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Home Sweet Homeless
By Heather Kristin

My lip was busted.

I counted from my window the trucks pulling into the New York Times building across the narrow street, as the lights twinkled above on the marquees. I imagined how at dawn, the stories from all over the world would be delivered to homes with fireplaces and apartments with terraces. My twin sister Heidi and I were ten years old and were not allowed to read secular newspapers. We were living on New York State's emergency fund with Mom for the next two days in The Times Square Hotel.

Wearing a striped purple sweater from The Lambs Nazareth Church hand-out, I thought it looked like something Punky Brewster would wear on TV. It was my favorite piece of clothing from my backpack stuffed with clothes, shampoo, fake furry animals, and my diary. Heidi pretended that she was on a camping trip and read a history book with a flashlight underneath the wooly covers of the queen size hotel bed.

"Come on, Heather. Open up!" Mom yelled, pounding on the door. She had returned early from the welfare office. It was almost dinner time, but I didn't feel like letting her back in. Slowly, I pulled away from the scratchy seventies curtain and opened the locks. A rat ran under the bed. Heidi's forehead of curls came out of the blanket.

"What was that noise?"

"It's Mom. I'm letting her in," I said.

"No, that 'ti, ti, ti, ti' noise."

"A rat's under the bed."


Heidi and I were beyond screaming at rats. We had Mom to attend to. I opened the door. Mom drew me into her arms. A wisp of her platinum blond hair fell down from her traditional bun, tickling my nose. I laughed and then watched her hoist Heidi into her arms. Mom looked like a child, full of glee and love. It was as if she had forgotten slapping me across my mouth, my buck teeth cutting through my bottom lip, for sneaking candy yesterday. Her sunken blue eyes were so light. I swore they were most beautiful when light shone through them, but the room was without sunshine. Now, her cheekbones looked white and bony.

"Hey, girls! Check it out! There's a picture of us in The New York Post! Maybe Steven Spielberg will see it and put you in his next movie." Mom cheered. She had worked hard tracking down the reporter, spending a whole roll of quarters on the payphone telling him our story. When he finally came to interview us, Heidi held a Home Sweet Home sign she had crocheted, and the photographer snapped away. The headline read, "Show-Biz Twins in Double Trouble." It was nice to see Mom happy. And I was proud of her. "Let me just wash off all the welfare grime!" she continued, "What a stupid place filled with administrators who ignore everyone! Just like they ignored Jesus."

Mom reached into her chic Le Sport backpack and pulled out the roll of toilet paper I had stolen earlier from Turtle Bay Music School. She opened the door and walked to the bathroom down the hall. Heidi and I were lucky to have need-based scholarships for music lessons where, for a moment, I could forget about everything, including my dad. My violin teacher would never find out our secrets. Their toilet paper was the softest and easiest to steal. When I was hungry I'd reach into my backpack, tear off a piece of toilet paper, and pop it into my mouth like chewing gum. After an hour of playing Shubert, Vivaldi, and Dvorak I'd go with Mom and Heidi and spend the rest of the afternoon at the Citicorp atrium. If we asked nicely the food court would give us "samples" of cookies. But they locked their toilet paper bins up and we quickly learned that saving cookie crumbs wasn't as easy as hoarding toilet paper.

"What do you say we go to Nathan's on Broadway to celebrate?" Mom announced as she returned. I could tell she believed that our full-page article about being homeless would save us. Maybe in a few days a Daddy Warbucks would jump out of his limo and give us a new apartment.

As we walked towards Nathan's Famous Restaurant, Mom pointed to the Carter Hotel. Its big red neon sign was visible for blocks, posted high on the 24th floor. "It's for short stays," she said.

The neighborhood was filled with peep shows and signs advertising porn. As we walked past hustlers, drag queens and hookers, sex seemed to be a business. Sailors piled out of a go-go boys' club and tourists and sidewalk preachers gave them the eye.

Finally we entered the cavernous, yellow and green striped restaurant, hoping no one recognized me from the article. By the counter, the workers had on funny hats and were handing out buttons and balloons. I smelled the yummy grease and grabbed a yellow one. Mom bought three hot dogs and I quickly burned my tongue on sauerkraut. Heidi squeezed mustard out, stained her shirt, smiled, took a huge bite, and skipped out of the hot dog place. "Come on! Let's go ride the elevators at some fancy hotel!"

The street was busy with people as I held my mom's hand and my violin. I took it just in case Mom forgot to bring enough cash. I was getting used to busking for a meal.

A crazed man came into our path with skin that was bubbling underneath like gasoline ready to explode. He pulled from his jacket a shiny silver object. People screamed. I let go of my mom, ran back inside down the broken escalator into Nathan's, and hid underneath a table. My mom and sister ran inside, too, but stopped on the first floor. They froze in each others arms, screaming. It was the first time I had been separated from them.

My balloon floated up the stairs. I snuck back up and watched the man wave a knife a few feet away from my mom. He threatened to stab anyone in reach. I sunk down the escalator's grid. With each taunt of his knife, I thought, I'm a bad person. I could have protected Mom and Heidi. I am a selfish little girl with a violin.

A large man jumped on the crazed man's back. Cop cars pulled up with their colored lights. I ran to my mom and my sister huddled in a corner. We hugged and said how much we loved each other and how we would never let each other go. I bit my lip. It began to bleed again.

News cameras came quickly as the streetlights peeked between the skyscrapers. Mom was the beautiful witness, her tears reflecting the camera lights. Cars slowed down, men turned their heads, and a reporter asked for the spelling of her name. She was like a marquee star in Times Square. Finally Mom would be unforgettable.

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