The nest had barely been empty a month when my husband Hank woke me up to share the 3 a.m. epiphany he had just before the Ambien kicked in. “Good morning, Honey,” he said, kissing my head as I rolled over into his arms. “Mmmm,” I murmured, not awake enough yet to form a sentence. But he couldn’t wait for coherence to spring it on me. “Hey, Babe, I was thinking," he said, "we should move to Williamsburg.”
We didn’t discuss it much. We just went. I’d been bored with the Upper West Side for years, but we were shackled to our neighborhood for the school district. Now that our son Jesse was in college, there was nothing to keep us there, and a dramatic move seemed like the perfect way to distract ourselves from how much we were missing him. That same day, we made a Saturday morning appointment to check out a condo on the river, and the moment I walked in the bedroom and saw the view of the Williamsburg Bridge and Manhattan across the East River, I knew it was a done deal.
The day our offer was accepted, I called our son Jesse at Syracuse. “Guess what? Your father and I are buying a condo in Williamsburg — you know that building where we saw those two goth girls sitting on the sidewalk, smoking pot? We walked past it last summer on our way to Smorgasburg? We got a two-bedroom on the top floor! Isn’t that amazing? We’ll be in by the time you come home for Thanksgiving break.” Jesse didn’t miss a beat: “You’re too old to live in Williamsburg.”
At first, I didn’t give it any thought. Jesse was always giving us shit like that. “You’re too old to _____” Fill-in-the-blank: wear that bikini, go rock climbing, go to a Jay-Z concert. He was just being the smart-ass teenager we brought him up to be.
Those first few weeks, we loved the neighborhood as much as we thought we would. The streets and shops and subways had that restless hipster energy. Restaurants and bars were packed with kids trying to be artists or musicians, or just biding their time as baristas or working in bike shops trying to figure out where they fit in the world. It reminded me of the way the Lower East Side felt when I was in high school and my friend Edie and I would each tell our parents we were going to the other one’s house for a sleepover and then take the PATH into the city with our fake IDs to go to CBGBs. Manhattan hasn’t felt like that to me for decades.
Then the fish-out-of-water moments started. None of my friends would come to visit us. They weren’t up for spending 40 minutes at midnight on a platform full of drunk kids waiting for the L back to Manhattan. Eventually, I harassed my friend Josh into making the trip after work to have BBQ with me at Fatty 'Cue. I met him at the Marcy Avenue station, and when I saw him walking up the stairs to the street in a tie, I cringed. We went to Pete’s Candy Store after dinner and I could feel the stares. They were the same looks Jesse used to give me when he’d be hanging out in his bedroom with a few of his friends and I’d go in to say hello and ask about school and soccer team and their parents … Jesse never asked me to leave them alone. But I could feel that he didn’t want me there.
I found myself getting annoyed by the hipsters I once thought were so cool. I gave up trying to find a hair salon in the neighborhood. I just couldn’t bring myself to trust an inked-up stylist with purple hair. A guy on a skateboard mowed into me one day and then glared at me. I never said anything to Hank.
The week before Jesse’s big holiday homecoming, I called Hank on my lunch hour: “Let’s go to Bowl Train tonight.”
I was floored. It was a break from our ritual. “Let’s do blahblahblah,” I’d say at least once a week about a party at an art gallery or a band playing at Pete’s. He’d ask what time and if the answer was after nine, he’d say something like “Oh, Babe, how about I just bring home a nice bottle of Malbec and some Thai food and we can have a quiet dinner together and enjoy the view.”
Sensing my disappointment, he’d throw in an excuse about being tired or having an early meeting the next morning and I’d always cave. But this time, Hank was the one who caved. He knows how much I love The Roots and ever since I heard that their drummer, Questlove, DJs at Brooklyn Bowl most Thursday nights — years before we moved — I’d been bugging him to go.
It was a disaster from the start. I was wearing a short skirt that Jesse always tells me I’m too old for. We were in line outside, behind a kid about Jesse’ age, and when he turned and saw me, I could tell he was thinking that, too. Inside, it was so packed that my feet kept getting stepped on. We wanted to bowl, but the wait was two hours. It was after midnight when Quest finally came out and Hank wouldn’t stop yawning. Just a few songs into the set, I realized the night wasn’t going to take a turn for the better. “Let’s go home!” I screamed in his ear, over the music. “I have to go to the restroom then I’ll meet you outside!”
“Thank you,” he mouthed.
I went upstairs to the restroom and went into a bathroom stall. No sooner had I shut the door behind me when two girls walked in. “I don’t get it,” one said. “Why don’t they just stay in Park Slope with all the other stroller people, where they belong?” “If I see one more suit in my building, I’m going to throw up,” said the other. “If they’re trying to prove to the world that they’re still cool, it’s not working. I mean, last week I saw a fucking gray-haired grandma at Pete’s. Do they not know how ridiculous they look?”
I waited until they left. I practically ran out to the sidewalk and by the time I found Hank outside, I was crying. “I’m just tired,” I said. “Fed up and tired.” I was so humiliated, it was days before I would tell him the whole story.
On New Year’s, we made a resolution to rent out our condo. When a 50-year-old investment banker and his wife showed up to see the place, they insisted on signing the lease on the spot. I just smiled, took the check and didn’t say a word.