Sunday, February 16, 2014

“Brooklyn Kind of Love” by Natelegé Whaley - 2013 Brooklyn Non-Fiction Prize Entry

2013 Brooklyn Non-Fiction Prize Entry by Natelegé Whaley

“Brooklyn Kind of Love”

She's changed. But I knew she would. It was inevitable. I could never let her go though. She made me. We have history. She is the never-ending love story. To leave her for those other boroughs -- Nah. Harlem's cool, but not sweeter than the maples on Fulton Street in Bed Stuy. The Lower East Side has the long strips of cheap dive bars and eateries, but none that have the soulful seasonings of Utica Avenue in B.K. And you could easily argue that the clouds fly the highest from the ports of South Street Seaport, but DUMBO is closer and just better than that side of the East River.

Brooklyn. These days the world revolves around you. I always wanted to show you off. But never wanted to actually share you. It's too late now. The word is out. The secret is no longer a whisper, but a roar. Brooklyn this. Brooklyn that. Brooklyn. Brooklyn. Brooklyn. The New York Times discovered you not too long ago and most recently Vogue magazine. But it seems they are a bit lost in translation about what this place means. They have yet to tune into its 2.5 million stories.

I'm one of those stories. I was welcomed by the Kings in the final year of the 1980s. I was the miracle on DeKalb Avenue. My mother and father, two Brooklynites wanted more children after my two older sisters. And after eight long years, prayers were answered. I was followed by two more gifts from the heavens -- my brother, a year later and my sister who is seven years younger than I. From Brooklyn hospital I was taken to my castle in the ghetto, a 3-story limestone on Decatur Street in the heart of Bedford Stuyvesant.

Sunshine, laughter, deep green leaves blowing breeze, Biggie 'Hypnotize' blasting from cars passing by, double dutch battles (if you were double handled, you had to go) boys purposely throwing their basketballs into the ropes to tangle it, dig-dig-dog-shit-you-are-not-it, tag, freeze tag, quack dilly osso, “numbers” hand games -- love. Childhood never felt like it would end.

Bodegas were my supplier. My brother and I were scrapping together enough change from around the house; to buy ices made with red 40 and high fructose corn syrup that we attacked before it liquefied and dripped down to hit the floor. “Oh look, Mr. Softee's coming!” we’d point out with our tiny fingers. And someone's mother always buying you ice cream so you're not empty-handed.

Community. Fellowship. Block parties. BBQ smoke. “Today's going to be a scorcher,” the weather man said from the box television. You could fry an egg on the concrete hot. The golden hues of haze from the sun. Fire hydrant opened up and wells of water spilled onto the Black tar. The baby's learning their first steps on this concrete to Disco, 70s soul, New Jack Swing, Maxwell 'Ascension,' more Biggie. The 90s were golden.

The warnings.  The churches on every corner, an outlet to the pops and booms and the gone-to-soons happening outside around us. The staggering red eyed drunkards, needles on the ground, yelling, dysfunction, chaos, pain, just-tryna-get-by, murals to remember the faces now in heaven. God's black and brown children, forgotten, but refused to be silenced. The children were aware. Lives could never be replaced.
The good, the bad, the ugly.

Then sometimes, we’d leave the lovely cocoon of the Stuy and go bike riding around Prospect Park. The Slope and its gigantic dwellings. Whiteness. Different from me. A little Black girl. With kinks, waves, and wondering, why are things “so much better” around here?

Soon I grew up; at least I thought I was grown. Every 16-year-old thinks they are. There I was in Fort Greene for high school. Walks to Fulton mall after school. Trying on clothes in Macy’s with my friends just to see how it would look and then buying nothing. Dominican blowouts on the tresses every week. Walks with a good guy, a high school sweetheart to the edge of the waters to the Promenade, just shooting the breeze, sharing dreams of buying a mansion in Brooklyn Heights, when we made it big. Those were the days. I would capture it in a frame, if I could.

A decade or so later, I don't even know if the Kings still want me here. It seems the borough is forgetting who I am. But I'm the one she needs. I am part of her rich roots. I am a child of two parts of a vast diaspora; mixed with the island of Jamaica and the deep roots of The Carolinas. I feel Jamaican when reggae and dancehall bumps at a party and I go in a Caribbean take out, smell the curry and feel right at home. But I’m no expert on the island and barely understand patois. And I never been to the areas my grandparents were born in the South. In fact, both my parents were raised in Brooklyn and so was I. And sometimes I just want to be that girl who grew up in a big city that I’m still discovering. But I'm worried; I will soon be thrown out of it.

But who else will enjoy her summer rooftops overlooking the brownstones beauties, day parties that go on into night, and Sunday brunches in low-key restaurants following church, Afro Punks and Dance Africa festivals, West Indian Day Parades, and the likes on her sweltering hot days? And I’ve even embraced this ugly thing stadium called Barclays that she’s cool with now. Look, I compromised. She’s not perfect. Sometimes you have to do that in relationships. I’d do that for my best friend.

But what about me? Again I ask? So to all you newbies coming here, I know she’s dope. But sorry you could never love her like I do. You may be the new man or new woman in her life. But remember you're the new friends. The friends that come after the fame and weren't there during the struggle. And it's not your fault you found out late, but I'm just letting you know how to enter this space. Brooklyn is still here. I’m still here. But of course in love, we have to let those we love go and evolve; even if it hurts. I respect it. I just don't want the memories forgotten. I'd love to see you Brooklyn, for who you are now.  Hopefully, my footprints aren’t erased by the new footsteps hitting your gritty pathways.  And God forbid it does, I’ll protect the memory my dear BK. Or maybe I should finally just let it go.

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