A place collapsing under it's own weight.
During a sultry July morning in 2004, on the day that my father was to have heart bypass surgery, I stood in the Fort Commander's Station of Fort Andrews on Peddocks Island. Inside the crumbling two story brick tower the heavy, humid air felt literally "full of monsters" as thunderstorms brewed in the firmament over the horizon. I was possessed by the the most curious urge to visit what had been a caretaker's cottage on the other side of the East Head of the island. I had not visited this location for two years as it did not seem to fit with the feel or the architecture of the fort's other structures. Also it was impenetrably boarded up and overgrown when I had last explored there. But on this day it was almost as if a voice implored me to go back.
I arrived at the cottage to discover that the hoarding that had prevented entry into the building had been since torn off and one could gain access to what remained of the front porch. From there I could look through a shattered window into the house to see a chaotic scene of destruction and decay. In the midst of this sea of rotting trash and deteriorating personal affects one pink easy chair lying toppled over on it's back stood out, eerily illuminated by a near nuclear blast of daylight coming in a side window. In surveying this scene my first involuntary thought was, "Daddy's gone!" For me in a single moment it represented not only a commentary on the fate of this place's former occupant, but it was also a defiant, truthful rebuke to my father. The Colonel, who had for so long intimidated us with his authoritarian approach was suddenly vulnerable and his existence was hanging in the balance. Now I was the strong one who was there to record this bizarre confluence of events in a still image as we were, in a sense, meeting at a distorted cosmic crossroads.
A few days later when I visited my father at the VA Hospital after his surgery he related a dream he had while recovering from the operation. He told me he had dreamed of being in his brother's gas station (itself a ruinous relic of South Boston lore) when he heard repeated hammering coming from the back. When he peered into back room of the station he saw a man hammering a coffin together. Perplexed he turned to his brother and asked, "What's he doing?" to which his brother replied, "Don't you know? He's making your coffin." I never told him, but I knew that I was in this cottage at that moment having my "Daddy's gone" thought and that we were together in the same place. It just looked different to each of us.
I crawled through the remnants of jagged wood, broken glass and rusted nails that once was a window to enter the rabbit hole. All of the windows save the busted one were covered with thick yellowing sheets of filthy plastic making for an unbearably hot and claustrophobic atmosphere. The place was in complete upheaval with overturned furniture, mattresses and sundry smaller household items littering the floor. The odd reminder of mundane existence - an iron, an old handbag, Christmas decorations, some crumbling beach chairs and a child's watering can were randomly tossed about while piles of magazines still neatly stacked lay melting into pulp on the floor where they had once been so purposefully placed. One item oddly stood out - a jar of pickles that were desiccated, but weirdly preserved lay on the heap like a specimen. But there was something not right about it all. There was no rhyme or reason to it. Some things rotted while others were pristine with no apparent regard to time or conditions. To add to it there was an unsettling feeling that someone may have still been living there.
As I ventured further into the kitchen I wondered what that ticking sound I was hearing was. It turned out it was my heart pounding in my throat. I feebly called, "Hello?" not really wanting to hear what response I might receive. I squeezed through the kitchen door that was permanently frozen slightly ajar and entered the room. The strangeness continued. A potful of what appeared to have once been white rice sat on the table while half filled cardboard boxes seemed to indicate the original owner had been in the process of moving out when time stopped. Dishes were still carefully placed in a corner cupboard while plastic gallon milk jugs full of water and marked "RAIN" were scattered around the room. I thought, "If these jugs had been here for, say twenty years, the water surely would have evaporated by now."
I retreated back to the front parlor to capture the photo I naturally would entitle, "Daddy's Gone" while trying to find steady footing on the foul mountain of old mattresses and seat cushions. I was not intrepid enough to chance going upstairs. That would wait for another visit. When I turned to go I found to my chagrin that front door was in fact wide open so I was spared the ordeal of contorting myself to exit through the front window. But after having been so enveloped by this dark and twisted space it was as if I were silently being allowed to leave. I departed as a vivid bolt of lightning sliced the sky across the bay. A storm was coming.