Of Love and Real Estate



Neighborhood: Park Slope, Prospect Park, Windsor Terrace

Of Love and Real Estate
Photo by Ahmed El Husseiny

Breaking up is hard. That’s true even if you’ve been thinking about it a long time – weighing the scales back and forth. Am I better staying in this thing or am I better getting out? Sometimes it can go on for years, like it did for me. Because parts of it were perfect and other parts terrible (at least for me). Maybe someone else wouldn’t find the negatives so bad. But then one day the little things added up and pushed me over the edge. I don’t even remember the exact moment I made the decision. I was afraid, but it felt right. I wrote to my landlord and told him I would be giving up my under-market, one-bedroom Park Slope apartment situated directly across the street from Prospect Park. I mean, who does this? It sounds crazy to me even now, I know, but after 11 years the time had come.

I’m a creature of habit, or at least I was. I liked walking to Regina’s Bakery for bread or to Babbo’s Books to see what book I might want to read. I loved everything about my neighborhood – that little strip of Prospect Park West that united Windsor Terrace with Park Slope. The street began with Connecticut Muffin and Oak Park Pharmacy and the Holy Name of Jesus Church and Le Petit Paris restaurant at the other. Further down (at least in my own geography), Windsor Terrace began in earnest. That street was my hometown, my small town in the big city. I waved to the old man in the Korean market and chatted with the continually changing young Indian men at the convenience store. These kinds of connections made me happy, made me feel I was home. And I was.

As much as Prospect Park West gave me a community, Prospect Park gave me back my soul. The gift Olmsted and Vaux gave the city has only grown deeper and richer with time. Having had that green space, that bit of nature that was beautiful and sumptuous in every season was a grace in my life. It calmed and healed me. It soothed my weariness of living a New York City life that was lived underground or in boxes rushing from here to there (or trying to rush from here to there if the MTA lets you.) Prospect Park was my Beloved, the light of my soul. How could I think of leaving her? On summer nights I would come home from work, pull on some yoga pants and sneakers and throw myself into her arms. How could I leave my apartment? All I had to do was cross the street. I thought of my ex-boyfriend Joe who had to make the trek up from Fourth Avenue – up the slope to the park and then down again.

It was Joe who had brought me to Brooklyn in the first place. I had been to Park Slope before. I had a friend from college who had lived above Little Things on Seventh Avenue and a man who had invited me to his apartment on President Street, but wouldn’t sleep with me when he found out I was a virgin. Joe and I had met in 1998 in a week that would change my life. I had met him and been offered an exciting new job at iVillage. I saved my money and started planning my move. In the early days of our relationship, he wanted me to move in with him. But I had never lived alone. Mostly, I had lived with my family and in college with my roommates and then later with aunts and cousins in Italy. I wanted my own space, my own castle. It seemed right to me and Joe understood even when I turned down his offer and the roommate situation he had heard about from one of his neighbors. I wish I remembered her name now, but I do remember her dog’s name, a sweet German shepherd named Poppy Jay.

Have you ever looked for an apartment in New York? Have you ever looked for an apartment on a budget? Of course you have. You know all the odd, weird spaces. There was a place in Fort Greene that was so cheap that I knew I had to see it just to find out what was wrong with it. That’s a typical New York thought about real estate – not wow, I am so lucky this will be a steal, but what is it about this place that is just not right (and will I be able to handle it?) On an industrialized block next to an abandoned lot stood a red building. The real estate agent and I climbed up the five flights of stairs (no, that’s not why it was so cheap) and explained it was a one bedroom that just came on the market.

“It’s certainly under market,” I said.

“Well,” hesitated the realtor, “you’ll need to see it.”

Yes, because seeing is believing or disbelieving, as the case may be. The building had “settled” and one side of the apartment was about a foot higher than the other, giving it a weird funhouse effect. It felt like I was on a movie set and after about 10 minutes I began to feel an odd sort of vertigo and nausea. I needed to get out. This wasn’t for me. I don’t know how people find apartments in a week or on a deadline in New York. It took me five months. In fact, I had seriously started thinking about looking for a place in Queens when Joe told me he wouldn’t date me if I moved to Astoria. Only in New York do you become geographically undesirable when you live less than 10 miles away.

In the end, I found two places about seven blocks away from each other. The apartment I moved into was my first choice. It was the best apartment I had seen in the best location. If it hadn’t been love at first sight, at least I could see myself there. Getting it wasn’t easy. I had to interview with the landlord, a large, brusque Russian man who would not shake my hand when I left. I called my realtor in a panic.

“He doesn’t like me,” I cried, “he didn’t even shake my hand.”

My realtor was concerned; I could hear it in his silence.

“Don’t worry,” he said, “we’ll wait and see.”

I got the apartment. My father would be the guarantor and I moved in. It was my place. For the first two years I lived at Joe’s. It was only after we broke up that I spent two nights in a row there. It didn’t feel like home. Breaking up with Joe introduced me to myself, my likes and dislikes and my own home. I’m not sure if I liked it, but it became a refuge. Joe and I had an on-again-off-again thing, but for the most part I lived in my apartment with the small kitchen and the lack of direct sunlight except for about an hour in the afternoon in my bedroom. The other windows were barred and looked out over the airshaft.

 I started to work more and more and bring more and more stuff in. I didn’t have enough space for my books or my clothes.I started feeling that my life was too big for my small space, but what I was really trying to do was to fill an empty life with stuff so I could feel full. I know I should have moved out at year four, but I stayed for seven more – partly from laziness and partly because looking for an apartment had been so traumatizing the first time.

“Why is there a large puddle in the middle of the kitchen?” I asked at one place.

“Oh, what a big closet,” I had said at another, only to find it was the door that led to the boiler.

I had loved my location on Bartel-Pritchard Square. I had loved my neighbors – and we’re still friends today. Leaving from the front door, I had loved everything about where I lived. Coming home was another story. It was more than time to hand in my keys, to give up something I loved (but not enough) to find something else, something new. And if I was lucky, something that I loved even more.

Alba Brunetti was born in Italy, raised in NYC and calls İstanbul home. She has had a rollicking internet career writing, editing, and producing for companies such as iVillage and AOL and startups like Virtual Communites and others you have never heard of that went crash, boom! Now she balances her time writing, looking for freelancing opportunities and appearing in Academy-Award-winning films. (I was an extra in Skyfall and you can see me on screen for a full 1/10th of second!)

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