October 15, 2009


It is raining in DC, and I am thirteen floors up, on top of the Watergate. Strange to live so far off the ground. I think I could never get used to it. My grandparents love this apartment, and I love the roof. But still, strange to know you are floating up so far from anything. I like to imagine buildings as if they have suddenly turned transparent, to see all the furniture and rugs and people set up in little geometric shapes so far off the ground.

When I am sad in Virginia I go to the abandoned houses. There are several on the island, and many in the county. I think of them as left places. Many are so overrun that it is hard to imagine that they were ever anything but left houses. Some I have been in, others are inaccessible, too part of the forest now to have floors or doors. They are full of remnants. In one, a piano stands, keys uncovered, against the wall, a green hardshell suitcase on the floor beneath. Old light switches that do nothing, a rocking horse. Curtains, some ragged and dirty and some hanging brittle but preserved. A tinseled sprig of fabric holly and a small rocking chair with the hand woven wicker punched through. I like the air in left houses. It is still and quiet and full of dust, so that when you bust through the door into a left house it feels as if a long-held breath has just been let forth. When the roof on a left house goes the whole house will soon follow, birds nesting in the attic and the summer storms and salt air eating away at old heart pine. The old houses there stand longer than new houses would, their parts sturdier and construction sounder. They don't build houses to last anymore. They are built with obsolescence planned into their foundations, their frames.

The houses comfort me in their leftness. They stand still while the weather and time picks at them, smoothing away the details of their construction as an ocean does to driftwood. They remain though most if not all of the people who lived within them have died. I suppose that the left houses remind me that time does not stop for anyone. Though their time is coming to a close and the forest is coming home to claim its dirt I am a girl alive right now, and I am standing at the window a person used to open and shut and look out of, thinking about that person and who she might have been and how she might have lived and died and how it came to be that her piano was left there, with this window and this house and this dirt. I find a comfort in that I cannot explain, and when one of the left houses is finally burnt or pulled apart to make room for more houses which may some day be left, I grieve the loss, but know I am a being pulled along by the same time as the house and the person and the piano and the window and the dirt and the forest. And I can feel the ground solid beneath my feet.

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