So we walk down the steps and out of the building hand in hand. Half our block is out on the sidewalk, saying goodbye to my sisters, Mama, and Papi. They all turn to see me and Darius holding hands again. Of course they all have to comment all at once. Some whistle, others cheer, and the rest of them laugh as if we’re five-year-olds and this little thing is cute but won’t last.
I catch Papi’s eyes smiling. He quietly nods and turns away.
Manny from down the block has offered his minivan to drive Mama and my sisters out to our new place. I got dibs on riding with Papi in the moving truck.
Before I hop onto the middle seat between the mover and Papi, Darius pulls me aside again. “I can come pick you up. Take a long drive through Brooklyn. From Canarsie all the way to Brooklyn Heights.”
“Nah,” I say, shaking my head. “I am not your Brooklyn tour guide, Darius Darcy! You want to come pick me up, take the train.”
“How ’bout a cab?”
“No, Darius! The subway. Last stop on the L. You’re in Brooklyn now.”
“Last stop on the L,” he repeats, smiling, and takes the tips of my fingers until I climb into the truck.
Papi takes his hand and gives him a hard dap. “You take care, okay, buddy?”
Then Papi pulls Darius in and gives him one of those homie hugs. This is the thing that melts my heart the most. It’s as if my whole neighborhood has said yes to the boy who moved in across the street, to me and him.
Papi, I met this boy.
Even though he’s not old enough yet, I know you will
tell him to get a case of Presidente beer from Hernando’s
to share on the stoop one last time with this boy
who likes your daughter because you will hope that he
has a heart big enough to love me much more than you
because this is what you want for all of us, Papi.
You want your daughters’ boyfriends to have wisdom
as layered as pages in a book, memories as old
as slave ships at the shores of Hispaniola,
and love as endless as bottles of Presidente beer
shared on the stoops all over Bushwick
late into the night, Papi.
I met this boy.
Canarsie really is the very edge of the world, or at least Brooklyn. It feels that way since it takes so long for me to get to and from my old neighborhood. My sisters and I have to leave the house by six thirty in the morning just to get to school on time. Canarsie is the first and last stop on the L train, just like Darius said.
My new hood is nothing like my old hood. If there are newcomers here, they’re black or Latinx like our family. No one is coming here to throw anything away. There’s room to spread my arms and not hit anybody in the head. I can go a whole day sitting in front of the house and only see about five people. But no one sits on stoops here. No one pulls out a barbecue grill on the sidewalk, or a small table for a game of dominoes. The bodega is more than five blocks away, and we have to drive to the closest supermarket or Laundromat. But Mama and Papi still don’t know how to drive and don’t have a car. So most of our days are spent commuting to and from everywhere and stuck inside the small two-story house, minding our own business. Marisol and the twins spend more time at school with extracurricular activities, and Mama cooks way too much food, since our kitchen is much bigger now. Howard University has my new address, and they’ve been filling our mailbox with catalogs and postcards. I take that as a good sign.
We have more space and less time. And the love we had for our whole neighborhood now only fits into this wood-frame house in the middle of a quiet block. We don’t know the people who live across the street or on either side of us.
After my first day of senior year, I take a trip to my old block. Darius has been wanting to come see me, but we still had boxes and I was still trying to make sense of it all. I wanted more than anything to step back onto Jefferson and Bushwick Avenues, but only when I knew I was ready.
Darius meets me at the Halsey Street and Wyckoff Avenue station off the L train. It’s as if he hasn’t seen me in years, the way he hugs me and lifts me off my feet. We walk through my old hood, hand in hand, talking small talk about school, college, SATs, and Bushwick. I can spot the renovations happening to our old building from a block away.
The windows have been taken out, and the whole inside of the building has been gutted. My stomach sinks, and a wave of sadness makes me want to fall to the ground and wail. Darius squeezes my hand.
“Do you know who bought it?” I ask.
“Does it matter?” he says.
“Yeah, you might not like your new neighbors.” I smile.
“You’re right. There’ll probably be some rich white girl who’ll be afraid of me and then she’ll realize that I’m not that bad since I go to private school and all and we’ll fall madly in love and the rest is history.”
“Why you trying to put that out there like that, Darius?”
“Are you jealous?”
“Hell yeah!” I say.
“Well, don’t be, ’cause I want to show you something.”
We get closer to my old building, and I notice that the crumbling sidewalk has been repaved. A tree stump that used to be there is now gone, and so is the rickety gate. My heart feels like it’s about to split in half. In about a year, I won’t recognize this place.
Darius pulls my hand and crouches down on the ground right in front of the building. And I immediately start laughing. “What are you doing?” I ask. It’s the corniest and sweetest thing I’ve ever seen. In elementary school, we’d spray paint on the handball wall, or on a park bench. But since sidewalks don’t usually get paved in this part of the hood, initials carved into the concrete are something I don’t usually see.
“I wish I could’ve showed off my artistic skills a little better,” Darius says with a huge smile on his face. “But I know you want me to . . . K.I.S.S.”
“Boy, I am not crouching down on that ground to kiss you!” I say, laughing.
“No. I just kept it simple stupid. K, I, S, S.” He grins from ear to ear, as if he just said the cleverest thing.
“You know what? With all that fancy education, you sure know how to keep it original.”
“I try,” he says. “So. Do you like?”
Right there, in front of the place I used to call home, the place I spent the first seventeen years of my life, are the letters and words Z + D FOREVER inside a heart with an arrow.
“I love it,” I say, taking his hand as he gets up from the ground. “So, forever?”
“Forever,” he says, slipping his arms around my waist. “Well . . . that will be there forever if they don’t repave it.” He tries to hold in a laugh.
I punch him lightly on the arm and say, “You wish it could be there forever, Darius Darcy!”
I wrap my arms around his shoulders, pull him in, and give Darius a deep, long kiss for what feels like forever.