A numbness tickles the back of my neck and I pull my jacket tighter around my shoulders. A glint from the setting sun catches in the shattered glass of the white house and the feeling of being watched sets itself with a tight grip on my chest. It’s like a weight pressing against my lungs and cementing my feet into the ground forcing my eyes to stare deeper back into the eyes of the house. I blink and red brick eats up the white walls, the temperature on my skin rises, the pressing eyes are replaced by curious ones.
It’s a two years prior and the same tightness is in my chest as I glanced at the rusted metal prongs that were pushed back in such a way that it made a hole about a foot high. This was our entrance. Seen through the barred doorway, a single chair intentionally sat facing the windows; shadows danced along it, stretching into parts of the room unseen from our current spot. My friends whispered behind me and I feel their eyes press into my back as they waited for me to give them some sort of cue. This was all my idea.
A week prior I suggested a summer adventure into the Kings Park Psychiatric Center, an abandoned mental institution not too far from where we lived. Built in the late 1800’s and abandoned in the late 1900s, the Kings Park Psychiatric Center, was the biggest of the four mental institutions on Long Island. At its peak, its brick walls were home to over 9,000 patients, and was the giver of lobotomies, electro-shock therapy and tales of doctors dragging the patient’s dead bodies through underground tunnels.
Today, Kings Park Psychiatric Center, or KPPC, bricks walls are covered in graffiti, and patients have turned into drug addicts and the homeless. Although the horror stories of the past ended with the institution closing, new stories of explorers being trapped inside or being stabbed by the new inhabitants flood the airwaves. And that’s where we found ourselves, the five of us high school girls, standing in front of an abandoned building daring to explore the mysteries inside.
My heart hammered in my chest as I wrapped a hand around the rusted metal. I was the self-nominated and apparently brave ring leader whose job it was to show the way. So I needed to ignore my racing heart. I pushed down the tightness in my chest that made it hard to breathe and plastered on a fake smile and a sense of confidence. If I showed fear, then there would be no way anyone else would enter the building. And I knew that if we let this moment of fear shackle us and send us home without having explored anything, soon shame would replace the void that fear once held. So up goes the mask of bravery.
After dismissing an argument about my ability to fit through this small gap in metal bars that was waist high, I placed a towel down over the bottom bar. I gripped one hand on Sammie’s shoulder and one on the rung above the hole before I placed a foot on the bottom bar of it. I slid the foot through, but I froze momentarily realizing my foot couldn’t touch the ground, but continued anyway without anyone realizing the misstep. I let my foot dangle and placed my other foot on the bottom bar before letting go of Sammie’s shoulder and gripped both hands on the top rung. I yanked myself through sharply making sure not to smack my head on the top rung but felt a piece of metal scratch down my back.
Their wide eyes watched me behind the bars and I gave them a broad smile hiding the stinging I felt down my back. I gave them a thumbs up after glancing around the poorly lighted room and mentally decided that it was all clear, but in reality I just wanted someone to be on my side of barred doorway.
I joked that they were scared only to have Sammie throw me her camera and without hast, threw her own foot on the bottom bar of the hole. I placed a hand on the bottom bar, under her back and helped guide her safely through the hole. Now having joined me on the other side of the barred doorway, we exchanged a smile and the tightness in my chest loosened enough to let me breath.
The wind whips on my hair and wipes away old memories leaving only the sight of the faceless house that peered back at me. Here, in front of this abandoned white house, there is no act to sustain, no one to convince of false bravery. Just a girl alone and fearful with a tightness in her chest unable to look away just in case the house were to blink back.
Nicole Logrieco, born on Long Island in the small town of Greenlawn, now attends school in the even smaller town of Geneseo. She is currently a biology major with a strong enough interest in English to add it as a minor. In her spare time, when she isn’t cramming science into her, she can be found writing, boxing, or explore unknown places.