Late October, 2009

On a Wednesday evening in late October, my ten-year-old daughter and I rolled a suitcase across the park that is Cadman Plaza in Brooklyn Heights, New York. It was a lovely fall evening, balmy and a bit misty;  my child made a game out of hopping from fallen leaf to fallen leaf, without touching the asphalt path. She was carrying a woven basket with two Tupperware containers of our very own frozen chicken stock, as well as small jars of dry and wet food for Sophie, our cat.

The suitcase I dragged behind me contained an irrational mix of pjs, toothbrushes, towels and a change of clothes for each of us. There were comfortable slippers, our bathrobes, even some bathroom tissue. In the pocket of my pants, I carried a set of keys I had never used before.

My daughter may not have noticed, but my knees were shaking. Two hours earlier, I had closed on the co-op apartment we were now headed towards. That event will go down in the annals of absurdities—there was a very wrong amount of money on my bank-certified check, the seller’s name misspelled; the bank’s attorney, upon looking at my driver’s license, exclaimed that he and I had the same birthday; the seller’s attorney frantically hit the keys on his calculator; my young real estate broker was on his phone discussing an open house, and while we were all waiting for yet another lawyer whose only task seemed to be to collect yet another check, my attorney regaled the room with his wife’s signature chicken recipe, the one that contained lots of freshly sliced ginger.

The seller was nervous. He and his wife had leased an apartment in Queens to be near their grown children, who had young families. He said he had never, in all his adult life, not owned property. I, on the other hand, with the exception of a few years when my then husband and I had bought a brownstone on a borrowed down payment, had never owned any place I lived it. And I wasn’t sure that I ever wanted to.

I gave the seller a potted amaryllis bulb from the farmers’ market, expressing hope that it would blossom for him and his wife once they were settled into their new apartment. In the uncomfortably tiny elevator, squeezed between Greg, my real estate broker, and the attorneys, the seller said to me: “You know, the day after we signed the contract, my wife changed her mind.”

Greg rolled his eyes, if kindly, and grinned. “Okay,” he said. “We all knew that. We decided we would keep it from you. But now that you own the digs, I guess it doesn’t matter anymore. It’s such a lovely place.”

At that moment I wasn’t sure what to think. I knew what a lovely place was; I had lived in one for more than five years now. The new apartment, however, was just about the unloveliest place I could think of. I didn’t really like it, I didn’t like the building or the location, and I hated the idea of living in 11C. I had never lived in 11-anything. If I had known that the sellers were trying to backpedal, I am pretty sure I would have let them.

But I also knew that my daughter and I needed to make this move. We had been the tenants of a lovely, more than 200-year-old brick cottage for far too long. We had lit fires in our old fireplace in the winter, and during the summer had had breakfast outside on the patio, between the roses we had planted.

For what must be one of the most charming little structures in the beautiful old part of Brooklyn Heights, we had paid a decent rent. We had not been ripped off; the arrangement had been fair. But we had done this for five years, and now my daughter had had the good fortune to be accepted into a terrific private middle school. All of a sudden, there was tuition to be paid. Our whole budget needed to be shifted. And while we could still afford decent housing, I knew we could not afford to rent anymore. We needed to buy, because we needed the tax return on the mortgage interest to pay for school. It seemed very simple; it still does.

So here we were, my daughter and I, mere hours after the closing, in a dimly lit carpeted hallway, trying to get into our new space. Nobody had explained that both locks worked counterclockwise, so it took us several minutes to open the door. We were not going to stay long. We were just going to put the suitcase into one of the closets, as a reassurance that we could survive our first night in the place, even if the movers should lose all our boxes. And we put the chicken stock into the freezer so that we could have home-made chicken noodle soup for dinner the very first night there, my daughter’s favorite dish.

But, of course, we couldn’t help looking around. And again I felt I had made the biggest mistake of my life. After all the hassle, the endless applications to the bank and the co-op board, the cost of the closing and the almost complete depletion of my savings, I really, really did not want to be in that place. It looked small and beat-up, and traffic noise crept in through the windows from the ramp of the Brooklyn Bridge. I wanted to go home, but I also didn’t really know where that was anymore.

We went up to the roof of the building. When we had first come to see the apartment, we had watched a couple of glorious sunsets somewhere over the lower tip of Manhattan from here. Now, a few months into fall, the sun went down in a haze of oranges and reds somewhere far more to the south, over the harbor. It was still a glorious sight, but that night it failed to lift my spirits.

The entrance lost.

When we got back to our old cottage, we silently fell into our routines, my daughter doing homework at the kitchen table and me preparing dinner. No celebratory mood, no champagne, despite the bottle of bubbly the sellers had left for us in the apartment’s fridge. It had seemed better to leave it there until we arrived for good.

At some point during the night, my daughter burst into tears. “Mama, I don’t want to move,” she sobbed. “I really, really don’t want to move.” She cried. She wailed. I felt like doing the same, but it seemed better just to hold her and pretend to be calm.

“I know,” I said. “I don’t want to move either.”

I went back to doing the dishes and my daughter resumed the task I had assigned her: To take the magnetic poetry words off our fridge and store them in a small box for the move. I knew that the fridge in the new apartment was of stainless steel, so the point of taking the magnetic worlds with us was not quite clear even to myself. But it didn’t seem right to leave them behind.

We had about ten days. Ten days to pack, to get used to the change, to say good-bye, perhaps to start to look forward to the new. To unsettle, in short. After that, settling in, starting to feel at home – who knew how long that would take? All I knew was that we were embarking on yet another journey, and that the prospect was terrifying.

For part one of the story of WVFC columnist Agnes Krup’s transformational move from one piece of Brooklyn to another, click here.  And stay tuned later this week for the next step in the story.

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