What We Leave Behind

A Twitter link led me early this morning to these photographs – and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about them all day.

I can’t put my finger on what exactly I find so compelling in them.  I mean, they’re beautiful…clearly.  The architectural elements – the space, the design elements – make an impact.  All this tattered beauty.

But there’s another layer to my feeling that I’m trying to understand.  It’s something to do, I think, with the knowledge that they’ve been abandoned.

The images that are sticking with me the most, the ones I keep seeing in front of my eyes, are the ones that look like the people didn’t mean to leave.  The top picture (if you follow that link above) has clothes hanging by the bed…a pink dress that, from that distance, looks almost fresh, almost youthful.

I know that it didn’t necessarily belong to a young woman.  (Who knows who it belonged to?  I haven’t had time for real research, but a cursory search didn’t provide any specific information about who lived in these places.)  And it’s not like it’s somehow more okay that the owner could have been an elderly woman who died, and then her house was abandoned.  That’s very sad.  But there’s just something really disturbing to me about the idea that somebody potentially young and lively, somebody who gets fixed up in a pink dress and goes out on the town, suddenly just didn’t come home.  That she left her dress hanging there, ready to wear and then never made it home to wear it.  And then nobody ever came back to pack up her things.  There’s something particularly unsettling to me about that.

Almost all of the pictures leave me feeling similarly unsettled though.  They’re haunted sort of – in this way that’s more aching than spooky (though a few of them do creep me out a little bit too – like the ward with the green curtains.)  It’s as if the people who used to inhabit these spaces are still close…unseen ghosts in the rooms.  I want to know who they are/were.  I want to know what happened to them…why they aren’t there anymore.  I want to know how it is that these spaces were just left – particularly the ones where it looks like the inhabitants just walked out.

Thinking about this is getting me thinking about the pieces of ourselves that we scatter, and about what we leave behind us when we’re gone.

A strange element for me in that is that I’m pretty nomadic these days.  I float between two residences, neither of which are mine.  I don’t have roots.  I exist in this sort of floaty place, between where I’ve been (which didn’t work for me) and where I’m going (which looks promising…but I’m not there yet.)  That’s why I think I dream about things like beautiful cities in the distance – visible, but ahead yet.  In sight, but not yet tangible.

What if I just wasn’t here anymore?  What remnants of me would be left?

I wouldn’t leave spaces like the ones in these photos…because I don’t have a space that’s mine.  I don’t have one place where I gather things that are meaningful to me.

The closest thing is actually something like this blog (and to a lesser extent, my slowly-developing Twitter site) – a digital space, where I collect things that catch my eye, where I sort of open my doors to whoever wants to come in, where I talk about things that mean something to me and maybe people nod their heads or comment back.

Is that the equivalent of a pink dress hanging by a bed?  I think that a digital, curated space is more revealing than one filled with random things thoughtlessly (or helplessly) abandoned.  But maybe I’m wrong.  Maybe the random things tell you more.  Random things aren’t “curated,” after all.  I don’t know if I think that paints a more insightful picture…or not.

What I mean by “curated” is that there’s a conscious awareness that goes into what I post here.  For example, I don’t (at least, I try not to) post anything that I’ll be embarrassed about later.  So the “me” that is ultimately projected here is an edited version of myself.  I do try to make it an authentic one (because otherwise, what’s the point?)  But it’s undeniably an edited one.

Even a post like this is edited – and this is a more free-flowing thing than what I usually post (because I’m writing this to capture my ideas about these photographs while they’re fresh; this is more of a “publish now, edit later” kind of a post, which I don’t usually do.)  This is edited because I’m at least going to read it through for typos before I hit that “publish” button.  And, though I’m allowing myself a LOT of writerly latitude here as far as the laying out of my ideas, it’s not a free-write.  There’s at least an attempt to stay on-subject.

How much information about me gets lost when I edit – even lightly, like I’m going to do with this post?  Would I be a clearer version of myself if I just posted the first flow of my writing all the time – typos and all?  Would that be a superior method for allowing others to understand me?

Does that pink dress hanging in that picture tell you anything at all about the person who lived there?  I see it and I immediately think of flowers and gardens and meetings for lemonade in the sunshine (I can’t see around the pink, apparently.)  I also see the double bed – or rather the two single beds made into a double.  But I don’t see any sign of another presence in the room – except for the white shoes by the foot of the bed that look like they belong to a man.  Where are the rest of his things?  He left his shoes there so neatly – because he was visiting?  Or was he just a neat freak (unlike the woman, whose things are scattered), and all of his things are put away?  What does it say about me that I prefer to think that it’s HER room, and he visited – and it’s the scene of romantic trysts and such?  I have no basis whatsoever for injecting such romance into the scene.  That I want to says way more about ME than it does about whoever it was who actually inhabited this space.

But that’s the way it is with everything, isn’t it?  It’s hard (if not impossible) to escape your own lens – especially when there’s no one around to tell you otherwise.

So how do we really know anything real about anybody?

I think it’s that sense of the mystery and of the impossibility of authentic answers that is really affecting me about these photographs.

There are parts of me that crave a place to root…a home base that is MINE, that I can retreat to, and explore from, that I can fill with art and color and other things that mean something to me.  Things that showcase who I am – or at least, the way I see myself (or want to).

But then on the other hand I feel repelled by roots.  I want air and freedom – the sun and the sky and the ocean. (And it strikes me suddenly how organic and non-constructed those things are.)  I don’t want to be limited by walls of any sort from doing what I want to do when I want to do it.

So what would be left of me if I was suddenly obliterated?  What pieces would remain?  How would they be understood?  And what would any of that say about me?  Anything real at all?

The idea of not leaving behind anything real…that unsettles me too.

And I think I’ve perhaps thought this through as much as I’m able at this moment.

I do feel like I have more to say, but I don’t know exactly what it is – and I think I have to stop writing or this is going to become completely unintelligible.  (I realize it’s probably semi-there already!)

Here’s the Flickr account for the photographer who took the above shots.  His name is Dan Marbaix.  Really, really incredible images.


One thought on “What We Leave Behind

  1. Stuff like this always gets me thinking along the same lines. I used to lie in the grass on a hill in England – it overlooked a busy highway. I used to wonder who all those people were… where they were going… what they did for a living… whether they had a family… what their homes looked like…

    It also makes me think of the song New York Minute and 9/11… ordinary people, leaving for work on an ordinary day, never knowing that they wouldn’t be coming home…

    I can’t remember the specific event, but there was an incident in England some years ago… I want to say it was a fatal train accident… and I remember the news reporting that the only way of identifying some of the victims was by waiting to see which cars were left in the parking lot overnight, because their owners never returned to drive them home.

    This world can be truly sad and bewildering sometimes…


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