Why I Don’t Want to Leave where I Live


Christen Clifford

Originally published in The Evergreen Review Issue 112 in 2007.

(With apologies to Harry Crews)

I can walk out of my house, take a right, walk half a block, take another right, walk four blocks and I’m on the L train. If I need anything on the way, I pass the wheatgrass juice joint, the video store run by an amateur professional wrestler with a permanent dent in his forehead, and a few delis run by related Korean families that switch owners every few years. Carmine’s pizza, where I have been grabbing garlic twists and a slice with fresh mushrooms for almost 15 years, is right outside of the Graham Avenue subway station. The L takes 9 minutes to get to 1st Avenue and 14th Street, 19 minutes door to door to my classes in the Village, I can transfer to every train except the B and the D (and who wants to take those anyways?); I am anywhere I want to be in half an hour, 40 minutes tops. I live in an apartment that has nails coming up through the floors, but it’s big and rents for below market value. It’s in a safe, low-density area where I can park my falling-apart-but-decadent-in-New-York car directly outside my building. The houses are crappy old tenements that brewery workers used to live in, but they are only 3 stories high so there is plenty of sky. There’s a fish transfer station on my block, and if a truck puts a dent in my car, I can count on a neighbor to ring my doorbell before the driver gets away, but no one would say a word about the all-night parties we used to have. But that isn’t really why I don’t want to leave the Williamsburg neighborhood in Brooklyn.
There are record stores, art galleries and hip bars and restaurants filled with young and attractive people. The boys have slightly dirty hair or ironic mustaches and vintage t-shirts and wireless accoutrements and their bony hipbones stick out of their jeans like Johnny Knoxville or John Spencer and I always see someone I want to fuck when I sit in a café on Bedford Avenue. The girls all have sexily lank hair and shave their legs but not their armpits and are younger than me and have better clothes and cooler shoes and that makes me want to fuck them too. But that’s not why I don’t want to leave, either.
A typical day for me involves throwing my one-year-old, Felix, into his Maclaren and wandering by the health food store to pick up my partner’s slivered almonds and gluten free cereal, and some Veggie Booty for the baby. I walk to Spoonbill and Sugartown Booksellers to pet the mangy cats and flip through art books that I can’t afford by Sophie Calle and Gelatin and then buy Piave and homemade mozzarella that tastes like butter, I swear, at the hipeouisie cheese shop. I take Felix to a makeshift Pilates class in MacCarren Park where the babies breastfeed while we do our crunches and then the mommies go to The Tainted Lady Lounge and have salty sour margaritas and talk about real estate and lack of sex while the babies play on the floor and the tatted proprietress reads Dr. Seuss to the kids in her cigarette voice and then buzzed I walk home under the pink clouds. But I could find another hipster neighborhood in New York where I could do these things: Smith Street, or Red Hook, or Long Island City.
The reason I don’t want to leave where I live is more complicated than convenience, eye candy, or routine. I’m sure there are thousands of people who could make those cases for the Upper West Side, Hell’s Kitchen, Brooklyn Heights, or anywhere in New York. People might even stay in a godawful place like New Jersey to have cheap rent, stay close to family and friends, and have more space.
It’s not just that I don’t want to leave my neighborhood of 15 years; I don’t want to lose my youth. I was 17 when I arrived and it was autumn and I was a student at NYU. I longed for the East Village, but I wanted space, and Williamsburg was a short train ride to the city and both of the guys I was fucking lived there. I drove my brother’s car which had been my car until he repo’d it from me and the night I moved in old men on my block sat in lawn chairs on the sidewalk and watched baseball on TVs with long extension cords to their houses and said, “Welcome to the neighborhood, Blondie."
In Williamsburg there was Noah and Eric, and then Chris, Kim, Richard, Matt, Julie, Jonathan and finally Ken. There were art parties where we banged on scraps of metal hung from the ceiling for hours, rooms full of inflatable white blobs, beer and costumes and drugs and sex. I moved a few blocks this way and that, got pregnant, had my heart rubbed in glass and spent an inordinate amount of time drinking and waiting tables. Chris died, my parents died, I got married. Felix was born.
It’s not just that I don’t want to lose my youth, it’s that I don’t want to get old. I don’t want my face to fall, my cunt to loosen, my hair to grey, my eyes to dim, my hands to cripple. I don’t want thick yellow toenails, knees that ache the morning after three glasses of wine, brown spots spreading over my shoulders. I don’t want the poochy belly and Eileen Fisher wardrobe that comes with age. I see decay starting in my body and it scares me.
And it’s not just that I don’t want to get old; I don’t want the responsibilities that come with age. Staying monogamous, keeping a baby alive, paying a mortgage. I’m moving to Queens because I am growing up. I am leaving Williamsburg for the sake of husband and child and more affordable space. I know that once you leave you can never go back. But in my dreams I walk the streets of Brooklyn where I am young and free forever.