Sample from “A Weird Kid.”

We didn’t really drink or experiment with drugs till later because it required a level of cool that we didn’t have. That, or willing older siblings. Once in a blue moon we did a liquor cabinet raid, diluting our parents high shelf whiskey with water. On any regular day, we opted for hazardous adventures.

Occasionally Emily and I played hooky to visit Met state, or the Gaebler children’s institution. Both were abandoned asylums on the Belmont-Waltham line. Usually, someone had already broken in, and all we had to do was shimmy through a hole. We walked around with flashlights in awe of the time-worn decaying interior, ancient documents strewn about the floor, and the smell of mold. We journeyed the deserted grounds mesmerized.

Met state was an entire ghost town. It had nine rotting brick wards with ivy growing up the sides and red boarded windows. The main ward was at the center of the complex with a clock tower crowned by oxidized copper. It had its own bowling alley, theater, church, synagogue, dentist office, and morgue. Underground tunnels connected each of the buildings. Somewhere in the woods between the Gaebler Children’s Center and Met State was a small graveyard that had rows of nameless stones that either said “P” or “C” and a number.

My dad, a history buff in work boots, took interest in my excursions. One Saturday morning with the Boston Globe under his mustache, he found an interesting article about the old facilities.

“That small nameless graveyahd you mentioned in the woods; P stood for Protestant and C stood for Catholic. This piece is saying how the patients at Met State or the Gaeblah Institution were forgotten and castaway by their families. So sad. Anyone born with disabilities or mental health issues got locked up, sometimes even babies if they were retahded.”

I felt a lump in my throat when I heard that, and a wave of relief.

“You know, your grandmothah was sent there once.”

I gasped.


“Yes. Really. She became such a bad alcoholic paired with her abuse of medications, that she stahted to do loopy shit. One time I came home and she was taping cigarettes to the wall,” he widened his eyes.

“K. That’s enough Joe,” my mom snapped. She shook her head while flipping pancakes onto a plate beside the stove.

My mom was a smoke-show aerobics instructor. She walked around in Lycra leggings and sports bras that flaunted her Barbie shape, and toned abs. She was bold, outgoing and ran a tight ship, like most Greek women. She was also stoic and good at keeping skeletons in the closet.

“Why don’t you guys go fah pizza like nohmal kids?”

“We’re into lifting up the rug instead of sweeping things under it, Ma.”

She turned from the stove to look at me squinting with a hand on her hip.

“And what the hell is that supposed to mean?” She trailed off on one of her sarcastic tangents, tilting her head from side to side.

“Flunks every subject but English. Reads a book. Earns one A and suddenly thinks she’s smaht.”

My dad pulled on my chin.

“My sweetie pie is an explorah!” he beamed.

I giggled, completely unmoved by her dig.

“Yaw no help.” She glanced at him.

“What are ya gonna tell a guy you might be interested in? My best friend and I like to commit B and E’s?”

“BNE’s?” I asked with my mouth full.

“Ugh. Nevah mind.”

Emily tooted the horn out front.

“Welp! That’s my ride! I’m off to be “weehdo.”

My mom brushed off the mockery to get the last word in.

“Just be safe! Don’t stay in there too long; asbestos, rusty nails, rabid animals, homeless crackheads, the whole structcha could collapse! You don’t know …”

Her voice disappeared as I slammed the front door shut and I galloped toward Emily’s new-old rattling Mazda. Rust traced the wheel wells and its red paint job looked like a pinkish water-color. She earned the beater with babysitting money. I worked at a yogurt shop and pissed through mine because I could never have enough vintage t-shirts or lint-ballcardigans.

I told her about the article in the Globe my dad found and the comical family dialogue that followed.

“Why don’t you just be nohmal and go fah pizza like othah kids,” I mimicked my mom.

Emily laughed.

“My mom says the same thing.”

Emily demonstrated caution driving twenty miles an hour down route sixty all the way into Waltham.

We parked on a nearby side street and walked up the grassy hill in plain view. Emily and I approached our adventure bravely with enthusiasm. If the security guy stopped us, we aced the sheltered, unknowing, art kid farce.

Facing each other with tilted heads one of us would ask, “did you notice the no trespassing signs?” the other would reply, “I don’t think so.” One of us would affirm our innocence: “We’re just art students. We went for a stroll in the woods to capture scenery, but a path led us to these vacant grounds.”

The patrolman would tell us to scram and warn us not to return. Casually walking away, we’d then squat behind a large oak tree, peaking to see when his vehicle left. All of the bolted windows and ‘No Trespassing’ signs meant nothing to us.

When entering without notice, there was a sigh of relief. Crunching on broken tiles, we gasped with enchantment, collecting old documents, pamphlets, and bizarre keepsakes. We took disposable camera selfies beaming at the lens arm in arm in front of a colorless eighty-sixed building. Our lives were far from dull. Everyone in Abercrombie could go to Gregory’s Pizza on a Saturday afternoon, soaking in each other’s awesome. We were explorers.


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Leah Tilly

I wrote a memoir about heroin addiction intended to help those in early sobriety.