My friends and I have a penchant for exploring some of the older buildings on campus during off-days: times when the buildings are quite, shells of themselves, echoing with the ghosts of classes held a hundred years ago, in some cases. There’s something intoxicating about it, exploring the halls which should be filled with people and voices when it is completely silent, and all you can hear is your own footsteps echoing against the floor.
It’s not trespassing. The buildings are open, and we just take the opportunity to walk through them when others would not. Perhaps it’s also my inclination toward abandoned buildings that fuels this exploration, but nevertheless, there are worse things we could be doing with our spare time than walking around campus buildings when they’re not in use.
Sometimes it’s a fruitless exploration. New buildings, they aren’t interesting: they’re clean and unbroken, they have no character. Even in the old buildings, only so much excitement can come from an empty classroom.
But it’s worth it for the occasional discoveries.
One of the original buildings on campus also houses a theater within it: one that has been a) out of use for several years ever since the new theater building opened, and b) is rumored to be haunted, like most old, unused places.
Needless to say, in our innocent exploration, we found the door to this theater unlocked, and, well, you can assume the rest.
It was like a time capsule. As we delved deeper into the structure, we found dressing rooms: walls covered with graffiti from stage productions past. The most recent date was 2010: upon which, I assume, the old theater was abandoned in place of the newer, more modern facility. The earliest recorded date that we found was in the 1980’s—years before our births. Coffee cups sat on tables, untouched for likely years. Two pianos stood abandoned on two different stages: I still yearn now to rescue them, for them to be used.
Despite the fact that I’m not musically talented, forgotten instruments oddly wound me. They’re meant to be played; that’s their life, their purpose. Left alone, gradually falling into disrepair, they become no more than oversized paperweights. I suppose that’s true of most things, though.
But regardless, I felt an eerie sense of peace in that theater. Partially like we had discovered something, an ancient relic. We were secret archeologists, and we had found the Valley of the Kings.
Partially because it was an escape. It was still in the environment that I associated with stress and anxiety, yes, but it was separate, cut off. It was a hideaway, like a clubhouse in your backyard when you were a child that was magical despite it being in plain sight.
It was a temple.
A few weeks ago, I walked by to discover it locked. They had found it, I mused. They had found our clubhouse and cut it off from us. I got strangely emotional. I cried. In the moment, I thought; Is this was growing up is? The secret cubby holes, the sanctuaries, they’re slipping away and I can’t do anything about it.
It was the only place I felt pure, a place where I just felt aware of my own existence, aware of my clothes touching my skin and the stale air touching my face and the dust floating and settling every time I inhaled and exhaled. And it was gone.
I almost settled into the despair, until a friend told me: “They don’t slip away and disappear. You just lose sight of them. You’ll find them again.”
That’s the important thing, isn’t it? I will find them again. They’ll be different, of course. But they’re not gone.