I fought the urge to peel the paint off the wall and place the thin lacquered layer on my tongue since stepping into the abandoned prison. An urge so strong it was screaming non-stop in my ear and my head was splitting. If the afternoon activity went on for longer than a few more moments, I would lose this battle.
The prison was listed on the itinerary as must-see historical location of southern Vermont, a place ripe with inquiry into the punitive practices of the turn of the century, now a few windstorms away from demolition. Five of us stood in the doorway after convening in the parking lot. I had been laughing about something as our guide unbolted and then pried open the heavy metal door. Laughing like we were about to enter an Olive Garden to sip wine on a Saturday afternoon and not entering a place where torture was commonplace, where mental illness a crime, where abuse daily protocol. But as soon as the door did open the joking stopped. Like lead. Heavy all around. Replaced by peeling paint. On door jambs and window casings. Along the cracks in the walls. Left in piles swept up by decades of shuffling visitors and errant airs.
My trembling hand wavers over the broken bits sharp and edgy breaking right before my eyes. The tour guide is listing the most prominent inmates of the last century. The woman who butchered her fiance, the man who buried his neighbor, the teacher who went mad; each a compelling story of isolation and trouble, but all I wanted was to let one small sliver of decayed wall and lost life desolve on my tongue. To taste their horror. To acknowledge their silent end.