Tower Lands Revisited

The mystery of the abandoned buildings near my work has been solved. I wasn’t looking for an answer to that riddle. I would have been happy to remain ignorant and let outlandish conjecture run free.

My old college friend Lani told me on Facebook. I don’t blame her. I did not specifically tell her not to tell me so there was no way she could have known. It’s just like when I’ve taken a huge dump and wish to describe it in detail over lunch. I can’t be expected to read minds and neither should she.

And since none of you have voiced any objections to my divulging the secret of the Tower Lands, I’m going to go ahead and blab. The truth may disappoint you, but the truth usually does.

Back in the nineteenth century, a mental hospital was built in what is now the city of Santa Clara. In the spirit of the times, it was a large, brick structure that resembled both a fortress and a prison. Dubbed “America’s Great Asylum” (in your face, British Bedlam), this citadel of sorrow stood menacingly in the then-pastoral valley until the 1906 earthquake. Over 100 patients and staff lost their lives and were later buried in a mass grave because fuck it.

The hospital was rebuilt as Agnew State Mental Hospital in the same Mission Revival style that makes Santa Barbara look both cute and annoying. It was laid out as a village with little shops and services, much like the TV show “The Prisoner.” Over the years, focus was shifted from the mentally ill to the developmentally disabled. In 1926, a second campus was added adjacent to where I work.

Both are gone now. The west campus closed in the 1990s and much of the land was sold to Sunday Microsystems. The east campus stayed in operation until it too shut down in 2009. I think building a new school is planned.

So much for my land of nightmares. The west campus at least had old-timey psychiatric care to inspire many a horror show. The east campus’ problems, and it did have them, were mostly caused by understaffed and budgetary constraints. Modern issues rooted in financial reality don’t make the best ghost stories.

Also, the developmentally disabled don’t have the same mythology surrounding them as the mentally ill. Even if I reject the tired trope of the ax-wielding escaped mental patient, there is a wellspring of bullshit to draw from the schizophrenic and their ilk. Maybe it’s because I can more easily picture myself as mentally ill. I may not hear voices, but I’ve directed the same self-loathing words inward. My delusions may not be as extreme, but I do have them and knowing they’re there keeps me second-guessing myself. In my heart, I identify with Billy Bibbit, not Nurse Ratchet.

As for the developmentally disabled, they’re kind of a mystery to me. I can imagine frustration where learning and doing things is difficult when it seems so easy for everyone else. That I think I get, but I understand it at a distance. It’s hard to empathize when you’ve squandered your mental gifts on laziness. My own challenges, from feeling like a fraud most of the time to either panic or disaffection in most social situations, makes the mentally ill more my kindred spirits. Admittedly, it’s a bond best experienced with no real proximity to them.

So there you have it. There are no stories in those abandoned buildings that would hold my interest and I don’t see myself inventing any. For the previous inhabitants who are still around, I wish them well but only give a shit in the most abstract sense. I guess I feel that way about most people.

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