My neighborhood is made of love, but it’s money and buildings and food and jobs that keep it alive—and even I have to admit that the new people moving in, with their extra money and dreams, can sometimes make things better. We’ll have to figure out a way to make both sides of Bushwick work.
That gives me an idea. I grab my small laptop and type the first words of my college application essay to Howard.
Sometimes love is not enough to keep a community together. There needs to be something more tangible, like fair housing, opportunities, and access to resources.
My younger sister, who is a self-proclaimed finance whiz, says it best: Love is abstract. Money is not.
I type, delete, type, and delete over and over again. I inhale. Close my eyes. And let my fingers dance across the keyboard.
How to Save the Hood
If my name was Robin
I’d steal the tight corners
Where hope meets certainty
To form perfectly chiseled bricks
Stacked high to make walls
Surrounding my Bushwick
Sometimes I don’t go to the other side
Where Bed-Stuy or Fort Greene
Are guarded and armed with coffee mugs
And poodles on leashes
I don’t see any more homeless pets
Like the ones that used to gather
In the junkyard on Wyckoff Avenue
Beneath the overhead train tracks
Like marks on the arms of junkies
Who used to stumble down Knickerbocker
Boxing the air, fighting the wind
Suckerpunching a time
When those graffiti-covered walls
Used to be background canvases
For old ladies in house slippers
Pushing squeaky shopping carts
Around those tight corners
Where hope meets certainty
Hope is wishing that corners will
Turn into long, unending streets
Where all the traffic lights turn green
Certainty is knowing that corners
Will always be home
Where ninety-degree angles
Are the constant shapes in our lives
Always a sharp turn
By late afternoon, our apartment is a smoky sauna of Mama’s cooking for the block party. I’ve gotten used to the smells by now, and so has our block, and maybe our whole neighborhood too.
All the windows are wide open to let out the smoke, and my sisters and I have stripped down to just shorts, tank tops, and aprons, along with hairnets and gloves when we’re handling the food.
The new people moving into our neighborhood probably think that our part of Bushwick can’t get any louder than on a random Saturday night in July.
The bass has been pumping since noon, and with that kind of noise, there’s no reading, thinking, or dreamily staring out the window for me. The deejay is set up right in front of our stoop, and our whole building seems to dance to the rhythm of the music. None of us can sit still. Even as I help cook, I bop, snap, do a little two-step, and follow along as Layla and Kayla practice their dance moves for the block party’s talent show.
The block party is something we’ve been putting together for the last couple of years, ever since Mama became the one-woman planning committee of the block association. She manages to bring together the ladies on Jefferson and Bushwick to cook and set up a few tables at the other end of the block, while Papi and his homies set up grills on the sidewalk and large coolers of beer near our stoop. People from other blocks sit on lawn chairs all up and down the sidewalk. Kids run and ride their scooters. On each end of the block, two or three cars block off traffic. This is Mama’s dinners on steroids.
Finally we’re done cooking and everything is ready to go into aluminum containers. We help carry the food downstairs and then are free to go enjoy the party. Janae goes to fix her makeup before coming to join me on the stoop. She holds a plastic cup of ice cream and sits next to me while bopping her head to the deejay’s latest beat. Behind the deejay is a ministage where the talent show contestants will perform—right in front of the Darcy house. This was never a big deal before, since it used to be abandoned.
“You think they’re pissed?” Janae asks as she scoops up a spoonful of ice cream.
“Who?” I ask, playing dumb.
“You know who I’m talking about. The Darcys. They’re not even here a week and already our block is bringing all this noise to their doorstep.”
“I don’t care,” I say.
“Yes, you do.”
“No. I do not.”
“You should’ve seen your face when Darius saved you from that bike.”
“I don’t care what I looked like, Janae!”
She just laughs at me, and I give in and laugh too. No one can stay mad at Janae for long.
I spot Charlise making her way over to us from Bushwick Avenue. And as if she already knows I’m looking straight at her, our eyes meet. She smiles her Charlise smile—a head nod and one corner of her mouth turned up.
I hadn’t texted her that the new neighbors had shown up, because I wanted her to see them for herself.
“Z-Money. What up?” she says when she reaches our stoop, giving me one of her hard daps with her man hands. Charlise is a baller who’s been accepted to Duke on a basketball scholarship. She’s a year older than me, and between her and Janae, I know all about what to expect for applying to college. But Charlise is planning on coming back after Duke too.
I shimmy my shoulders, clap one time, do a little two-step with my feet while still sitting on the stoop, a little dance move with my hands, and Charlise figures it out real quick.
She gasps, nudges Janae so she can sit in between us, faces me, and asks with wide eyes, “What happened, Z? Is this an inside story, or an outside story? Hot tea or iced tea? Spill it! I got my teacup right here!” She pretends to sip from a tiny cup while holding out her pinkie.
Both Janae and I start laughing. Charlise loves neighborhood gossip just like Mama.
I fix my mouth to start telling the story of how those Darcy boys moved into the hood when the music changes and some of the kids rush to the deejay to do the latest dance moves.
“Aw, yeah! That’s my joint right there!” Charlise sings, and takes my hand to pull me up, and that’s when I see the Darcys coming out of their house. I automatically stop dancing and sit back down.
“What happened?” Janae asks, finishing her ice cream.
“Nothing,” I say, only bopping to the beat a little.
But Janae knows me too well, so she stands up and sees what I just saw. And of course, she waves. “They’re coming over here.”
“I’m out.” I start to stand to go back upstairs, but Janae stops me.
“Aw, come on! What’s wrong with you, Zuri? We can’t avoid them for the rest of our lives.”
“Rest of our lives? Who says we’ll know them for the rest of our lives?”
“What are y’all talking about?” Charlise asks. She’s still dancing and hasn’t noticed the boys.
Janae taps her shoulder and points toward the Darcys with her chin.
“Oh. Hello!” Charlise says. “Who are they?”
“Those’re the boys who moved into that house,” Janae says.
“What? For real, for real?” Charlise says, smiling and wide-eyed.
“For real,” both Janae and I say together.
“Damn. They’re hella fine.”
Janae throws me a told-you-so look.
“I’m not blind, Janae. I know they look good. It’s just that they’re off-limits,” I say.
“Zuri doesn’t like them just ’cause they live across the street,” Janae tells Charlise.
“I feel you, Z,” says Charlise. “The way y’all do things on this block, it’ll be like they’re your cousins.”
“Thank you!” I say. “But, wait. No. I mean, it’ll be complicated. They won’t be like our cousins. I mean, look at that house.”
“Okay. They’ll be like your rich cousins,” Charlise says. “But they won’t be my cousins. Introduce me, Zuri.”
“No!” I almost yell. “Not you too!”
“Look,” Janae says. “If those Darcys did all that stuff to that house, then they’re gonna be here for a very, very long time too. We might as well get to know them.”