Mar 24, 2010

Moving On (Begrudgingly)

I've been out of Bed-Stuy and at my mother's house for over 30 days now yet I still refuse to say I live there. And that's partially true. Because although I sleep there every night and it is where most of my material possessions are, my heart, mind and soul belong to Bed-Stuy. So I have a hard time admitting to myself or anyone else that I live there. This hesitation to admit the obvious is also tied to the fact that I have several unresolved issues with my old neighborhood. Brownsville: "Never ran, never will" is what they say about it and it's a true and fitting catch phrase. There's a sense of defiance that hovers in the air and runs through the veins of every human being that calls the neighborhood home. It is a defiance that seems to scream in the face of the many hardships faced by its residents. A defiance that embodies the stereotypical thoughts outsiders have of Brooklyn: rough and tumble, loyal and hard working and above all else, no nonsense. That's Brownsville in a nutshell and I have a complete love/hate relationship with the place that formed the foundation of who I am. And I've never had to deal with these feelings full on until I was faced with the very real possibility that this would become my home, the home for me and my child, in the very near future.

The relationship I have with Brownsville is a carbon copy of the one I have with my family: I just don't quite fit in. I'm not a square peg in a round hole, I'm more like the slightly over sized screw being forced into the hole. It looks like it should fit perfectly but as soon as you take that Phillips to it, its differences expose themselves immediately. And since it's easier to rid yourself of a neighborhood than it is your family, I vowed to get the hell out of there as soon as I could. Now here I was contemplating what part of the neighborhood I was willing to reside in, what school I'd put on the preferred list on my daughter's pre-K application, how I could make more out of the commute to work. Long sigh... I know I probably sound snooty right now and that is not my intention, however, after living outside of Brownsville and neighborhoods like it (I lived in East New York and for a second in Harlem), I know what type of neighborhood I want to live in. I want a true neighborhood where you don't have to be long time neighbors to exchange greetings in the morning. A neighborhood where people actually know and recognize me and my daughter so that if we needed help or assistance, we'd probably get it even if I didn't know the person's name. I want a neighborhood that has an active block association and a park and playground (that's not in the projects) and that throws block parties - really organized block parties - during the summer. Bed-Stuy has all that and I miss it!

I want my daughter to know that you can live in a neighborhood of color and not only can you see the finer things in life but can also experience them yourself. And living in a neighborhood that embraces the idea of community is one of the finer things in life - believe that! The first Mommy and Me dinner I had with my daughter was at the new restaurant, Saraghina, four blocks from our apartment on Lewis and Halsey where the chef, after learning about my daughter's food allergies, told me to call before I came the next time so they could make something special for her. There are no fine dining restaurants in Brownsville, or even ones with waitstaff, and there probably never will be. The obstacles the residents and owners would face to make something like that happen outweigh the benefits of overcoming those obstacles and I understand that. I saw the failure of the block association on my block in Brownsville and how that changed things. Each year I saw how services got worse as times got harder all while the city poured money into Manhattan and Queens. And even though Brooklyn is at the center of attention when thinking of regentrification in NYC right now, no real money has been poured into Brownsville. And the shame in that fact is that the residents know it, recognize what it says about the powers that be and what they think about the neighborhood and the people that live there. Is it a surprise, then, that the attitude of defiance grows stronger with each passing generation?

For me, the danger of living in a space of defiance, which I did for a part of my life, is that although it fostered the critical thinking that is a large part of who I am today, I wasn't exposed to any solutions to the problems I saw around me. This led to feelings of bitterness, anger, fear and exhaustion all at the tender age of 12 and 13. As I got older, I grew tired of that existence and my awakening was happening right about the same time I was beginning to explore more of NYC. I was exposed to the way other areas of the city faced with the same issues were provided with the support necessary to make real and lasting changes. With this realization came a conscious decision not to change who I was but to change my perspective on things. So I didn't have to live in Brownsville to fight the good fight and be who I was. I could take with me the parts of it - the good parts of the struggle - and grow and prosper somewhere else. All while being proud of who I was, where I was from and representing that to the fullest at every opportunity. I didn't turn my back on the hood, I turned my back on the bullshit game that government played on the hood. I chose to play a different part of the game and for that there are those that would say I'm a traitor or faker. I, of course, see it differently. And now, after years of not living here or in neighborhoods like it, I've grown accustomed to having certain things a part of my neighborhood, certain services provided and amenities readily available to me. I refuse to get used to not having them again and I don't want to get swallowed up by the defiance towards the rest of the world either. Most importantly I don't want my daughter to know any of that or the emotion it brings with it. So defiantly I say, no, I don't live in Brownsville!!

What I've come to realize, however, is that my hesitation to own the fact that I do live in Brownsville and have moved on to the next chapter in my book of life created confusion for my daughter and added complications to an already complicated situation. She asked me when we were "going to our house" almost everyday the first week of our transition and my guilt would weigh heavily on me whenever she was scolded because she would say she "wanted to go home". The whole situation was breaking my heart because I wanted to go home just as badly as she did. Frankly, I wasn't dealing well with being back in my childhood neighborhood where I had some of the best and worse times of my life. Where I'd realized how cruel the world could be, learned about classism, sexism, self-hate and self-love and how these dynamics lived and died in the ghetto. And although I'd vowed never to return here when my daughter was 8 months old, here I was with her at a turning point in my life and in her life as well. Our first month of transition is a bit of a blur but I do remember both of us being unsure, cranky, tired and pouty for most of it. Toward February's end, however, I regained my focus and began to change my perspective to one where I could see how moving (stepping) back is allowing me to move ahead, albeit, begrudgingly.

