About the Author
Aviva Drescher is the newest cast member of the hit Bravo TV series The Real Housewives of New York City. Born and raised in Manhattan, Aviva attended The Fieldston School and has a BA from Vassar College. She went on to get her Masters in French Literature from NYU and her JD from Benjamin Cardozo School of Law. Aviva has four children and is married to Reid Drescher, a Wall Street investment banker.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Leggy Blonde · CHAPTER ONE ·
It Only Takes a Second
When I was growing up, my parents had a country house in Delaware County in upstate New York near Oneonta. It used to be a barn. From the outside, the building looked pedestrian in this rural setting. But when you entered the house, you entered a world of ultracozy urban sophistication. My parents renovated it into a 1970s-style retreat with shag carpets, a pit fireplace, water beds, and Danish modern furniture. They dug a pond for swimming, and kept a chicken coop. As a child, few things were more gratifying than reaching into the trap door of the hen house and pulling out a still-warm egg. We had pigs and riding horses, and the garage housed a pair of snowmobiles.
My dad, George, was a Jewish kid from Brooklyn, who had become a successful Manhattan accountant. My mom, Ingrid, was German, a child of wartime who had come to America as a teenager and eventually became a model and Pan Am stewardess. She used to joke that he wanted her for the free travel. Dad was rough around the edges, always cursing and usually shocking people. Mom was elegant and refined, a stunning blond classic beauty. She was constantly saying, “Gorsghe!” with the sweetest German accent whenever he was inappropriate. They met when he was sleeping with one of her model roommates. It was love at first sight. By the time Dad told Mom about his wife and three children, she was already hooked. (Dad’s first marriage ended soon after. He had three young children, my half-siblings. Barbara, the oldest, lives in Oklahoma and has four children. Michele has one child and lives in New York. Her husband runs the Brotherhood Synagogue on Gramercy Park. Billy is an on-again-off-again drug addict and lives alone in Florida.)
My father’s partner in one of his businesses was a man named George Morgan. He lived full time in Delaware County, about fifteen minutes away from our house. The Morgans’ wasn’t just a country retreat; it was a working dairy farm. Picture cows and horses, rolling grazing hills, a city kid’s fantasy of the country.
Dad and George ran tax shelters through some of the local farms. Don’t ask me to explain how that all worked. I have no idea. If it sounds a bit shady, that’s because it was a bit shady. But back in 1977, it was completely legal.
When I was six, our family moved from our Manhattan apartment to our country house for the summer. It began well, with my dad teaching me to ride a two-wheeler. The final test was to ride down the steep hill and brake at the bottom right before hitting the pond. In typical-me fashion, I went right into the pond, bike and all. Dad ran into the water to save me from drowning (luckily, I had just learned how to swim), and the bike from disappearing in the muck.
One night in June, my parents decided I was old enough for a sleepover at the Morgans’ with their daughter Becky. Our families had dinner together at their place, then my parents went home and I stayed. Becky, one of five kids, was seven, and her friend Dawn, who was sleeping over, too, was eleven—which made her four years cooler than Becky. It was one of my first sleepovers. There would be seven kids under one roof, most of them older than me. I was used to nights with my parents and baby brother. This would be a lot more fun.
I don’t remember much about the sleepover itself. There was a storm that night but I wasn’t scared. It must have been okay, because Becky and Dawn still wanted to hang out with me in the morning. The rain had stopped. It was a perfect blue-sky summer day.
Becky said, “Let’s sneak out of the house and ride the barn cleaner in the barn.”
Dawn said, “Cool!”
I said, “Cool!” I would have done whatever they wanted. I had no idea what a barn cleaner was, but I liked the sound of “sneak out” and “ride.” I threw on jeans, a T-shirt, and my favorite Mickey Mouse sneakers. The sneakers were among my most treasured possessions and I wore them proudly. We ran to the barn, laughing. We jumped in muddy puddles and called them chocolate milk. Becky was barefoot.
The barn had a heavy sliding red door. We went inside and saw a lot of cows. Specifically, a lot of cow tochis (Yiddish for behind). The animals were lined up in two rows of about twenty on the left and right sides of the barn. The cows faced the barn wall with their tails toward a center walkway. Positioned right underneath the cows’ backsides was an oblong oval made of steel planks inside a metal casing. It reminded me of a baggage carousel at an airport, except this one was multilayered, narrow, and dirty.
