The last time I was here, it looked nothing like this. But that was more than 20 years ago. Back then, it was a long-term rehabilitation facility for people recovering from various injuries. No, I wasn’t a patient, but my friend was.
I was a sophomore in college and a high school friend had some sort of seizure that sent him into a coma. That was in October of 1989. I won’t share anymore details about him or his illness/injury because it’s still difficult to process. I will add he was moved into this facility in Buchanan, Michigan in the winter of 1990, maybe three or four months after the seizure. It was a smallish, red brick building with a long awning extending from one of the entrances. The grounds were well kept and the property was maintained.
Every Thursday for about two or three months, after classes and before bowling (it was league night), I drove from South Bend to Buchanan to visit with my friend. I’d drive from school to the hospital, spend a couple hours with my friend, then drive back to South Bend to the bowling alley. It was quite a roller coaster of emotion to process in a few hours.
“How’s your friend doing?” my buddy and bowling team partner Brit would ask most nights. The answers would vary. Some days were better than others, but that was 23 years ago. In retrospect, every day there was a bad day. Every day.
For no particular reason, I took a drive the other day to see if I could find my way to that facility, using only muscle memory to guide me. It was a pretty easy trek, honestly: old U.S. 31-North (it’s now 933), to U.S. 12-West, turn right on Red Bud Trail and follow into Buchanan until you see the facility on the left.
I drove right past it—twice. At first, I thought I forgot where it was located. I pulled into a ratty, overgrown parking lot and said to myself, “I thought it was right around here.”
That’s when I realized I was at the location. At first glance, I said, “well, it used to be here…looks like they tore it down.”
It wasn’t torn down. Despite being only 50 or 60 feet from the road, the weeds, bushes and vines have grown so high and so deep that the building is mostly concealed.
I got out of my car to look around. It was sad, really. The structure is in complete disrepair. Broken windows, weeds and bushes protruding through the building. A FORECLOSURE notice hangs in the window; too rundown to be renovated, too cost prohibitive to tear down. It just sits there, dying slowly.
A significant episode of my life played out in this building. While I have very few fond memories of this place, seeing it in such disrepair left me feeling even more conflicted and sadder than when I only reflected on this place. I left sadder because I was reminded there were no happy endings to this story.
My friend who was in that hospital never recovered. He never came out of the coma. He died in 1992, almost three years after suffering the seizure that put him there. Like I said, painful reminders.