“requiem (soon to be)”
at a time of rapid and sometimes ruthless local transformation, a long island city native offers a written moment of silence for a building on the chopping block.
words and photos by audrey dimola
does energy live in bricks, in walls, in buildings? if so, does a building know when its life is almost over, and where will its history go? what will happen to all the ghosts who roamed these empty rooms, stood staring at chipped paint and glassless windows, slipping through warped floorboards and down dilapidated stairs – still here because this is the only place they know? what happens when their ivy-covered brick townhouse – with its ancient porch and crumbling backyard sheds – is replaced by a beeping dumptruck at 7am, with clattering drills and jackhammers, broken glass and splintered wood – dismembered to make room for nothing but a nine foot fence and sterile steel canisters for storage?
the musty air of the death watch seeps in through the fan in my window, saturated with the odor of waterlogged beams and years of neglect. “it was falling apart,” i was told, and at least “it’s not a condo,” but somehow i still find the need to watch from behind the gaping hole at twilight, somber and peering over the makeshift planks of wood slapped up as a divider between our space and theirs. my parents come out and we watch together, silent under smoky blue and pink skies, knowing that this collective journey, this expanse we have all shared, is altered forever. i climb a ladder to sit on an adjacent roof, watching over the ivy and the peeling bricks, the collapsing ceilings and piles of debris – the cheery red dumpsters so bright and out of place. i know that what i see will soon be gone..
i can still remember the dogs we’d play with through the chain-link fence when they were left outside with their plywood house, or catching a glimpse of the family in their big blue pool when i looked out my kitchen window, and even the old cars and tangle of nameless junk that filled the yard for years and years.. i still remember the old front door with its gauzy curtain blocking the view through the glass, and how i never knew what was behind it. now i can finally see right through – more than i ever wanted to.
is it strange to get sentimental over an old house that was never yours – yet still so imprinted on the fabric of your memory? “come on down,” my parents say, “it’s time to go.” i’d stay all night if i could, but it wouldn’t make a difference. “it will be down in 3 days,” they said – just like our beautiful old trees, just like the collapsing warehouse down the street, just like the abandoned brick building on the corner i always wished i could save. these and all the old relics – my childhood landmarks – now replaced with soulless structures, and perhaps worse still – ravaged, empty lots.
still i wonder.. where does all the energy go, the history? does it rise with the cloud of demolition dirt – ashes to ashes, dust to dust, nothing more than something passersby can barely remember..? or will i always see the phantom structure spring forth from inside my mind, settling back into the space it should have kept?
tomorrow, the work will commence – i don’t yet know how it will feel to watch the workers launch the beams from the roof; to see the captain’s wheel chandelier atop a pile of rubble; the rusted, ripped out radiators and the archaic wooden banister lingering on the top floor, the last piece to go.. i can’t yet imagine how the basement level, with all its upper floors stripped off, could possibly resemble the dusty, excavated tombs in the valley of the kings.. i don’t know yet, but i will.
for now – i watch the little brown birds darting in and out, in and out of the skeleton, while they still can.. and i just can’t help but wonder – if all those soon-to-be wayfaring ghosts are doing the very same thing.
others might not remember you.. but i will.