, the Top 100 chart at Municipal Records on Eastern Parkway, Murray the K’s Rock ’n’ Roll shows at The Fox Theater on Fulton Street, kids scattered on every Crown Heights street corner for Kick the Can.

Hipsters take note—I had Brooklyn first!

Cover design and photograph by Stephanie Deshpande
Cover design and photograph by Stephanie Deshpande

Later Rick will tantalize me with details of his new life waiting to be lived. He’ll purchase a sky-blue convertible and drive with the top down. He’s already bought a condominium twice the size of his co-op, for half the price. New lives are exciting, so filled with hope of what they’ll contain, who we’ll meet, and mostly who we’ll become in our new place.

One of my proudest achievements was leaving Brooklyn. Living where my parents had settled when they emigrated in 1947 meant never stepping into my own shoes; staying symbolized my inability to live my own life. Still, Brooklyn is in my marrow.

Now I’m settled into my 212 area code and its accompanying blaze of activity. But today I return to a quieter place and say another good-bye to Brooklyn.

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