Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photographs an abandoned farmhouse somewhere off NY route 96 near Ovid while on a photography field trip with the Finger Lakes Photographers.

“They’re hard, like porcelain,” a friend said, referring to her recently reconstructed breasts. “Do you want to see them?” she asked. I said no. She showed me anyway. “Feel this,” she said. Gently pressing a small spot with two fingertips, I felt her breast, the way I might have touched a dead fish.
“It’s soft. Like memory foam.” I was surprised. “They’re beautiful,” I said, admiring their perfect roundness, and grateful not to have to contend with the gutted ruins I had expected.

Gutted ruins came two days later. On the photography field trip. Ten photographers in three cars careening across the countryside, stopping to shoot old farms, demolished derby cars, and tiny towns that had seen better days. And the abandoned farmhouse somewhere off NY Route 96 near Ovid.

It stood among tangles of thorny shrubs and gnarled trees. We emptied out of the car and padded carefully on spongy ground toward it, behind our cameras, all trained on the house like we were attacking it. Someone tried the doorknob. Not locked. The others went through the door, crept into every room and up the stairs. I held back. It was someone else’s property. Someone’s home. I was not comfortable trespassing.

It was cold waiting outside, and the photographers were taking a long time. I hovered near the door, and finally inched my way in. It was a wreck. The whole house was cracked and crumbling. Ravaged. Debris lay everywhere. I looked to find traces of former inhabitants. It was just shards of junk. Little survived of past lives. The place was less haunted than I was. So I staggered back out the door, and took a few last shots of the house’s shell. It was still beautiful, even gutted and scarred. And it was still standing.

Gutted ruin. That describes my heart. Although I can laugh and love life again now, there are days I wonder, what am I doing here? Sometimes it feels like I’m trespassing, like I don’t quite fit in with my company or surroundings, like I need to be extra careful not to offend anyone by talking about my loss. I consider myself a survivor though, as in: my daughter died of cancer but I survived. I’m gutted. Scarred. But still standing.

When was the last time you felt like you were trespassing?

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8 thoughts on “Trespassing

  1. Elaine Mansfield

    I get it Robin. You make me feel like I’m there with you. My house looked almost that bad when we bought it–black tarpaper on the outside and boarded broken windows. I felt about like that after Vic died. The old house and I have been patched together, but we still show what we’ve been through. Your abandoned house needs hospice care. thanks for the photo which makes me sad, but not scared.

    1. Robin Botie Post author

      There’s something about those old abandoned houses that brings out our sadness and our hope. I don’t know if it’s the “voices” from within the woodwork or the ghosts in our minds of people and experiences from our pasts. But the things we patch together show our innermost true intentions, whether we realize it or not. And aren’t we always simply striving to fix up our past disappointments and mistakes? I think your old house looks beautiful and exceptionally welcoming. Cheers,Elaine.

    1. Robin Botie Post author

      Thanks again, Lynne. Pain and survival. Makes us stronger. Maybe more interesting. Sometimes more cranky. Definitely more grateful.

  2. Bettina

    There’s a movie called ” Grey Gardens” and your photo reminded me of that movie, although there were people living in Grey Gardens. Their lives were also wounded and I sometimes identify with those women and say, ” I can see how this happens,” their house just crumbled before their eyes and they could not bring themselves to do anything about it. My house is neat and well cared for, although I have these thoughts when I experience loss in my life. Your metaphor for a ruined heart is what struck me because the house that the women in Grey Gardens lived in reflected their state of heart. I am inspired to know that we can still stand, and DO, despite loss and disappointments. We all need to be strong and stand, as you do.

    1. Robin Botie Post author

      I need to explore the relationships between people and their houses more. I mean, maybe people’s homes reflect their personalities like pets do. This is kinda scary. Looking around at my own home, at how everything appears neat and orderly on the surface but hold onto your head if you open a closet or cabinet up – what does this say about me? The crooked driveway pocked with potholes, the “mudroom” that contains silk flowers and a pink rug, …. Yeah, still standing strong but what’s holding me up? Just wondering. Cheers, Bettina.

  3. Lucy Bergstrom

    Thank you for your beautifully describing your feelings when you visited an abandoned house. Families lived there, sent sons off to war from there, maybe sold bootleg liquor there, suffered bad marriages there, with no recourse. All that life, both raucous laughter and sobs, have left no trace. But – it is still standing, just like you are. Oh, the stories…
    I felt like a trespasser today when asking my Iranian/Kurdish hairdresser whether she’d ever been back home for a visit. No, she said, shaking her head sadly.
    “Do you think you’d be arrested at the airport?” I asked.
    She nodded, and said, “Possibly.”
    I am an immigrant here, too, but so privileged that I can return home to the US (from Denmark) whenever I feel like it. I felt like I trespassed on her pain and feelings of loss. She told me it’s Kurdish New Year right now, and if she were back home, she’d have two weeks off. That was a more universal regret I could share with her. Missing out on a holiday, with feasting and dancing. Bummer!

    1. Robin Botie Post author

      That is so sad. The whole thing of leaving home, losing your home, not being able to go home when you need or want. And having to somehow make a home in a new place – it hurts to think about that. Especially if you’ve had to leave loved ones behind. That’s grief. And there you were, reaching out to your hairdresser, trying to communicate, make a connection, and find common ground. What a mensch you are, Lucy. Hugs to you.


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