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raison d'etre

Raison D'etre  | Abandoned America
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The kids from Long Island had got in touch with Ryan, my tour guide,
and were desperate to see Taunton, so he invited them along.
When they arrived I was concerned. Since I barely knew Ryan,
I wasn't really in any position to dictate who would come or not,
but they were loud, which might be a problem... And they were young,
mostly in their mid- to late teens. Because we had to arrive before dawn,
they drove all night to arrive at about 3 am. I had met with Ryan at about one,
and hadn't slept either. We were all excited to 'meet' Taunton, and probably a little bit scared.
So many things could go wrong.

When we got there the kids were better than I thought they'd be at
handling themselves. They all had expensive cameras and treated
the place with respect, while still flitting around taking pictures and joking.
It was an odd experience for me. I'm used to going to these places alone.
I don't have to worry about any noise but my own, keeping up with a group,
or people wandering into my shots - but I enjoyed seeing how in awe they were,
and they were a likable group. As we stood up on the roof taking pictures at dawn,
one of their members stayed at the ladder we climbed up, looking queasy.
He was terribly afraid of heights, he said. I told him I am too, but
at the end of the day i'd rather have the shots i wanted, i'd rather know
that I didn't want to let my own fears keep me from doing what I felt I needed.
I looked over at his friends, all sitting by a peeling cupola, and I wandered,
why it was so important to them to come? Why go to the effort, the expense,
when most people would never take Taunton so seriously, let alone
people that age? Was it the thrill of overcoming their fears that drove them?

I had no idea. for me the reason has been because these places resonate within me.
I feel as though they've always been a part of me, and I understand them.
I understand what it's like to be left to your own ruin, to not be valued by anyone,
to feel as though you have outlived whatever function you might have had.
Paradoxically enough I feel least alone when in places people have abandoned,
and when I am taking pictures that ever-encroaching sense of self-hatred
is nowhere to be found. There is only the science of the shot, the planning of the next subject.
Editing pictures holds my own sense of worthlessness at bay. When I
'publish' them I feel as though I have accomplished something, however small,
however insignificant in the overall scheme of things. Without that validation,
I would quickly sink into oblivion. We all need a reason to be.
I search out destruction to postpone my own.

I don't know why the Long Island kids came. While I wondered about it all day,
I never really thought to ask. Maybe I liked not knowing. They all seemed
so alive, so contented, that perhaps examining the reason for their rapture
would have spoiled it. Who knows. Our paths crossed at intersecting hallways,
and before long they, too, vanished into the void of all thing that have passed -
another unsolved mystery in a decaying vault full of them.
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Image of Taunton State Hospital and text by Matthew Christopher

If you enjoy my writing, check out my books "Abandoned America: Dismantling the Dream" (which features a chapter on Taunton) and "Abandoned America: The Age of Consequences".
Buy this photo here!