Broken Window

When Melissa Lee was growing up in Hastings-on-Hudson, a small town in upstate New York, there were only so many fun things to do. One was buying geodes and smashing them apart with a hammer. (You know geodes, right? Those dull-looking brown rocks that you break open to reveal crystalline structures inside?)

One day, when Melissa was thirteen, she and her friend Liz bought some geodes. They didn’t want to wait to get home to crack them open, so they decided to throw them against the wall of an apartment building.

Liz’s aim went wild on one of the geodes, and it went through a window.

Melissa and Liz tried to find the person whose window they had broken, but they couldn’t figure out which door in the apartment building lead to the unit with the window in question. Eventually, they gave up.

Melissa would have probably forgotten about the incident had it not been for one inexplicable thing: the window didn’t get fixed. Ever.

It was clear that someone lived there. Melissa would walk by the window and see the apartment lit up by a TV. Someone was opening the window in the summer and closing it in the winter. But the hole remained.

Melissa finished middle school, then high school, then went away to college. And when she came home and saw the window still broken, it had this effect of making her feel like the nervous, insecure thirteen-year-old she was when she broke the window.

This became a pattern for Melissa. She’d leave home, do some growing up, come home, see the window, and feel like a teenager.

Melissa traveled the world. She went to graduate school. She moved to Washington, DC. She got married. And every time she’d come home, she’d see the window. “As much as I was changing, this part of my past was completely frozen,” Melissa says. “As soon as I saw the window I was brought right back to those middle school days when we had broken it.”

So in 2011, 22 years after the incident, Melissa went to go find the person who left the window broken for so long. She brought along a tape recorder.

Images this week are by Emile Holmewood, a New Zealand-based graphic designer & illustrator. Find more of his amazing work at The Caravan.

  1. Rob

    That’s why you’re supposed to leave a note. Saves you the grief and guilt, and then you can actually make good on repairing the damage.

  2. AaronW

    LOL… Hastings On Hudson… “upstate” New York? Really? It’s about six miles from Riverdale, in the Bronx…

  3. SteveD

    I should get some kind of Most Delayed Comment award.

    But AaronW’s comment got me thinking about geographic areas as neighborhoods, in the sense that no matter how small an area you select, there will always be sub-areas that distinguish (discriminate?) among themselves.

    I grew up in Madison County, near the middle of the state of New York, and when I was young and heard people talk about “upstate” I assumed they meant the Adirondacks; or at least, the part of the state North of I-90. We called our “neighborhood” Central New York. As I grew older and met people from other parts of the state, I realized how much variation there was in the term Upstate. As AaronW points out, for many people in the New York City metro area, anything North of the Bronx (or maybe Yonkers :) is Upstate.

    While it’s true that New York is a large state, and extremely varied in geography and demographics, I suspect that states and regions of all sizes subdivide themselves in this way, indicating through language which sub-region is “us” and which is “those other guys”. I lived for several years in Rhode Island, and found that even in that very small state there were many sub-regions with their own subcultures (and even accents), distinguishing between coastal and inland areas, Providence and Not Providence, East (Narragansett) Bay and West Bay, etc.

    In the end, no area is all that homogeneous if you look (and listen) carefully, most dividing lines are more or less arbitrary.

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