I love to travel. I especially love taking road trips. I get to leisurely pass through towns, taking in the settings of other people’s lives. You might liken it to a spectator’s sport – I’m on the sidelines watching, and I’m definitely not a player in the game.
Of particular interest to me are abandoned and dilapidated structures. I can’t help summoning up a story to explain the vacancy of an old school house, whose blackboards and desks are still in tact. Did aliens abduct them? Were the people and their children forced out of town by a greedy corporate conglomerate, whose land manipulations and chemicals destroyed the water supply? Whatever the actual story is, I am fascinated by these abandoned structures.
But what about when it’s in my own back yard? There’s an abandoned, dilapidated home just two blocks from where I live. It became dilapidated over time; a window replaced by a wood panel here, some graffiti there, and eventually a disregarded, kicked over mailbox, to mark its final demise. It’s last breath.
It’s one thing when a house is vacated and deemed an outcast, it’s another thing when a house finally looses it’s capacity or worthiness to even collect bulk mail ads or endless threats from desperate bill collectors. Now that’s bad.
I don’t remember the day I noticed this abandoned home, or what final insult to it got my attention; I just remember thinking what the hell happened! Already, I could see I was no longer a spectator to the skeletal remains of this structure, I was now observing circumstantial evidence of the fall out of someone’s household. It would otherwise be imaginal entertainment if it weren’t so close to home. My home.
This is my town, my neighborhood, one of my neighbors. I needed to get all the cards on the table and find out how this could happen, what happened to the family, and could it happen to myself or a loved one.
It’s hard to not notice this neglected place, considering it’s housed along a main street running through town. Aesthetics in my town are a high priority, how is it this house hasn’t at least been responded to in order to keep with the status quo? You almost get the sense this home is purposefully neglected in an attempt to brand it with a home version of the scarlet letter. Public humility comes to mind. What sin could the tenants have committed, to have been forced out, with the sins of their ways left as a warning to others?
Unlike the sites I see along the roads I travel, I cannot escape the dissonance created by this scene. I have a need to comprehend the circumstances leading up to it, and the people subjected to it. Where are they now, and how must they feel if they also have to pass by it on a regular basis? As a town, are there implications of accountability? If there are others on the verge of this despair, are they in need of my help?
There’s an old saying, home is where the heart is. This cliché offers encouragement to the person whose literal home may not suffice. It suggests we define home by internal standards, rather than by what we have.
Fair enough, but what about the person, the people, the families, whose internal state, heart, as well as their home, are subjected to socio-economic placement and ideologies? Offer them another cliché, pick yourself up by the bootstraps and…..blah blah blah blah?
My encounter with this dilapidated home has caused me to revisit how it is I engage with the countless replicas existing throughout our nation – cause I’ve been to a lot of other cities and states, and they’re there too. Are these structures indicative of a much larger condition? Would hearing even a fraction of the stories behind these abandonments, give us insight to that condition?
I’m just beginning to explore this larger picture and how I might be informed by it.
If home is where the heart is, then it begs the question, where did you last leave your heart, and will you find a home there? Will it be in tact, or dilapidated?