28.5.09

Ruination

I have always been fascinated by ruination and disintegration and abandonment - as far as places and things go, anyway. Abandoned buildings, cars, train/subway stations, suitcases - whatever. Even just looking at pictures of abandoned things is captivating to me.

I don't know where this fascination comes from, but I feel an affinity for the places. I can hear the people who lived, worked, carried, rode. The things that are left behind in the act of abandonment are also riveting to me.

Why was that teddy bear inessential? Did you mean to leave your glasses? Did you leave willingly? Why did you leave?

Sometimes the answers to these questions are obvious, but other times, less so.

My first encounter with what I'll call a rural ruin was when I was about 10. I was with my friend Madeleine and her parents. We were driving from Ft. Worth to Vicksburg and somewhere in Louisiana, as we were stopped at a small gas station in the middle of nowhere, Madeleine's mom, Nora, saw an abandoned shed. It was obviously abandoned because it was falling down, but she wanted to go look. So we got back in the car and drove down the road toward the dilapidated structure. A driveway ran past the shed on one side and we drove down it, through some overgrown trees and fields. In the overgrowth was an abandoned old farm house. Although, now that I think about it, I don't know what they would have been farming there. Maybe it was just an old house. A standard looking old house that had been white at one time and one red shutter remained covering half a window. There was a porch on the front of the house and a huge spider web covered one whole end of it.

Nora, who was also apparently fascinated by the abandoned building, got out of the car and walked through knee-high grass around the house. Madeleine and I stayed next to the car until she came around the house, having circled it completely.

I remember there was some discussion between Nora and Maddie's dad (Will) about whether it was safe to go inside. They must have decided it was okay because we went inside.

The quiet was what got me first. When the bustle of the family is gone, quiet remains. After that, it was the staleness of the place. A lot of the windows were broken, but the smell was still musty and old.

We had gone in the back door, which was the kitchen door. The kitchen was dirty, but mostly furnished. An old wood table with no chairs was against a window, an old refrigerator with the freezer door missing stood against a wall next to a space where the stove had been. A baker's rack stood next to the door that led to the dining room with some dishes on it. The cabinets had some remnant pots and pans and a box fan plugged in in a corner with a fly-swatter leaning against it.

I could feel the emptiness in my chest and stomach. It was a life left undone - mosquito trapped in amber.

We made our way through the whole house. I could probably describe every room in detail, because it impressed me so much that it was sort of a museum to the person/people who had lived there and left.

As I get older, my attraction to the forsaken seems to increase. I think because I understand better now why a life in progress might be left behind. I know that sometimes the things that went with that life become superfluous. Even in commercial-type buildings (which I've had occasion to visit much more often than abandoned houses), the things that are left when a company moves or goes out of business are interesting. I've even had a couple of pieces of second-hand furniture in which the former owner left things - notes, pens, pictures, and a stuffed pink elephant - all of which seemed significant.

Even as I feel an affinity for the remnants of others, I am more and more able to release my own superfluity. I sometimes wonder what, upon finding a piece of my life, the finder thinks or feels. I wonder if they have the same breathless feeling I get when I find something in a drawer or pocket at the second-hand store, if, for a moment, they imagine a life for me, like I do for others. And then I can't help but wonder if they imagine more for me than I have.

2 comments:

hannahjustbreathe said...

Ooooo, I love this post! "I think because I understand better now why a life in progress might be left behind." Indeed...

You've read my blog---clearly, I have my own penchant for nostalgia, for what once was, in my life, the lives around me, and the lives of others, even strangers. Abandoned buildings, homes, rooms, hearts...all endlessly fascinating to me. I think those of us with vivid imaginations, those writing bits and pieces in our heads all the day long, perhaps appreciate these pockets of left-behind space that much more. Because within each, we create a story, a character, a life---wholly separate and yet somehow still connected.

Dorothy said...

Hey, thanks!

Separate and still connected... Yes. The idea that I am where someone else was (or vice versa)- even though the respective amounts of time are usually very disparate - is oddly comforting.