Becky flipped a switch right next to the entrance, and the steel oval started moving. It was surprisingly loud, first clanging into operation and then making a grinding sound as it rotated clockwise. I didn’t realize what it was at first. Then a cow lifted her tail, and a cow pie plopped out of her rear end and landed with a wet splat on the barn cleaner. I watched the pile move along the belt until it disappeared through a chute outside the barn; the only sign of the poop when the rotation was complete was a brown smear. I watched with amazement as a few other cows pooped and the belt carried it away, out of sight. The strong smell, though, wasn’t going anywhere.
Becky walked all the way down the length of the barn, past the rows of cows, to the back wall, a good two hundred feet from the door. She said, “Just jump on.” She showed Dawn and me how to do it. The trick was to get onto the belt with each foot firmly planted on a single plank. The planks shifted underfoot, and if you stepped on the seam, you might fall. Obviously, you didn’t want to jump into manure either. I remember having some misgivings about getting my Mickey Mouse sneakers dirty. But I wanted to impress the older girls and prove myself. If they could do it, so would I. Becky rode the belt first. Then Dawn. And then me. Becky did it again and again, each time with a slight refinement, like raising her arms over her head. Dawn would copy her, then me. It was follow the leader.
I was shaky the first few times, but I got the hang of it and thought I was just as good as the older girls. It was almost too easy. Becky decided Dawn and I were ready to move on to the next level of difficulty.
“Now we’re going to do it on the turn, okay?” she asked, her eyes daring us to chicken out.
By “the turn,” she meant the bend in the belt, the U-turn at the door end of the vast barn. I took a closer look at it. When the planks shifted to accommodate the curve, a gap opened farther between them. It was only a few inches wider, but I could see the rusty teeth of the machinery that made the belt go around. The parts looked old, the mechanism primitive. It might’ve been built a hundred years earlier.
“It’s a big deal,” said Becky, acknowledging the bravery and skill required for this trick. “It looks easy when I do it, but it’s not.”
She showed us how. Becky jumped on with expert placement, one foot on each of the two adjacent planks. She held her arms out like airplane wings and leaned slightly forward for balance. The curve seemed to move faster than the straightaway. Her red hair swung as she jumped off, landing on the dirt floor of the barn like a cat. I was really impressed.
Dawn’s turn. She copied Becky’s style and made it all the way around the turn. When she jumped off, she was laughing. My heart started racing. I wanted to laugh, too, to be part of the crew. I was the youngest, and the smallest, but I could show them that I was just as brave.
It didn’t go well.
I was supposed to stick the landing but I skidded. Maybe the metal planks were slippery or my Mickey Mouse sneaker treads were worn down or, more likely, I probably just misjudged my jump. I was a clumsy kid—and an even clumsier adult for obvious reasons.
My left foot slid into the gap between the planks. The teeth of the machinery underneath caught hold of it and started pulling my leg down inch by inch. The barn cleaner continued to turn.
I didn’t feel pain at first. I just felt stuck and confused about what was happening. There was pressure. I instinctively tried to free myself, but my leg was being pulled down farther into the gap. The pulling and pressure forced me to sit. Then I felt overwhelmed and had to lie back.
The teeth had chewed my leg up to my knee. Becky started to run out of the barn. Dawn, clearly the most intelligent among us, screamed, “Turn it off! Becky, turn it off!” The switch was two hundred feet away. Becky raced down the length of the barn and hit it. The belt ground to a stop and the barn was suddenly quiet—except for, you know, the screaming.
If Dawn hadn’t yelled, and if Becky hadn’t turned off the belt, I would be dead. The moving steel planks would have chopped my leg off, and I would have bled to death. Even at six, I was aware that I was half an inch away from never seeing my mother again.
Becky and Dawn charged out of there, leaving me alone with the cows. I remember turning my head and noticing a swishing tail and the shape of a hoof. The barn smelled like manure and something new, something metallic, but not metal. It was the iron-rich smell of blood.
Running flat out in a desperate panic, Becky and Dawn reached the Morgans’ house in a minute or two. I could hear them screeching for help, their voices shrill and piercing while they ran.
I thought, Something is really wrong.
Becky’s mother, Linda, rushed through the barn door. I’d always liked her. She was a very nice woman, and the sight of her made me feel better. The sight of me, however, sent her into a wild panic. Whatever Becky told her had not prepared Linda for seeing me ground up to my knee, seeping blood. She tried to pry the steel planks apart, using all her might as she pulled, but they wouldn’t budge. Even with the adrenaline strength of the archetypical woman who lifts a car to save an infant trapped underneath, she couldn’t move it an inch. I registered how hard she was working, and how important it was for her. Her frustration mounted by the second. She broke out in a sweat and kept talking to me as she worked to free my leg, a rambling commentary that I can’t remember a word of. I knew she was doing her best, but I really wanted my mom. I heard a commotion outside the barn. Excited voices, shouts, a siren, and flashing lights—a rescue squad had come.
