Abandoned is a place, and for a moment I hear these words in my head (as if from a Country-Western song): Abandoned is a place where I come from.
I remember taking a trip to Costilla with Dad, the first time I saw where he came from. We were with Uncle Nemey, Suzanne, and Kathy. I see us piling out of the VW van and walking in a line through a narrow doorway. The house is two rooms and a closet, more a shack than a house. I can tell you what I was wearing — blue shorts made of soft cotton and a striped t-shirt — yet I can’t tell you what we saw in the house. There’s a photo I took recently of an empty room with boards and building materials (an abandoned renovation job) and that’s the image I see when I think of the house Dad grew up in. Dark, small windows, empty potato chip bag on the floor.
There is a whole vocabulary having to do with abandoned places. Shattered, tattered, forlorn. Trashed and infested. Scarred, and here I think of the thing abandoned as a scar on the landscape. Vacant and alone, and is a vacant stare an abandoned one? Has curiosity left the building?
Abandoned is the dog that fell out of the closet when Dad opened the door in his childhood home. Short-haired, reddish orange, I do recall that dog and how we all jumped back. It had been upright, as if on hind legs, and when I think of it falling I imagine it crumpling in a soft slump. It hadn’t been abandoned all that long before we arrived, its body yet to decay (and there’s another one of those words). We didn’t move the dog from where it lay in a heap, heap of trash. I wonder now how it felt to see so much abandonment in a place that once meant something more. If I had been older I might have thought to put my arm on Dad’s shoulder, and all I can say is I’m glad he was younger then. I don’t think he could stand seeing that dog now.
When I started this practice I had a notion in my head. It went something like, Abandoned is not so much sad as it is intriguing. And that’s the part of me that wonders what happened in a place that’s been left behind. Did a man younger than I am now come home from loading sacks of potatoes onto trucks all day, sit in a chair and lament that he was working his heart to death? Did a boy watch his mother die of cancer?
I’m thinking about Dad’s old house again. All of us standing in that house and it seeming like the ceilings and walls were closing in. Dad said, This is where my mother died, and he pointed to a spot on the dirt floor. We stood in circle peering into nothing but dirt. No stained mattress or rusty boxsprings. I sat down on my haunches, the way I always did as a girl, and I imagined Dad’s mother becoming smaller and smaller, disappearing like a whirlpool in a bathtub or a funnel the sand lion makes for the ants to fall into. When Dad’s mom died, he and his brothers and sisters were left alone.
Abandon has a permanence to it, yet don’t abandoned buildings go back to the earth? Weeds grow through the cracks and walls crumble. Someone eventually bought Dad’s childhood home. They must have cleaned up the dog and the debris (another word). Dad got married, had a family.
Abandoned is impermanent. Abandoned is never alone. Abandoned is my toes, is my hair, is me at this moment shipwrecked on my chair, my empty, empty mind.
-Based on a ten-minute practice on Topic post, Abandoned