The gears groan beneath my weight, shaking off rust from the months of my absence. I worry for a moment - am I too out of shape for this? - but the bike propels easily with a kick, as I follow my Dad down Rebecca Ave, the first leg of our 4 mile trek to The Waterfront for breakfast and our various Thanksgiving preparations. I was expecting a crummy holiday but it’s turned out to be an enjoyable one. I’ve spent the past couple days exploring the abandoned buildings, proudly showing my Dad my photographs in between each expedition. Even the mayor’s wife, Giselle Fetterman, greeted me warmly on Braddock Avenue my first day back in town.
“I knew you missed that ruin porn!” she laughed as I showed her my work for the day. I grinned and chimed “Yup!”, then she gave me a new pair of snow pants from the “Free Store” that’s been installed in an old railroad storage pod while I’ve been away.
And god it’s been awhile that I’ve been away. House number 420 by the convent has been torn down. That disappointed me, I wanted to explore it again, but it’s just another part of the deal, living in a ghost town, and I’ve long since grown accustom to that. You never know what will be left when you come home again. My Dad jokes someday our house will stand in the middle of a field, and I can start a farm then. He’s probably right. The house next door has been abandoned since we moved in, and 7 out of 16 on the block are either marked as condemned or well on their way to that fate. But the demolition trucks have yet to grace our block, so I have the leisure to patiently wait for the boards on house number 1131 to rot enough for me to break in and record what time and neglect has done. Maybe next visit it will be ready for me.
The week continues on. My Dad and I shoot pool one night at me favorite bar in town – the only bar in town – Puhala, across from the steel mill. [W] interviews me for a piece she’s writing on the year in Braddock, and Wednesday I spend mostly on the freight train tracks.
I’m sitting by the kitchen window Thanksgiving day, tagging the mornings photographs, when [C] walks in the front door. My Dad and I are both surprised, but pleasantly so. We’re both fond of [C], especially after the year we’ve been through together. We fill each other in on the past few months, over cups of coffee and the smell of turkey in the oven. The house on Mills was trashed again, we need to turn it over to more capable hands this time. The cat sitter never showed but [C] took care of that. “Hero of the day!” I shout at that new information, my Dad smiles and raises his glass. Then I tell [C] about moving to Troy and my job at the Brown Bag. By the afternoon [C]’s telling me about a trip to Rainbow Gathering, when my sister arrives. We all chat for a minute, then the three of us take off to explore the buildings, leaving Dad to cook. I’m thankful for the company. Urban exploration can be a lonely hobby, pondering the decaying wreckage of abandoned lives, and they cheer me up, pointing out things in my favorite buildings that I never noticed before. Like “Super Nintendo!”, which [C] exclaims excitedly, holding a grey box out in front of him for me to see. [K] crawls from the window of one abandoned building into the next. “Never thought of that…” I say to myself, then follow her hesitantly, nervously staring at the broken glass and alley below my muddy boots, two stories down. Our adventures are broken by shrimp and cocktail sauce, veggies and dip. The questions from Dad about our findings, cause he’s too old for this, or so he says, but he’s been fascinated by the strange hobby since I can remember. [K] deposits a pair of shoes in the living room, a token from the burn-out at the corner of the block, before we move on again.
By 4 o’clock its dinner time and [C] and I left [K] with Dad while we went to check on the Mills house before [C] had to go to his own family. We’re quiet, the two of us in his car going back to Rebecca Avenue. We’ve been quiet since we found heroine needles in a drawer on the second floor.
“It’s a shame.” He says finally, breaking the silence, with a strange tone to his voice that I’ve never heard him use before. I feel guilty for a moment, suddenly realizing that [C] cared for the house as much as I did. I had got so absorbed in my own worries over it that I forgot how hard he worked too.
I sigh, sadly “It’s disrespect…” We had worked so hard for that house once. It had been over our heads from the get go, perhaps we always knew that, but we tried none the less.
“Yeah…” he agrees. “but it was bound to happen. I mean, Occupiers…” I nod my head solemly. Our camp fell apart due to drug addicts causing drama, thwarting political progress and reeking chaos in general. It got to the point that you’d think you knew someone real well, maybe been on a couple protests together and debated the possibility of a true Marxist community on a mild afternoon, or spent an evening trading guitar songs, but the next thing you know they’re stealing out of the kitchen tent to get their smack for the night and Night Watch is out with their headlamps on trying to catch the bastard who up until the night before was a fellow revolutionary in this crazy dream of a movement, and somebody else is writing up the outline for the politically proper way to address the incident in General Assembly that night so that all of camp can have a discussion, with every voice heard. All over a can of beans. Drug addicts. It’s amazing the damage they can cause in the simplest ways. If it had been 9 and a half months ago, I would have fought him on the comment. I would have insisted in the revolution, argued with resolute faith in night watch, that all they needed was time to catch every addict and clean up our camp, bargained that we just need time to survive this winter, man, cause united we’ll never be defeated, but it’s not 9 and a half months ago anymore. I’ve learned a lot and I know he’s right. To have a perfect society you need to trust, but not everyone is worth trusting. That’s where we went wrong, but there’s no use in talking about it anymore. We both know now and that’s hard enough.
