photo by Kimberly Wolkens, inspiring the story
The Thing About Abandonment
by Kimberly Wolkens
I know you would tell me not to come here, but here I am. You would look at me with your big brown eyes and furrowed brow, and gently steer me away from here. I can close my eyes, picture your face and hear you say, “Callie, go home!” I just can’t stop coming here, Abby.
Deep down, I appreciate the concern. You’ve always looked out for me, ever since we became best friends our first day of Kindergarten. You’re like a big sister to me. When I have no one else to care about me or stick up for me, you are there. You are the only person who really listens to me and makes me feel like I even exist.
And now you are gone. So you can’t tell me to leave this place and never come back.
This is where you died. Next to an abandoned building surrounded by an empty parking lot overgrown with wildflowers and crabgrass.
I found this building on one of my lonely walks this past summer while you were on a weeklong vacation with your family. It’s an old factory that closed its doors probably before we were born. I was walking with my head down in my usual fashion, and looked up only when I heard some crows, apparently angry with me for coming into their presence. I looked up and I saw what became the subject of my current obsession. An old brick building with peeling, yellow paint. Hundreds of rectangular windows glinted in the sun, sending mirage waves of heat into the air. Missing window panes stuck out like the gap of a missing tooth in an otherwise perfect mouth. Metal doors with peeling paint and rust spots dotted the building’s front face. A few smoke stacks and old TV antennae rose above the roof. A dilapidated parking lot was scattered with wildflowers pushing themselves up through cracks in the concrete on their journey to touch the sun.
My heart broke over this poor, abandoned building. Why did it close down? Why was it left to swell in the summer sun and sag beneath winter snow? Why doesn’t anybody care about it? I bet a whole lot of conversations happened within these walls. I bet people made things or designed things in this building. Friendships were made here. There is a whole world of history in this building. But now it’s gutted out and locked up.
Kind of like me, I thought to myself. Uncared for, unloved, frozen on the outside because nobody - except for you - believes in what I am on the inside.
I feel a strong connection to this building. Whenever I feel particularly lonely, I walk the mile and a half to get here. I sit in the grass next to the parking lot and write in my journal. Or I take pictures from different angles - some in color, some in black and white. I don’t care that the occasional person walking or driving past the building shoots me looks of amusement or concern with my fascination with the building. I have a kinship with this place.
Eventually I took you to the building. I looked at you and knew you were trying to understand why I was so captivated by this place. It’s the look you get when you disagree with someone, but to be fair, you try to imagine the scenario from their point of view. You purse your lips, tilt your head slightly, and narrow your eyes in concentration.
“I don’t know, Callie. It doesn’t seem safe here. It must have closed down for a reason. Maybe you shouldn’t come here anymore,” you said to me.
If anybody else had said that, I would have been angry. I’d pout or stomp away in a huff. But you’re my best friend. You love me more than anyone else does. So I swallowed my pride and mustered a smile.
“I just think it’s cool. I got some great pictures of it. They’re very artsy,” I said to justify my newfound obsession with this place. “Maybe photography is my calling.”
You looked at me patiently. “I know, but still…”
We turned and walked on, falling into step and resuming easy conversations like best friends do.
I continued to come here after your warning. Even when signs of life started cropping up - stray cigarette butts and food wrappers; a makeshift burn barrel tucked around the corner of the building; sounds of shuffling coming from either inside the building or just beside it, I couldn’t tell. I didn’t let it worry me. I wanted to document the life of this poor building, in all seasons, in all sorts of weather. My own time-lapse study. Maybe this will be the start of a photography portfolio. Maybe I’ll be a famous photographer someday, and in an interview I will mention this abandoned building as the birthplace of my photography career.
Otherwise life went on as usual. Our summer was full of sleepovers, trips to the beach with your parents, and movie nights to take advantage of the theater’s air conditioning. However, just before we started school that year, we had our first and only huge fight. I don’t even remember what it was about. One minute, we were watching a movie at my house while my parents were at work. And the next minute, we were screaming at each other. We said horrible things to each other. Your harsh words cut into me just as deeply as the regret I felt at the ugly things I hurtled your way. Eventually you were completely fed up and you spun on your heels and left, snatching your purse angrily on the way out of the house.
We didn’t talk for days. I don’t know if you were as depressed as I was during that time. I didn’t want to do anything but sleep, write angrily into my journal or visit the abandoned factory. I turned my phone off. I think you may have knocked on my door one morning, but I was still too hurt to answer the door.
That next day, my mom came into my room when she got home from work. This was weird, considering she usually didn’t pay much attention to me. She looked pale and worried. I eyed her suspiciously as she perched herself awkwardly on the edge of my bed. She was unsure of how to talk to me about normal, everyday things. But I could tell she wanted to say something big.
“This is very difficult to say. But, honey...Abby’s dead,” Mom said.
The words didn’t register for me, not at first. I sat stone still, stunned. I sat perched on top of my pillow, pen in hand, staring blankly at her. I was in the middle of the writing the word hateful and the pen eventually trailed off the page during my state of shock.
“How?” I asked, more out of instinct than a true desire to know.
“Well...her body was found next to the old McClaney factory building. The police say she was strangled. There was an older man, an ex-convict, who had broken into the place and was living there. He’s being questioned by the police. Do you know what she may have been doing out there?”
Yes. I knew why. You were probably looking for me. You wanted to talk to me and figured I’d be there. And then you were killed. Probably by the ex-convict, who was probably the source of the weird things I’ve seen and heard out there. All because I didn’t bury the hatchet and answer the door the other morning.
The ache in my chest after our fight was nothing compared to the gaping hole in my soul at the realization that you are gone forever. I can’t envision a life without you. I don’t think I’ll ever be normal. I don’t know how people expect me to move on, go to college, be a responsible adult. I will never forgive myself for taking part in the screaming match and for cowering under the covers when you came to talk to me. And I will always regret showing you my sad, abandoned little factory building.
So here I am. Standing in front of the building that’s just as empty and unloved as me. Grappling with the knowledge that your horrific death happened at this place, my sanctuary, because of something I didn’t do. Perhaps I will stand here forever, and allow life to pass me by the same way it’s passed by this place. If I’m lucky, maybe someone will hurt me the way they hurt you, since I probably deserve it.
Or maybe I’ll just keep taking pictures of this place, using the photos as a reminder that some buildings aren’t meant to be loved forever. They’re destined to be abandoned.
Just like me.
Kimberly Wolkens works in Marketing for a local material handling manufacturer, thriving on learning different ways to communicate with different types of people. She spends every spare moment reading, writing or camping. Her idea of the perfect day involves writing while eating cake and listening to 90’s grunge music.