What, you ask, could I mean?
Take an ancient castle for instance, if we must. It was most likely built at the behest of a king or a nobleman, maybe some kind of dictator, or wealthy landholder, during a time when people received very little for their wages to actually build it, and most laborers lived out what we would consider today an impoverished and often brutal existence.
Yet, the castle stood nonetheless, sometimes for a millennia. Being displayed in the finest decor, maybe visited by heads of state or other wealthy landholders, perhaps even bought and sold in the spring when the flowers in the garden bloom brightly and encourage long walks outside under the fullness of the noon day sun.
But, then misfortune, as is so often the case, maybe befalls are illustrious owner sickness or even death. Maybe the loss of one or more family members to a tragic or unavoidable fate.
Possible, some financial disaster.
Whatever might it be, the owner’s fate now sealed, the property is turned over. Maybe to heirs who fritter away they’re good fortune. Maybe to strangers at auction who see the places simply as a line item of a much larger estate.
Even a worse fate…..
The castle is turned over to the dreaded state.
However and in whatever manner it arrives, the castle is now forsaken, falls into disrepair, those who once frequented it’s hallways and foyers, who stopped so casually to smell the flowers growing in the gardens, are all now gone.
A distant memory now lost in the past.
They have vanished.
It is here, in this circumstance, that I find cause to speak. Where a building once stood tall, a dwelling place for sentient, independent, prideful beings, has been left a shambles, a dreary abandonment.
Who would – who could – do such an awful thing?
In what condition of life does one find it better to walk away than to dwell there? How do we find ourselves, even now, speaking so glibly of this modern age, yet still so accustomed to the abandoning of structures that had once for someone held such promise and personal dreams?
I frequently find time to go for long walks in my tiny town – a place today with a fifth less people living in it than did just twenty years ago.
During these walks, be it due to proximity, or because to these kind of forgotten structures I am thus drawn, I often find myself in what is called “Old Town.”
You know the place.
The stretch of town that our modern cities might spring forth from. Those places now left to the past, replaced by modern buildings not far away, the old ones now without improvements, or new services.
These are the places you can spend an afternoon online, looking up old images from the turn of the century, when natives still held the land and the roads had yet found a foothold.
I did this for my own “Old Town” when I first moved here. Mine had been a marsh, with a large, multistory boarding house on stilts, with raised boardwalks rather than streets and alleys.
There are even pictures of the first train coming through town on its way to civilization. Even the movie theater is still here.
Or, at least the empty building it was in is.
But, as I wander around aimlessly, silently, as if a word might reveal my stealing of their secrets of each abandoned building as I pass, I find myself gazing up at all these lonely structures, one after another, forgotten and forsaken.
Many of their windows are boarded up. Doors padlocked. Power lines severed. Paint pealing. Roofs leaking. Most structures slant in one direction or the other as their peer and post foundations continue to settle unevenly in the sandy soil underneath.
Yet, I can’t help but wonder what life must have been like for these buildings before.
I pass by a particular decrepit old apartment building and in such similar fashion, it holds a host of stories to tell.
Overtaken by blackberry vines that crawl across the sidewalks and into the street.
I look up longingly at the second floor windows, the apparitions there, certainly staring back at me through the shattered window panes.
The tree on the corner, too, has given up the ghost, no longer budding in springtime, but forever leaning out over the street, a haunting, skeletal reminder of what once was.
I stop, noticing something along my walk, and peer down at my feet for a closer inspection. Amazed I am to discover such simple yet ominous treasure, I linger, wondering about the tiny hand print cast in the concrete.
A child’s hand.
And, my mind races at the thought of it.
What must have been?
What scenario had transpired?
Maybe on a warm summer day, the now abandoned apartment building having just been completed, with new wood and new windows and even a fresh coat of paint.
Maybe this young boy’s family was just moving in, having come from the city, his father having just secured a job at the lumber mill three miles away.
That day would have been busy on that street, with builders busily laying down forms to hold the mix – and here comes the boy, down the stairs and out the narrow doorway to fetch another armload.
Maybe one of the concrete men knew him, or his family. They, too, could just as likely have been strangers.
I would venture the same regardless: the worker calling the boy over and offering for the child to put his hand print in the mix – opportunity meeting happenstance in the cosmic union as the lives and dreams of tenants begin so quickly to intermingle together with the life of the building itself.
And so, the boy, with the wildest of grins etched across his face, kneels down and plants a tiny hand into the quickly drying mud, cementing into this place a memorial plaque without words or remembrance, but full of secret, hidden, forgotten meaning.
Now, all that is left of that life, of those hopes and dreams, of everything that made up this young life, is a handprint on a sidewalk outside a deteriorating building in a dying town in the middle of a forgotten region of the world on a single planet resident in the milky way.
Whenever I pass by on one of my walks, making my way along the sidewalk – whenever I happen to come across that little hand print at my feet – I wonder whatever became of the boy who made it?
Did he live?
Did he accomplish much in his life?
Did he marry well? Have children?
Or, did he die in some forgotten war, or live out the same quiet desperation that we all seemed to live?
That broken down building, abandoned though it is, holds so many unanswerable secrets. Gathered together within its walls are all the lives and experiences of all those who had come after, having lived there for maybe just a season or maybe having finished out the remainder of their lives.
Maybe their spirits, now long decease, wander the halls of that old apartment building. Maybe it were they who managed to, through some peculiar and fantastical manifestation, shatter the glass in the second story windows.
Maybe they silently cry out to me as I walk by.
I will never know.
But, it is the death of the building, I think, that stuns me most. How peculiar and fascinating, these structures we leave behind. Those, for a myriad of reasons, we find now most useful to be empty and broken shells of what they used to be.
Sometimes, when I walk by, I wonder if they might now come to live on their own, if we insist on there being no life resident in them.
One thing is for certain. Those forgotten buildings have secrets within, and as those building die, those secrets are dying with them.
This is what I mean when I so solemnly remark on yet another of my long walks through Old Town.
How so fascinating it is when a building dies.
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Do you have dying buildings in your town? Any secrets they might care to share? Tell us about them below….
But be forewarned. Do so and you’ll never see the world the same again.