“I’ll tell Gisele.” I say softly, not looking forward to it. She trusted me with the house too, and I know it’s not my fault, but it feels like it is.
“Okay.” He says, then after a moment adds, “Can you believe it’s been over a year now?”
“I mean with Occupy and everything.”
“I know, Braddock too.”
“[W] said she looks back and it feels like a dream. Like, it was so random, so crazy, it could only be a dream sequence, but it really did happen, ya know?”
[C] chuckles, “Yeah. And we never even got that donkey!”
“Hey we had the goat.” We both start to giggle at that, lightening up finally. That damn goat. “I swear to god it cursed me.” I groan. “I’m never taking an animal from Louis again. All I wanted was a pound of cheese and he gives me a fucking goat.” It’s a bitter memory in its own way, it died and I rashly quit my job to care for it and the house, but I can’t help laughing now. That day I went to the butcher for a pound of cheese and came back with a baby goat.
“Performed any enemas since then?” He asks teasingly. He’s referring to one of my desperate attempts to save the goats life.
“SHUSHH.” I say, but can’t stop laughing now. I catch my breath then shout “Well fuck, I am never performing an enema again!”
“You mean, on a goat, in the back yard.” He adds.
“Yeah.” I laugh. “never like that…. Remember the cat fish?”
“The ‘sorry we’re drunk again, don’t look in the freezer.’ Blood covered note on the kitchen table cat fish?”
“Yeah, that one.” I say, turning to him with a shit eating grin.
“Remember leaving the Lawn Mower Man?”
“Oh jesus I was scared as hell!”
“I can’t believe he never woke up….”
“Me too…” We’re going down the cobblestone alley to Rebecca Avenue then, in a minute it will be time to go home and he’ll continue on his way to Monroeville. Maybe he’ll stop in the house first for a minute, maybe not. I’m not sure what to say anymore. It’s been such a year. Suddenly, something [W] said during our interview pops into my mind. “[W] asked what I learned from the year, or got out of it, like it was some sort of experience or something.” I stammer quickly. “Like I chose to move here and wanted this all to happen.” [C] gives me a questioning look. “Well… I don’t know.” I say doubtfully, forgetting where I was going with mentioning it in the first place.
“And…?” he asks.
“I said I learned something, but I don’t know what it is yet….. What do you think?”
“I think I learned how to perform a goat enema.” He says, and I could be mad but I can’t help but laugh instead. Maybe it was all never meant to make any sense. Some things are just too ridiculous. I don’t remember what we talked about next, as [C] parked the car and we walked up to the house. I don’t remember what my Dad and sister said as we entered the house, or what [C] said to them as he got ready to leave, but I remember us in the kitchen, like so many times earlier that year.
“See ya Hug-a-bear.” I say, referring to our neighbor’s nickname for [C].
“Bye Zoo lady.” He says back. We both grin and chuckle one last time, then he slips out the door.
Hell, I think to myself, maybe this year was worth it after all. I lost a lot; pets, friends, things - I even lost myself – and I’m still not sure what I gained in return, if anything at all. My adoptive mom would argue I learned a hard lesson in trust, and will be even tougher than before from now on. In a conversation with [R] over the latter incidents we agreed that they needed to happen in order for me to be able to see other things better and make the changes I needed. Most people I know say I survived it, and that’s all that is important, but somehow in that moment watching my sister whose relationship with me has been irrevocably broken and my father who put all his dreams in this town but left me to build them, busy themselves over the final preparations of Thanksgiving dinner, I couldn’t help but feel like it was worth it after all. There was no rhyme or reason to the feeling, no logic whatsoever, and if you asked me why I couldn’t tell you. It was just a feeling, warm and gold, soothing for a moment the wounds this year left behind. Everything forgotten except for the nicknames and wine glasses that were somehow salvaged, stunned like a child tumbling out the seat of their first roller coaster ride.
My Dad’s cat curls up in my lap, with a commanding “Meow” to pet her. [K] sets down her guitar and joins us in the kitchen. Then my Dad proudly takes out his turkey and sets it on the table, with mashed potatoes at either side.
“Happy Thanks giving everyone!” He chimes.
Today, it was worth it.