You see, I'm a perpetual planner. I love planning and then executing a plan to the tee. In this case, I'd set an April 1st move out date with the intentions of setting up some sort of visitation schedule with her dad that didn't render him to only being a weekend parent. My daughter and I would be living in Bed-Stuy, still walking to school in the morning, living in a good sized 2BR apartment, and having fun with our new puppy. Nice plan, right? But since I don't have any control over the order in which life's events take place, things have happened out of order and it's left me feeling perplexed, anxious, frustrated, a bit scared and stressed. But since all that's happening is what I've asked and prayed for (outside of the drama associated with it), I also dare not complain about any of it no matter how challenging it gets and instead am thankful for the opportunities as they present themselves (regardless of how much my stomach bubbles and churns as each peeks out to say "hi!").

So I've been dealing with the issue of explaining to our daughter how she'll now live her life in two households about two months early while I'm also trying to learn and navigate these frightfully muddy waters. And dealing with that is no easy task since in my heart I was always trying to avoid doing that at all costs. My move from the apartment was pushed forward 2 months which screwed up all my financial planning since extra expenses came up like buying an extra set of clothes for us both (I'll explain the reason for that later), toiletries, cabs to and fro, etc., etc., etc. And I wasn't really ready to help my daughter - or me - adjust to all this change because of this new order of things. A bit sad, I think, how much the switch around affected me but true nonetheless. So how do I get myself together and deal with all of this? How do I get through it all without causing additional pain, suffering or uncomfortableness to my daughter or me?? I had no idea until the last week of February.

It wasn't until one of my aunts - one of the kindest souls I've known - said to my daughter in response to her crying that she "wanted to go home" that, "THIS is your home, likkle miss. You are here at home with your family. This is your home!" She repeated the same message to her that Saturday and was certain to make sure she told me that she'd given her that message twice in as many days. It was right then that I realized that I'd been exhibiting my own defiance toward leaving Bed-Stuy and was, consequently, contributing to the confusion my daughter was feeling. By not saying we were home, by not reinforcing the message that we weren't going back to the apartment in Bed-Stuy, by not delivering the message (laying down the law) that this was home, her little four year old heart, mind and soul were as confused and defiant as I was. And as I've already said, I hadn't made it official because I didn't want to face that fact myself. I was in denial at what point of the transition I was experiencing and was, literally, fighting it every step of the way. I never took into account what this negative behavior was doing to me or my daughter. So that same night, during her bath, I assured my daughter that my mother's house was, indeed, our home and that we would not be going back to our old apartment. I also confirmed that I was working on when and how she would see her dad because she really missed him too, unsurprisingly. She seemed to accept the explanation and then right before going to sleep said that she liked her new home. "I like this home" were her exact words.

The words were inspiring. Since that Saturday afternoon, I've leased a storage unit near my mother's house and have started negotiating with the management company of the old apartment for money to legally vacate the property. But even as I write this, in my heart, mind and soul I miss Bed-Stuy, my Bed-Stuy, my daughter's Bed-Stuy. I've edited the content of this blog a few times now to change "my mother's" to "my" when describing where I live. Long sigh....I have a lot of shit to get used to and some more fight left in me yet! There's a part of me that's angry that I'm back in Brownsville. I miss Bed-Stuy! The long, tree-lined blocks, the brownstones, the beautiful Black people full of pride, self-love, and a sense of community. I used to laugh to myself about how much of a 180 I'd done regarding my feelings for the neighborhood. As a teen, I would never go to Bed-Stuy. It was simply "too dangerous". And although I lived and came from the neighborhood of the modern day cowboy, Bed-Stuy was too much of an unknown for me to venture into. I always heard horror stories of girls and guys getting robbed on their way back from visiting and of the handful of friends I did have growing up, I always left there feeling leery and just happy to have made it out without incident. I basically had the attitude most people had (and still have) about Brownsville! Funny, right??

But these feelings of angst lead me to thoughts of how to get my cozy little life back which should be good, right? Instead I spend my time fighting myself in my mind and stop short of actioning some because my conscience won't allow me to follow through. And herein lies my major dilemma: to do what's right or what would be easier for me and my daughter? I'm sure there are tons of folk that would say without hesitation for me to think of me and my daughter. My reply to that is that by only doing what is truly in my nature and not reactionary, vindictive or hateful, I am thinking of the both of us because I'm not losing any part of me. You see, to me, at the end of the day I only have myself to live with and so to do something out of character would do nothing but cause me more heartache in the end since I would be burdened with the guilt of what I'd done (ahh, the blessings of Catholic Guilt!). So, I decided not to go to court to evict my daughter's father when I found out that I could because I didn't feel right about making someone homeless (I really don't think he has anywhere to go). But things have changed. I was served on March 1st with papers because my daughter's father would like sole custody. He's also accused me of assaulting him and has also filed an Order of Protection petition so, essentially, should he win outright, he would have our daughter and I would not be allowed to see her. I will not use this forum to fight this battle - I HATE using that phrase, by the way, to refer to the care of my daughter - but I will defend myself and ensure that she is in the best situation that will nurture and ensure her future success.

It's been a month and a half of true change for me and my little one. We both continue to adjust to our day-to-day life and I continue to be amazed by how close I am to the good life I've envisioned for the both of us. As always, God reminds me why I keep the faith and press on regardless of the obstacles before me. I had to end things in order for my new life to begin. I had to let go - of my past with him, the anger I have for him and, most importantly, cohabitating with him - for my bright new beginnings to start. I don't think it's a coincidence that I got most of our things out of the apartment on the first day of Spring! Things always happen as they should and this is no different. Now that I'm past the shock, I'm taking a moment, a fleeting moment, to catch my breath before proceeding to laying the foundation for my life with my daughter. I look forward to the's full of nothing but possibilities!!

Yay to new beginnings! Happy Spring everyone!

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