Tower of Rubble

by

03/20/2011

Neighborhood: East Village

Tower of Rubble
Photo by edenpictures

My mother is watching the DON’T WALK sign blink on the corner of 6th Street and Avenue B. My twelve year old twin sister and I have been trekking with mother all over Alphabet City for what seems like hours. I am carrying a plastic bag filled with clothes that mother found a block away in a dumpster. When we get home, mother promises that we will divide equally our findings. A man walks up on stilts from behind us and stands in the curb. He has a blue Mohawk, and wears a t-shirt that says where’s the beef. A taxi horn blares and zooms past us. Across the street a woman probably high on drugs closes her purple shadowed eyes, grabs onto a fire-hydrant, and sways. She begins to sing. Her melody sounds like a circus song from long ago.

“Damn it,” Mother says still watching the blinking sign, “we’re never going to find the Mennonite Church before dark.”

I remind mother that the lady who handed out the flyers on Fifth Avenue said it is on 15th Street. Mother doesn’t hear me. Instead she walks into the street. A truck slams on its brakes and barely misses her.

“Come on girls. Cross the street,” mother says.

I grab Heidi’s hand and feel the man on stilts looking down at us. Way down. Mother then hits the truck a few times with her hand and yells words we are not allowed to say. The men in the truck ignore her but I can’t. Her blue eyes shine against her high cheekbones and platinum blond hair which is down to her waist, and tied in a braid. Steam comes out of the manhole and Mother stands in the center of it all like an angel, rising out of the mist. My family and I cross to the sidewalk and the druggie girl peeks an eye open. I bet she sees a blur of us. Mother tells us to keep walking. Inside a gate, there is a garden trying to survive in the winter wind. Piles of trash rest next to bag of unopened fertilizer. Religious statuary, a Raggedy Anne doll, stuffed animals, scraps of electronics, are piled onto a rectangular wooden base form. It’s like a forty foot toy tower.

“Think the Swiss Family Robinson lives there?” Heidi says.

“It looks like the Tower of Babel from the Bible.” Mother says.

Through the barren trees, a skinny man builds the sculpture. He looks at me for a moment. Then he climbs up on the structure like an acrobat. Picking up a piece of rock with silver flecks, I tuck my new found treasure inside my jeans. This is the first time I have done something meaningful for a long time. As we walk to the end of the block, I look back and promise to return to my secret city garden.

Before writing for Glamour, Huffington Post, Narrative, New York Press, St. Petersburg Times, Smith, and Slate, Heather Kristin was home-schooled with her twin sister in Hell’s Kitchen, New York. Her unpublished novel BROOKLYN TO BOMBAY was a finalist for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. An essay she wrote appears in the anthology LIVE AND LET LOVE which was featured on Good Morning America and The Chelsea Lately Show. Recently she was honored by the State of New Jersey General Assembly for her dedication on women’s issues and is thrilled to be returning for her fourth year as a mentor for an at-risk teen at Girls Write Now. Heather is currently writing a memoir.
 

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§ 2 Responses to “Tower of Rubble”

  • Sara says:

    LOVE this article, Heather! Thank you for sharing this incredible experience with us – it’s so vividly written, I feel like I’m with you, seeing, hearing and smelling the East Village from the point of view of a little girl, and in such a situation – what a trip!!! It’s a rare opportunity to step inside that world, and you bring us there beautifully.

  • Meghan says:

    I agree with Sara! The imagery is absolutely beautiful as well as realistic. But it’s immediately clear that this essay isn’t simply a few pretty words strung together; there is real depth, grit, and meaning behind them. The simplicity of the child’s point of view is very well used to convey the pain Heather went through going up. I loved reading this and can’t wait to hear more from her!

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