It was thirty years before I returned to Brooklyn. My parents had moved out a decade before but had only just gotten around to selling their apartment. The new owners were moving in next week and they needed me to pack everything up. The neighborhood looked different now. I guess that’s expected; things change with time, but for me it felt unrecognizable. Old bookstores and bodegas had been replaced with fancy cafes and those little gift shops that always emerge to make it very clear that a neighborhood has become gentrified. Even as I turned onto the residential streets the facades of buildings no longer looked how they used to: some were renovated, some entirely new. It was strange how a place I had known so well could become completely unknown. I crossed the street onto the corner of the block. It was then that I found myself looking down at two sets of initials carved carefully into the concrete beneath my feet.
If I had to identify the most significant part of my childhood it would be the time I spent with him. Childhood friendship is the the strangest kind; you create an interminable bond that’s based more on what you haven’t yet discovered than what you already know. My friendships now are far less tumultuous than our relationship was, yet they will never exist with the same intensity, the same raw connection.
Brooklyn was a different place. I got robbed as early as nine years old by men three or four times my age, them knowing very well the most I had on me was a dollar or so. Yet it was this same environment that fostered unparalleled freedom. My parents never cared much where I went, so I went everywhere. I memorized the subway map, I could get to anywhere in the city without asking directions. This was what drew us together--we were fiercely independent.
Despite spending most of our adolescence together, there is only one memory that will forever stick with me. We were eleven or twelve at the time. It was early summer. I met him on the corner at 5:27am like we agreed. There were bags under his eye. I don’t think he had slept at all. I’m sure I didn’t look much better.
“Follow me,” he said.
He had refused to tell me where we were going. He had insisted that I meet him there at 5:27am but when I tried to ask him why he would not clarify. He only said it was important. And so I agreed because I did not possess the capability to say no to him.
“Do you ever wonder if you’ll be remembered?” he asked me suddenly.
“I mean maybe. If I end up doing something interesting maybe I’ll be remembered,” I responded.
“Not some future version of yourself. This version of you. If someone will remember you as you exist in this moment.”
“I don’t know. I don’t think I’m very memorable right now.”
“That’s not true.”
We both know he didn’t mean it. I was not memorable. We continued on in silence.
“Sometimes I wonder about that. Sometimes I wonder what will happen if nobody remembers me as I am right now. Maybe I won’t exist at all,” he told me after a few moments.
“You’ll exist. You’ll just be older.”
“But I won’t be the same me. I’ll be different.”
“I guess. But why does that matter?”
“Because right now I feel so real.”
“You’ll be real when you’re older too.”
“You don’t understand. I mean who I exist as right now, in this moment, feels so real. This version of me in this shirt, with this hair, in this skin. But give it a day, a month, a year. Who will remember me as I am now?”
“I’ll remember you.” I told him. Yet I wasn’t sure I would. I tried to think about what he was wearing the last time I saw him, what he looked like. My mind was blank.
I glanced around. Everything was still dark, I had never seen the city like this, it was like all the light had been absorbed into the sidewalk. It was so quiet. The loud sounds of Brooklyn had disseminated with the light I guess. He stopped suddenly and smiled brightly.
“This is it.”
I looked around. I didn’t see anything particularly interesting. Buildings cornered us from all sides, casting large shadows.
“They just put in new concrete. We needed to come while it was still wet. I want to carve our initials.”
“Our initials? Why?”
He bent down onto the sidewalk and started carving letters into the ground with his finger. I watched him as he kneeled there and carefully wrote our initials. His fingers were grey from the wet concrete. He wasn’t smiling anymore.
“Thomas, they’ll remember us. They have to remember us now. Don’t they?”