Beyond the murky glass streaked with dust, about 12 feet from the door, was a dry erase board that sat leaning against the wall. 

Miscellaneous tools, cups, articles of clothing and chairs were strewn around the room of this abandoned building.            

Four things were written on the dry erase board, a list of things to finish, a list that maybe someone once believed would find them completeness, solidarity and peace.            

The last item read “Turn on water/electricity.” A question mark, scribbled hastily to the right of the final word, stood out to me.“Whoever wrote it,” I thought, “whoever wrote it must have wondered if they would ever finish.”            

They never did.              

I placed my hand on the filthy glass and tried to push through the door; an attempt to connect my present with this abandoned past. It was locked and time moved on.            

I stood quietly as I watched Kaiti take photos of the gas station. She was across the street from me at another building that had been forgotten. 

Rust clenched the sides of the gas pumps as vines of ivy climbed the faded siding. The sign of the gas station – once proudly claiming to have sold wine and liquor – now hung in the air with a gaping hole through it.

There was a sense about the place, something that hung in the air along with the sign, as if Armageddon had passed through and those that lived in this pin-prick of a Midwestern town hadn’t noticed.

For them, it was just another failure, another restaurant out of business, another dream faded to white, another memory gone to rust.

I wondered if it had become their normal lives, the steady beat of life that paced their Midwestern world. But then again, that’s my world too.

American flags flanked Massachusetts Avenue. They fluttered in the breeze as two cars passed by.

We were there. In that very moment – surrounded by the rust and abandonment – we were in America.

I wonder if this is who we truly are, if this is what America is. Are we rusted and decayed? Have we found ourselves in the remnants of abandonment? Where have we come?

Later, after Kaiti and I had driven away from the washed out gravel parking lot of that abandoned building, I thought of the times that I’ve been given the chance to live in.

Often times when I think, I drive. My tires catch the pavement of roads that I’ve never driven down before. Sometimes I don’t find what I’m looking for. Sometimes I do.

I try to find America, or at least what it means here in the Midwest. I find dirt roads hidden between rows of corn, rusted vehicles forgotten in the thicket of weeds. I find places that remind me of home and some that don’t.

It’s not like this in other places in the nation. Others may find bold statues that tell the story of our past or glimmering buildings that hold promises of our futures.

But here in the Midwest, I’ve found an image of America that tells a story of romantic desolation.

There is a certain beauty in all of it. Maybe that’s why those in this small town have stayed. They see the beauty in the rust, a secret in the eroded brick of an old building. I can see it too, but I’ll never know the secret. No one will.

On the surface, there wasn’t much to find in that small town. But deep – beyond the streaked, dusty glass doors of abandoned buildings – stories wait to be told.