I passed out.
When I came to, there was a pillow under my head and my father was next to me. He’d been retrieved from his office down the hill. I was glad he was there. I was on my back, and looked up at him as he rubbed my head. Down by my leg, rescue workers were taking apart the barn cleaner piece by piece using blowtorches. I wondered if the blowtorches would burn me. Dark, sticky red was everywhere, on the planks, all over me. Someone had cut off my jeans up to my mid-thigh and put a tight rubber strap around my thigh. The smell of blood was tinny and heavy. People moved in and out of my vision both at frantic speed and in slow motion.
I screamed, loudly and continuously, because I knew what was happening was terrifying. So many adults were freaking out. The pain was, oddly enough, not so bad. It was non-pain. I later learned that I was numb with shock, or had broken through a pain threshold. My brain shut it off. Fear, though, didn’t have a threshold.
A man came toward me with a loaded syringe. They were going to give me a shot. From the very first vaccine I can remember getting, like most kids, I’d had a fear of needles. The sight of it then was even more frightening than the blood. I screamed riotously.
“Stop screaming! Stop screaming! Shut up!” The man with the needle, sweaty and angry, yelled at me to be quiet. He got right in my face. I was unnerving him, a man trained to keep his cool under the most grisly circumstances.
My father leaned over me and whispered in my ear, “You just keep on screaming, Aviva.”
I felt a sting on my arm, and everything went black.
When I woke up the second time, I was still in the barn, on the barn cleaner. Three hours had gone by. It took that long to dismantle the machine. They were only then lifting me out of it. I looked down. My left foot looked like ground meat with bits of shoestring and canvas from my chewed-up Mickey Mouse sneaker mixed in. The pulpy mess hung onto my ankle by a thread and the skin along my shin had been ripped from the bone up to my knee. The bone was denuded, bright white, like a French-cut lamb chop.
A stone wall bordered the property, a common feature of the country farms in that area. As the fields were cleared, the farmer stacked the plowed-up rocks into a wall. That wall was probably older than the house. As I was carried from the barn to the ambulance on a stretcher, I saw people sitting on the wall, dozens of them. The whole town had gathered Little House on the Prairie style to wait for the injured child to be rescued. They didn’t react when I was taken out; they just silently stared. Years later, I remember watching “Baby Jessica” brought out of the well, and the people cheered and applauded. The Delaware County crowd was somber and subdued. I must have looked pretty bad.
“We’re going to the hospital in Albany, Aviva. The doctors will take care of you,” said Dad. He was next to my bed in the ambulance. We sped off. The siren blared loudly. I had an IV in my arm and before long, the meds knocked me out.
When I came to for the third time, I was on a steel table in a white room. I was alone, still dressed in my T-shirt and cut-up jeans, no blanket covering me. I looked down and saw the Mickey Mouse sneaker on my right foot. The familiar sight was made grotesque in comparison to my mangled left leg. Grass, hay, and bits of manure stuck to a clump of skin and blood and bone. I burst into tears. My reaction was visceral, a sudden onslaught of hysteria. My foot was destroyed. It was real.
I’d had bumps and bruises before. The sight of blood on a scrape was enough to rattle any six-year-old. This was the same feeling times a million. I was afraid without even understanding what would happen a day, an hour, or a year down the road. I didn’t know anything—where I was, where my parents were, what would happen to my leg. All I knew was fear and pain. I screamed wordlessly like a wounded animal.
And then my angel came in.
“Mommy, Mommy, Mommy,” I cried and reached for her.
Mom was my everything. I worshipped her. She was truly exquisite. People always said she looked like a Germanic Elizabeth Montgomery from Bewitched. She was bewitching. When my mom walked into a room, she brought beauty and grace with her. She always smelled wonderful, too. I’d been lying there in that cold, sterile room, wishing for her to appear. And she did. She hugged me and her touch was warm, gentle, and tender.
“Aviva,” she said into my hair. It sounded like “Aveeeva” with her accent.
As she held me and said my name, I thought, Everything is going to be okay. That’s the power of unconditional love. No one else could have comforted me like her, and all it took was one word.
Before leaving the office and arriving at the accident scene, my father called her back at our house. I imagined it like a movie scene: Mom putting flowers in a vase, my baby brother, Andre, then two, playing happily in his wooden high chair, the summer sun streaming in through the kitchen windows. I pictured my German grandmother standing next to Mom at the counter, fixing something sweet and delicious, when the phone on the wall rang. Mom grabs it, untwi...
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