Second Place | Benjamin McGrath
Beyond Open Doors | A Mother’s Labor of Chores
Author: Benjamin McGrath
School: Virginia Tech, USA
Level: 5th Year B.Arch
“…And we always knew that it would never be true. It was the fear that kept us from progress, but it was also fear that shaped our innocence. We loved with our eyes closed, she and I. More often than not, she comforted me like a mother, as if I were her child. That’s the funny thing about nature, all that is natural, it takes you in its arms, carries you in its womb for the duration of what feels like a lifetime of its own. But then comes the separation, the divorce, the birth from home and place of comfort—it feels more like an abortion.
To be spat out like that into the darkness of decay, the monotony of the world’s fatigue that shadows every day, it can be exhausting for the soul. It can bury you beneath the remnants of memory, torturing the mind with times of the past instead of the present. No one should have to live that way—waking each day only to degrade evolution by pretending to be in a place you’re not. These machines have prescribed the cause and the drugs—they say, “Plug in, Press On.” But really they mean, “Swallow this electric shock and soak up everything that you’re not. Abandon your desires and remember only what we want.”
So simple were the memories before Soma—that soul sucking, slow motion killing machine. “Here, take this pill to keep your freedom at will. We won’t ask much of your mind except that your dreams remain lost. If it’s perfection in picture, an image to capture, you can dial into disaster and pretend; isn’t that what you’re after? Isn’t that why human beings strangle their dreams with these cords, these plugs, this endless wiring?” Technology has such a funny way of convincing. Or is it distracting…?
I can recall a memory of one place in particular, so much so that it feels like a recurring dream. There was this landscape that I built inside my head—I made it out of memories and fabrications of a home that felt more natural. I left the one I used to know—of walls, floors, doors, and windows—as if those perforations were enough to satisfy my inclinations. The air in that place, it was stifling, suppressive; it made it so hard to breathe with its sterility of patience for patients. Some kind of mental instability began to overtake me—it consumed my mind. That’s what they wanted me to believe, that I was going crazy. But in reality my sanity was contingent upon lending lungs to my senility, allowing it to breathe. Naturally, I took to nature to walk among my worries, to find air between the trees.
She found me at the end of a road; remnants of suburban homes decorated the alleys and streets with plans of building but no people to call them homes. I stopped where the asphalt met the dirt, a path with no intentions of leading or misleading, just hopes of carrying freedom across its back. And that’s exactly what I carried with every step—liberation, uncertainty, free doom to chase away the delusions. I had lost my love for her once before—my mother—but I was determined to steer clear of any interruption, of any corrupted romance by way of machinery. She made sure to show me that she kept those bones mostly cold in my absence; her tree branches naked and skinny, shivering, victim to winter’s unforgiving. They thirst for warmth and vibrant color to shake them free of their emptiness, to spring the relentless rape of their innocence. I wanted to be her child again but within this deserted forest, I couldn’t help but feel aborted.
I called this abandonment.
I walked on with only the warmth of whiskey on my breath to exhale the exhaustion I felt with every step. Though it was dark with dreams of no moon or street lamps to light the path, I remember each individual step and its imprint as if it were painted lucidly. Stretched out before me, I raised my right hand to pledge treason to the destruction of my mother’s land. And in that hand I caught my breath to keep allegiance in resurrecting the soul of men. Marked by words of devotion muttered, I vowed to resuscitate what lay before me dead.
Perpendicular to the path lay a cul-de-sac that opened up to a clearing. This vacancy overlooked more shadows of buildings, a field once wooded with trees. As I looked out, I thought to myself, “Who would have these forests replaced with aging constructions?” The framework of houses so carelessly erected and to serve no purpose. But now, as it lay before me like a disease infected wounded creature, the desolation opened my eyes to an imagination I had so carefully forgot. Not at the choice of my own but under the supervision of the drones.
I said, “Water,” expecting the word would satisfy my thirst. But instead I found my homesickness could not be quenched or cured by the barrenness of this hollow house that was once a home. The only offering of relief came to me in the form of a frozen pond planted just beyond an opening adjacent to the curb. Muddied and machine-made most likely, a product of the trampling and dredging. Nevertheless, I walked on. I picked up my feet and eased my mind of its sinking worry—it was then that I walked on water and contemplated the irony. You see, I’m no prophet or sorcerer of magic, but it was the metaphor that started to appease. Calming, soothing, and self-improving, I could still see what was pure underneath.
What light and momentary pain had made its way inside my brain before I found that safe place. There was still beauty underneath all of this destruction. It cleansed my mind and settled my hands of their shaking. I thought of reflections and what mirror would have my presence, knowing my negligence to that which exists beyond the doors of perception. It is within this Marriage of Heaven and Hell where I found a heart that beats pure still…”
“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.”
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