January 29, 2012
I wander up the road past the bodega for the first time on foot. My pace is slow, thoughtful. Calmer than it has been in awhile. I’m listening to music on my phone and pause frequently to bend at strange angles and to take pictures of the strange life Ive been gasping to describe to my many friends, many miles away. Bricks stacked and forgotten, decorate empty lots - somebody’s lost dream - and bars locked like prisons with rusted metal gates, forever shut, fill the small screen in my palm. The midday sun casts a cheerful glow on it all. Delicate shadows underline the cracks in the building faces crooked smiles and weathered backside of the pavement beneath my feet. The weather is mild for January, and so is the lost ocean inside me. I turn north at the end of the road, returning up the hill of the ridge that North Braddock is settled on. Eventually I come to a large bridge.
I look down at my empty side and stop. I’m not sure where I am and I don’t remember ever seeing this bridge before. It spans a large wooded gorge and in the distance I can see the tracks and a signal bridge. Suddenly I realize I’m looking down at the hollow. Second street stretches out below me through Braddock, hidden behind the trees from where I just came. I must not have noticed. I’ve never walked this far without Brooklyn before.
I hesitate, standing there looking around. The sun will set in a little over hour and I’m far enough from home that I’m not sure if anybody will know me here, nor do I know the political climate on this housing block - to put it lightly. But the bridge stretches out before me temptingly. It’s huge. I’ve only ever seen it before from the distant hollow and train tracks far below, and it’s even larger than I thought it was, standing at its narrow paved edge. I look back down the street towards home. Ive been walking for half an hour but I was dawdling. I can walk home fast if it gets late, and I can pick up my pace now to cover more ground. I look across the bridge again and smile, then take a light step giddy with rebellion. I turn up the volume on my headphones and sway to The Crystals as I take skipping strides along the concrete rail and long sidewalk to the other side. I pass a Welcome to Swissvale sign, but like Second street, I don’t notice that either.
The abandoned houses grow fewer, yet increasingly modern. The area becomes very residential, and feels slightly friendlier than the parts of North Braddock I usually explore. My courage picks up, and my pace slows back down. But with less desolation characterizing the scenery, there are less reasons for me to stop and entertain my budding taste for photography, so I’m making good time. Soon there are barely any abandoned houses and I begin to get disinterested. I had decided when I crossed the bridge that I would not break into any structures here since I was distrustful of the neighborhood, and just photographing their crumbling facades was already boring a few blocks before they disappeared all together. I am about to turn around when I round a bend to a long chained off walkway to the largest building I have seen in months. Its abandoned. Its been abandoned for years.
Again I stop and look down at my empty side, then back at the building. Its enormous. It looks like on of the old early 1900s manors, the kind with gardens and servants quarters. Red brick, three, four stories, stretching across a city block easily. The same temptation at the bridge gnaws at me, begs to me. I know I shouldn’t I swore i wouldn’t in this neighborhood. But its there, ruined. Huge, mysterious and beautiful. The afternoon breeze ruffles the vegetation that nearly obscures the long fence and foot path. Near the center of the building at ground level there is a large hole in the wall and scattered bricks across the parking lot. I shiver wondering what caused it. The Ronnettes hum in my ears. It is such a beautiful afternoon. I step towards the gate, then jump back, then step forward again. I know whatever I do right now I look plenty suspicious. I start to laugh at myself and realize that I’ve got to do, I can’t help it. I came all this way for what? To be disappointed by this seemingly normal residential street. I set out this afternoon in search of something, and I found something, I found something indeed. I can’t walk back. Not with time still on my side. I glance around again then dive under the chain and sprint down the path, ferns and thistle whipping my cheeks and catching on my jacket. I make the turn around the back of the building where nobody can see me from street anymore and stop, panting, with my hands on my thighs. Tag, your it. I gasp at an invisible companion. Chance, luck, my dreams. Then add boldly, Catch me if you can mother fuckers. I straighten up, take a deep breath, and climb the stairs to a large door under an awning. A large open door, inviting me in.
“HELLO!?” I holler into a wide room with wood paneled walls. “ANY SQUATTERS HERE? ANIMALS?” Silence. “IM COMING IN OKAY!?” Silence.
I shift my weight nervously then walk across the room to a doorway that opens into a long hall. I turn around and photograph the room behind me before stepping into the rest of the building.
“HELLO!” I yell again. “IF YOUR FUCKED UP AND GONNA HURT ME OR SOMETHING MAKE SOME NOISE AND ILL GET THE FUCK OUT OKAY???” Silence.
Okay I sigh, starting to relax. I’m alone. Completely alone. Without Brooklyn, or anyone who knows where I am. A shiver runs up my spine as a cold breeze runs through the building, or maybe its just all in my head. I shake my shoulders and adjust my jacket around me. I’m not getting spooked. Im the toughest bitch in town. I begin to walk down the hall, and its lined with rooms. Im not scared of some bricks. I pass some sort of strange bathtub with rails and restraints. These pictures go straight to Facebook, there’s gps tags on them. A calendar, 1996. Who cares how late it gets or that I haven’t spoke to anyone today. A biohazard trashcan. Somebody will see where i am, where I was last. If something happens. Peeling led paint. But nothing is going to happen. I make it to a window at the end of the hall then turn around, walk back, and stop at a stairwell in the center of the building. The opposite end of the hallway is dark, and down the stairs is pitch black, but the stair case leading up is airy and bright. I grin, smug and proud, then put my foot on the first step, testing it with my weight. I step up, one, two, three, four steps. I reach the first landing.
That’s when I hear it, a noise. A fucking noise. A resonant thud and scratch like something being dragged a short distance. I freeze. I think to yell out again but can’t find my breath to make anymore sound than a cracked whisper. Slowly I start to step backwards down the stairs. I make it to the hallways paint chip littered floor and stand there staring up the stairs i was just on, trying to move my feet through the chips and dead leaves without making any noise. I muffle a giggle into my fist nervously. Okay. Its okay. Its probably just the wind. I take a summoning breath and walk back up the first step again. Then the second. Im the toughest bitch in town motherfuckers. BANG!
I run. I run so fucking fast I nearly bust my ass on a pile of leaves in the first room and skid out onto the porch, jumping around the broken collapsed decking and fly down the stairs until I come to a stumbling stop in the weeds, bright sunlight and the mild breeze that carried me here like an explosion around me, dazing me for a moment. When I regain my senses I turn around and notice for the first time large letters engraved across the front of the building. LADIES G.A.R. HOME. I shiver again and pull out my phone, braced to discover I just spent the afternoon running around a women’s psych hospital or criminal half way home.
“A fucking nursing home!? For civil war daughters?” I look at my phone in disbelief then back at the building and start to laugh wildly. “Oh what the fuck! I just got the piss scared out of me by a bunch of dead old rich ladies.” I can’t stop laughing at myself. I shake with it, my eyes welling up. I swear its the funniest fucking thing thats happened all week and for a moment I wish with all my yearning that i had a friend to share it with. I cant imagine if anybody can see me, they must think I’m out of my mind. Hell, I am! Im laughing, uncontrollably, completely alone. This is absolutely ridiculous. “Alright ladies.” I say between fits of giggles. “Im coming back in, there’s important photography to be finished here.” I calm myself as best as I can and take a step back towards the entrance stairs. No sooner after my my foot stamps down the grass before me do I hear a distant echoing thud from one of the higher floors.