Wednesday, September 3, 2014

B&E (Bored & Exploring)

 Next door to the loft I grew up in stood a magnificent castle. Technically it wasn't a castle, but that's what we called it. "The Castle" was a huge (by my standards) stone, Gothic Revival home. It had an enormous (by my standards) yard filled with overgrown gardens and gigantic oak trees. Facing the water and surrounded by stone walls and tall hedges it was truly a sight to behold. But the best part about The Castle? It was abandoned.

The loft we lived in was surrounded by pavement, parking lots, and ship building companies. The air was heavy with fiberglass dust, but with a quick hop over the fence I had a quiet, magical wonderland all to myself. It was my very own secret garden. I spent my days exploring the grounds, careful not to be seen by neighbors or passersby. The biggest oak tree was in the back yard, a secluded spot and it was great for climbing. When I was 11 climbed up with a particularly exciting bit of contraband. A single cigarette - stolen from my dad's pack of Marlboro Reds. I climbed to the highest spot, held tight with my legs and struck the match. I smoked the whole thing, coughing and dizzy, and eventually (weakly and slowly) made my way back down to earth. It was my last tree cigarette.

The Castle yard was all mine until a few years later when I noticed some action around the house. Construction! They must be fixing it up! The workers being there during the day put a real damper on my usual hang out spot, but I took advantage of the opportunity to do some major spying. It was around this time, seeing people going in and out, that I became obsessed with getting into the house. Getting in had always been something I dreamed of, but I had already tried all the doors and I wasn't about to start breaking windows, so I had been content with just staying in the yard. Then one day after the workers had gone I noticed that the back door had been left slightly ajar. My heart leapt up to my throat, could it be true?? I looked around, the coast was clear, and I walked over to the door. Before I could change my mind I pushed it open and quickly slipped inside. My heart was beating loudly in my ears, the sun was setting. Long shadows and warm light filled the house. I had built up so many ghost stories about the place that the only thing matching my excitement was terror. I explored the first floor, but was too scared to go upstairs alone. Even now, thinking back, it's hard to remember what's real and what's made up. Over the years I've had so many dreams/nightmares about it, it was so darkly magical. I made my way through the first floor to the front room, overlooking the water. In the center of the hardwood floor was a huge pentagram in spraypaint and the remnants of a fire. There were marble benches and crystal chandeliers pushed into a pile along one wall. There was a grand staircase as well as what was probably a servant's staircase in the back of the house. I was astounded that a house could have two staircases.

The super skinny tower windows were my favorite vantage point. (photo via East Bay Chamber of Commerce)

Over that summer that back door was often left open and I frequently made it my spooky hideout. At night I brought friends and we sat in the shadows careful not to been seen through the huge floor to ceiling windows in the front room, jumping at the sound of branches hitting the roof or the wind blowing through broken upstairs windows. Each time I went in I left with my pockets filled with treasure; random found objects, crystals from the chandeliers, bits of old tiles from the room with the trefoil window upstairs. We unscrewed the tiny brass arms of the chandelier and fashioned them into tiny pipes, packed tight with hash and smoked, sitting crosslegged on the pentagram and listened for ghosts. Hot summer nights, B&E, daring each other to walk up the grand staircase alone.

The Castle, side view, trefoil window upstairs. This photo (and more including the finished front room - sans pentagram)