Heaven And Her Mother On Houston Street, NYC
When I met Heaven one day on Houston we immediately clicked. As much as you can with an almost five year old….I understood her immediately. She reminded me of myself, and of a few women I’ve met on Skid Row. She made me realize with extreme clarity that life really can be very unfair and completely impartial at the same time. She’s got what she’s got, and it’s just the reality of her life. She is just another little face in HRA, the welfare system in New York City. Which is the only way I can explain to myself why she is with her mother and stepfather, who were high and dealing drugs openly on the street. To me, her face was distinctive and stood out from most that I see every day. Unfortunately the brutality of social demographics and dismissive thinking by most of us judges her to be nondescript, like so many children who lack resources in neighborhoods all over the world. I mean, it’s the truth, isn’t it? She’s mixed race, and it’s a sad fact of life that children of color get overlooked and ignored and trapped and it happens constantly. As we sat on the sidewalk, me snapping a few pictures and listening to her baby rambles, we listened to her parents, bickering and hollering and arguing with others on the street as they transacted and interacted. Her mother was hard to communicate with, and was openly very high….At one point Heaven whispering to me that it was a little weird….
I was very happy to hang with Heaven. Her mother left her with me….we got ice cream. Anything goes with me….I roll with whatever happens. Was it strange that they just walked away, leaving her with me, as stranger? As I sat with her on Houston I looked for her mother and stepfather. They were gone. We waited, and they finally reappeared. Her stepfather accompanied us to Oddfellows, a too sweet, self important ice cream shop in its newest location on Houston Street. We went in, looking very out of place in the crowd of hipster/uptown downtowner clientele. After she finished her ice cream, her stepfather, in an oddly bold move, stole as many napkins as he could handle from one of the napkin dispensers in the shop. I tried to pretend that I didn’t see this…..but I’m not sure I pulled it off.
I don’t care what people think most of the time….but I was surprised and uncomfortable with his behavior. Heaven loves sprinkles and experienced great joy in Oddfellows, and a week later I returned with her.
She was wise…and knew her situation was not good. She smiled at me many times….and we hugged. I felt awful when I left. I had their contact information and I’ve seen them twice since that first time. It’s hard to stop thinking about Heaven, and what the odds will be for her. It’s harsh and raw and hurtful to say, but I know it well from my experiences in life….sometimes we’re bound to people that just don’t fit or support us. The feeling is like having a foot caught in a commercial fishing net as it’s dropped into the ocean to troll for fish. Once it’s pulled to the surface after the struggle has been long over, the continuing attempts to bargain for a better existence with those in our lives that we’re stuck with is a thing long forgotten.
Forgive me for saying….