Ditmas Park



Ditmas Park, Brooklyn, NY 11226

Neighborhood: Brooklyn

It is hard to live near houses. Big, broad Victorians, houses I dream of, with rooms and dark staircases, and sky painted porch ceilings. Houses with trees that shade unattainable octagonal-walled bedrooms, with people who I never see, walking up and down the stairs.

It seems not right to live near houses, houses with yards, and lawns, and one, not too far, with an in-ground pool you can see from the sidewalk. On a hot day I watch two ladies sit on lawn chairs, chatting in one pieces, not even swimming, and am tempted to ask them if I might just – quickly – jump in and then out.

It is Brooklyn, still, where we live, but with houses. Not like the Brooklyn where I lived before. Not Park Slope, after college, where I could hear the two dog walker roommates above me with all their dogs, and their freezer they reluctantly showed me, filled with dead animals, including a cat and some fish; or Bushwick in my single 20s where I lived with 3 boys, all artists, all bad ideas, in an old sweater factory where the make-shift walls were push pinned sheetrock, not all the way up to the ceiling; where I could hear all of them, all the time, fucking. Or our lovely Fort Greene garden apartment where I lived as a newlywed, with its backyard for parties, its large wood plank floors and its space too small for babies.

More room is why we moved to this Brooklyn, with houses right outside my apartment door. Houses so close that I can trick-or-treat my infant daughter to a mansion; I don’t even have to dress up. I can ring the bell for her, and stand and wait with a smile, then peek while she grabs candy she cannot yet eat, to see what life might look like from the inside.

Houses begin to line the streets only a half a block from me in Brooklyn, but I have been told – by a woman who hears my address and sighs – that I am living the Flatbush life. The Flatbush life, as in bodega, front-lace wig and hair salon, roti, Jamaican patty, and fresh fruit, pig feet, bread fruit and tripe. Extra large women’s stores, shoe stores, shoe stores, better bodega, Bo Bo kitchen Chinese for rib tips and fries, liquor store and repeat.

The best thing about my Flatbush life in Brooklyn is that it rarely changes. It goes on for miles, and I can find almost everything I need. I am in the middle of all this; this, and the houses.

I imagine growing up in one of these houses is not like what it is like to grow up in the suburbs. But this looks like the suburbs – on some streets, you don’t even have to squint your eyes to believe you are there.

If someone told me this was Brooklyn, showed me a picture, with a person and a house and a lawn, perhaps a family, with a baby, a mother and father outside a house, I would not have believed them. If someone showed me the same picture, and I was the mother and the father was my husband, and the baby was mine, I would call it a dream.

But people do live in these houses in Brooklyn. They have cars and garages, even. One day I spot someone gray-haired, looking from a portico window. My mother tells me to keep an eye on that house, it looks like someone might die.

But mostly these houses seem empty inside. Each time I walk to the subway I am struck by the lack of people outside on the freshly mowed lawns, in the lightless windows, on street after street, I only know they are there by the upkeep.

I am not friends with anyone who owns a house in Brooklyn. Once, I went to pick up a free toaster that someone posted online they were giving away. I knocked on the door of a large green Victorian, and a small girl answered, wearing fairy wings. The mother of the girl welcomed me inside, and pointed to the toaster on the floor. Her daughter danced around and asked me where I was taking it. On the coat rack I saw a collection of fairy wings, all different colors and sizes, where the coats should be.

“I am taking it over near Flatbush,” I said, and hearing myself say it – the joint of two unremarkable words, once used, when I was younger, to describe my chest and my groin, combined into the name of the street that ran by my side, made me laugh. In the land of the fairies, my home seemed far away.

One day my husband tells me there is a house for sale. A house just down the street, near Flatbush. It is too good to be true – a foreclosure – and I follow him to see.

Outside, the house is large and yellow, with pigeons nesting in the eaves of the roof. When we go inside, you can still hear the pigeons. It had been a half-way house of some sort, and all the rooms have become bedrooms. Even the kitchen.

“A real fixer-upper,” the real estate broker says as we walk around, looking at the bunk beds, the rooms divided into smaller rooms with shoddy work, the original moldings painted over so many times that they look like they are covered with shoe polish, like if you dug your nail into the layers, uncovering years of color, you still would not hit the wood.

“You need a real vision,” the real estate broker says, which of course is true.

My vision is this: A halfway house turned house of my own, halfway between Flatbush and the other houses. A wrecking ball with radar for wood, that strips the paint and walls so that the house lays bare with all the things it was born with; all in the middle of my two Brooklyns.

The houses are the reasons we never see anyone who lives in them, I realize as I walk inside the big yellow house. There is an octagonal room where I imagine I would write beneath the pointed hat ceiling. The banistered staircase leads to other rooms. The attic I dream into a nursery, complete with pigeoned eaves. I can see why no one wants to leave.

I have a real vision, I think. Is this all I really need? A picture someone who doesn’t know us won’t believe. My husband and I on the lawn in front of our home, my daughter with fairy wings.

Rachel Sherman’s novel, LIVING ROOM, was published by Open City Books in October 2009. Her first book, THE FIRST HURT, a book of short stories, was chosen as one of the 25 Books to Remember of 2006 by the New York Public Library.

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§ One Response to “Ditmas Park”

  • Alec Kinnear says:

    I often wonder about who lives in houses when I wander through cities, especially when I’m travelling.

    I wonder what they talk about, what they eat, how they make love, are they happy.

§ Leave a Reply

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