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Mystery of the Disappearing Teepee

Essay / I write about a mysterious teepee in Inwood Hill Park and about my experiences living in Inwood as an immigrant in the 1990s.


Excerpt (read full story in the Delacorte Review - this story was chosen as a Longreads Weekly Top 5)


I fell into this story. It was like pulling on the thread of a fraying jacket and not being able to stop myself even as the fabric started to come undone. In my memory, the morning everything started it was snowing and I was about to log onto a Zoom class when my husband came home and told me about the teepee. He’d run into the woman who tended it and asked her why it had been destroyed. I got it into my head that I had to figure out who kept knocking down the teepee and why.

Then everything started unraveling on its own.

***

The teepee was a mystical thing. A tall, triangular structure with a round base that sat on a clearing in the valley of the forest, right beneath a rock formation that’s been around since a glacier retreated during the last ice age, and just south of the caves where the Lenape, the Native Americans who originally lived on this land, are said to have made their seasonal camps. That was centuries before the land came to be known as Inwood Hill Park.

I remember the teepee from childhood, when my parents and I first moved to New York from Moscow in the early ’90s and settled into a rundown three-bedroom apartment with roaches in the kitchen and brown dusty carpeting in the living room. I was nine years-old and Inwood, a little-known neighborhood on the northern tip of Manhattan, reminded me of my grandmother’s bedroom community in Moscow — quiet streets lined with five- to six-story apartment buildings and lots of trees.





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