By: Margo D'Agostino
Published for the 2023 Spring Magazine
I saw an old friend. The chance encounter from a coming-of-age tale. Well, I
don’t know if I would call her a friend. What is the word for someone who terrified you, who you spent hours and days on end with, who knew your deepest secrets and made you face your deepest fears? Someone who leaned in just enough that you think she’d kiss you, whose words made you hate yourself, who you know would stab you in the back but only if she’d stabbed herself first? I don’t think there’s a word for that.
She was with someone- a man in his thirties or forties. Skinny and angry looking. While she didn’t look scared, she didn’t look happy. I hated the way she was grinding her teeth and kept her head down, furtively looking around. Her eyes seemed vacant, vacuous. They didn’t hold hands, hers were stuffed in the pockets of her old high-school hoodie and his clenched tightly around a well-worn gym bag. I don’t like to think about what might have been inside.
She didn’t see me. I’m glad for that.
She was doing something illegal. Like when she stuffed another girl’s locker with weed and called the cops on her. Like when she tried to convince me to take photographs – that was all, she promised nothing more – and men would pay through the roof to see me. When she got her white elephant gift via shoplifting and grinned ear to ear when we scoffed at her. Something illegal and while I didn’t want her to get caught, maybe calling the police would make her stop and help her… escape? Is that the word?
But I was doing something illegal too. A different vein of offense, sure. But I couldn’t explain why I was in an abandoned mall, in Doc Martens and a ripped-up flannel, exploring the dead space that was once thriving. I couldn’t explain it to myself, let alone police.
That year, there would be no pinning of boutonnieres, no tossing of caps, no grand send-off into adulthood. There would be no pomp and no circumstance, just growing up. And I needed a moment to catch my breath and recognize that. Maybe visiting an old space would ease the growing pains. I remember the mall – smelling of sweat and waxy floors and popcorn from the cheap movie theater. The carpet that seemed dated even while the mall was still open and the lights were still on. I watched Disney movies here with cousins, got Auntie Anne’s with
friends. The mall closed when I was in middle school, and I wasn’t even sad; I had convinced myself I had outgrown it.
But I was back there, and so was she. I was here for my Breakfast Club moment and I don’t want to name or even think about her intentions for being there in that forgotten space. She went down another hallway, where the Claire’s was. I got my ears pierced there and felt so brave that I didn’t cry. My eyes began tearing up but I desperately wanted to blame the mildew.
As she and the man disappear down the corridor, I take another path. I find an unlocked door to the old parking garage for some fresh air. Feet blistering (I had never worn this pair of Docs before), I climbed to the roof of the mall. It’s golden hour, a time of day built for romance and selfies and new beginnings. I breathe, and cry.
Things have changed.
I’m not sure how long I was on the roof. I heard cars from the highway below, their caustic horns and eagerness winding down as rush hour passes. I refused to look down at the crumbling concrete beneath my feet, avoiding two different fears: that this abandoned parking garage would crumble beneath my feet and I would plunge to my death on the asphalt below,… and the way things have changed. Acrophobia and… is there a word for that? The sun warmed my face as I stood on top of my childhood city. I wasn’t there too long, though. My parents still wanted me home by dark.