This morning, I drove Jim to a site in East New York (that’s in Brooklyn, for those who don’t know), and found myself passing, for the first time in many years, through the area where I spent my adolescence. My family moved to that neighborhood when I was in sixth grade, and then moved from an apartment to a real, true house when I was in college. On the way back, I made a last-minute decision to drive past my old building, just to see it and see how I felt about it.
I was surprised at how little it affected me. I do have many memories associated with it: The new smells of the building (it had just been built), and of the padding in the elevators. Doing picture puzzles while my pet parakeet picked up puzzle pieces and dropped them back into the box. Begging my mother to let me go to an outdoor concert in Woodstock, NY (she didn’t). Watching Star Trek with my father. Getting my first makeup kit from my Aunt Edna. Fetching the mail, and opening an envelope telling me that a poem I wrote was accepted for an anthology.
And yet, when I drove past the front of the building, parked, got out and looked at it, I didn’t feel much attachment to it at all.
I drove around the corner, parked again, and got out again. Our apartment was located at the back of the building, on the corner of the seventh floor, overlooking the parking lot and, in the distance, Jamaica Bay. (Several years later, a new and large housing project was built on the landfill between us and the Bay, waking me every morning as girders were pounded in place and as the buildings rose to block our view of the Bay.) I could see our apartment and the houses across the street where several of my friends once lived. There was a sign with the name of the project on it: It was now called MeadowWood at Gateway rather than Fairfield Towers, and the apartments were now being sold as condominiums rather than rented out. But it was the place I remembered.
I still didn’t feel very nostalgic.
I’m curious why. I feel much more connected to Bayview Houses in Canarsie, where I spent my childhood, even though that was also a housing project. I even feel more connected to the house my parents moved to in Long Island, even though I only lived there one year (and never felt comfortable with the culture of Long Island) — perhaps because it was a lovely little house, and perhaps because my parents, for whom the house was the culmination of a dream, loved it so much. The apartment in Fairfield Towers was just the place I spent while I passed through an uncomfortable adolescence (what adolescence isn’t?) into adulthood.
And yet. And yet. As I think about my life in that apartment, and some of the events of my life there, I do feel a sense of sadness about some of the things I thought I’d do in my life and didn’t, and some of the opportunities missed, and the people whom I loved and who are no longer with us.
It’s a conundrum.