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Broken stories


empty wooden chair against a background of abandoned roomThere’s a house in my town that’s abandoned. I’ve never seen it, but a fellow school parent I know lives across from it and I’ve heard the stories. Teens breaking in, shady squatters with even shadier dealings, an owner that shows up one day before the county reclaims the lot, allowing for several more years of ruin and hazard to stain the otherwise well-kept suburban street.

Often I wonder if I should write about the house for the hyperlocal blog that I (don’t really) keep. Perhaps some real journalism – What are the local laws? When does the house get categorized as officially abandoned? What would happen if a mysterious arsonist lights it up? – would be a service to the community. I never pick up that pen and notebook.

Real journalism requires insurance, which I don’t have. “Media Liability” was not listed on my homeowner’s policy, strangely enough in this age of social sharing apps. Real journalism also requires investigation, which would mean visiting the abandoned house, sitting on my friend’s front porch and seeing her daily view of danger, her daily reminder of death. Did I say she was a parent? She’s been raising kids across the street from this “attractive menace,” as the insurance companies call pools and trampolines and abandoned houses.

Real journalism may increase my friend’s premiums, but this is not why I stay away. I’ve had enough ruin. Slow destruction or instant obliteration, it doesn’t matter. I feel like I’ve been filled with rot.

Today I went to a viewing for a recent high school graduate, a classmate of my daughter. We saw this boy walk on Thursday night with the rest of his class. It was a glorious night of wonderful weather and gorgeous skies and unbridled smiles. By Saturday, he was gone. Suicide is depression’s rot. It comes like a prospective new rehabber, a solution to the abandonment, an end to the decay. It lies.

We will have many more years of nothing, now, in the place where a college kid, a young professional, a new groom, an adventurer, a proud father is supposed to be.

My chest is locked tight. I now know at least 5 mothers who have lost children before those babies reached adulthood. One little girl didn’t even make it through childbirth. One other dear precious girl was taken by that other rotting evil, cancer, when she was 13. It was her loss I felt today too, like it was here, again, that desperate it-can’t-be-true plea to the gods that drops out with every exhale. I could feel the same pain today when I was with my daughter and so, so many of this boy’s other 423 classmates. I could see the same pain in my friends’ faces, those other boy-moms who share that special they’re-all-in-my-basement-eating-everything boy-mom bond. They are destroyed. They have watched this boy grow up. They are exhaling abandoned pleas.

Rats move in, when homes are abandoned. A few years ago, an empty house around the corner from mine caught fire. The neighbors across the street encountered its rats in their own basements a few hours later. They found their holes and plugged them up. The house was remodeled and got occupied. Everything that falls to ruin should be like this. Every person should be like this. Plug up the holes. Remodel. Add another story.

But any real journalist would tell you, people aren’t houses. We are not so easily fixed.

Days will come when we will go about things, like it always happens. Today, for me, isn’t that day. Those days where one lives alongside decay, living with the constant chipping of the paint and the ever-growing weeds, will come for me. I hope those days will come soon for this mother, this father, these brothers and sisters, this family and these friends who have lost a son.