Chapter 27: In Which I Let You Go at an Abandoned Cement Plant

All-American Ruins
6 min readApr 19, 2023

Universal Atlas Cement Plant | Greenport, NY

I let you go at the abandoned Universal Atlas Cement Plant.

At the time, I didn’t know what the building was, but I knew for certain that, if I could just get through the weeds to the smokestack, I could forgive myself for hurting you.

***

Where do I park?

It’s always a fair question. I let my car idle as the sides of my wrists rest on top of the steering wheel. I exhale, slowly, admiring the gray sky afternoon. It’s spring. Jane Monheit sings to me through my speakers:

Once, I was a sentimental thing
Threw my heart each spring
Now a spring romance
Hasn’t got a chance
Promised my first dance
To winter
All I’ve got to show’s a splinter
For my little fling…

I roll down the windows and poke my head out into the misty air. Everything looks black and white, which is just fine because I’ve already entered another fantasy, staring across the slashed and scabbed parking lot, weed shoots having successfully broken up through the concrete, reclaiming their land.

I’ve waltzed into the 1950s. I see men in suits, and I see your face in every one of them, under grungy hats and through smoking pipes. The smell of burning tobacco is potent as I leave my car and begin to work my way towards the back of the property.

This wasn’t the day I planned.

I planned on meeting you for coffee in Hudson, NY, just north of here.

I planned to say I’m sorry for lying to you, for saying that I’d fallen in love with you when I hadn’t.

I planned a lot of things, but this place beckoned that I pitstop and forgive myself first.

I like it when the walls and ceilings and floors of ruins talk to me. It’s not often the buildings themselves say something, but every once in a while, they do.

Like the smokestack, for example. It’s tall and slender, just like you.

“Hi, handsome.”

In hours to follow my expedition, I will learn that I’ve explored the wiles of the forgotten Universal Atlas Cement Plant, once a major employer in the Upper-Hudson Valley. It closed between 1976–1977, another casualty of an ever-shifting upstate economy. As the years passed, the property slowly evolved into a topic of local dispute, inciting inner-community fighting as to what should be done with the land. Makeshift gossip blogs blasted the Greenport Planning Board’s visions for the acreage, situated peacefully on the eastern side of the Hudson River.

But none of this small town drama means much to me as I glide past a long, sullen building, a factory of some sort, half of which is well-lit, maintained, and possibly operational, the other half which is boarded up, shards of broken glass and beat-up cement exemplifying years gone by, woven into tall weeds and coarse dirt that scuffs the bottom of my shoes. The sky is overcast, remarkably so, and your face, tattooed on my brain, floats by me every so often, an orb, a reminder of the pain I caused, of the fear to be alone in a pandemic, of the thought that I couldn’t bear the idea of losing you as a friend, which inevitably, I did anyway.

I note dates etched into different pieces of the property. 1956, 1957.

I see a bird circling above, watching my every move.

One time you told me that you could talk to birds.

I try it.

Hello, birds.

I reach the back of the property and peer up at the tall smokestack, as tall as you, lanky and thin. I approach the tower and touch the cool rock, and I think about your pale skin, your sad eyes, your raucous laugh.

Spring this year has got me feeling
Like a horse that never left the park
I lie in my room staring up at the ceiling
Spring can really hang you up the most…

It isn’t cold, and the air is dense. As I press onwards, I can almost see the tiny droplets snuggling my every step. I smile as I think of summer, of our first days together almost a year ago, when you and I first met.

Morning’s kiss wakes trees and flowers
And to them, I drink a toast
I walk in the park just to kill lonely hours
Spring can really hang you up the most…

I meant to tell the truth. Really, I did. But things got scary. Things got weird. You said it yourself, “The rules of engagement are on hold for the time being.” I glance up at beautiful, broken windows that cover a warehouse, jutted between the tall smokestack and a sizable grove of 20 concrete silos, and I think about your laugh. I think about your tears too. I drew them out from your eyelids, commanded that they splatter on the ground — and now, you’re getting me back, returning the favor.

Pitter, patter.

Rain starts. I begin to run to my car, dodging droplets that kamikaze from the sky, though I’m having a hard time discerning between the rain and my tears. I screech back to my car, hop in, panting.

I sit there in the quiet of my car, listening to the sound of the storm that has begun to rage outside. I turn the key into the ignition as I stare at the old bridge that crosses the county highway, connecting the old plant and mining operation that was. A stone house, condemned, stares at me as I dry my tears and reach for the stereo.

I turn it on.

Jane Monheit sings:

All alone, the party’s over
Old man winter was a gracious host
But when you keep praying for snow to hide the clover
Spring can really hang you up the most…

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