The moon was up. I’m sure all four of us were aware of her face above the trees, lightening the stars in the dark-blue sky of night towards which the smoke and sparks of our fire danced ever upward. Stories across the burning wood, laughter and some derision at the world just outside our circle of light.
It was his last night. She was just in town till the morn. He lived here, but elsewhere and was soon off for more. I was laughing into my mug, never quite certain where I really am.
One doesn’t share a fire and stories with witches and druids and shamans often enough, so one makes thick hot cocoa with the last of his milk after dinner made with the last of his food. And the others were as poor as me. He’d spent all his money to come see me and return; she’d been paid to visit by people supporting her campaign of terror against the powerful; he works full time and goes to school and admitted he eats only at the kindness of others on account of poverty.
Me? Twenty dollars in my pocket to pay for the gas she’d use to take him to an airport the next day, and no expected income for 12 days. And I’m all fucking joy, because we’re drinking hot cocoa around a fire as our sister the moon shines through the trees upon us.
There’s this thing called class. It’s not supposed to exist, really, anymore than gods are supposed to exist. One can argue that the category label is human-made, a socially-created concept to describe something otherwise outside of natural existence. That’s fine. I’d also argue both exist, just as we do.
The four of us were all of one class, sitting about this fire dredging the last thick chocolate from our mugs. Not all of us were only white, not all of us male, but we four also possessed ways of thinking and speaking which allow us to pass the gatekeepers of the thick and unseen walls between the worlds. She’s got great teeth and is utterly fashionable; he wields a dignified stature and speaks with natural authority; his comportment and enthusiasm, along with his disarming smile, makes him easy company anywhere. Me? I’ve had books.
In the draughty A-frame in Applachia, heated with government-doled coal (in a wood-fire stove, which is not a good idea), waiting for the government food-truck to bring us government cheese and flour and powdered milk, I read. I had a grandmother who never sent me a toy but instead every 99cent educational book she could find at the grocery store. Books on science and history, news-print atlases and activity books on math and the “mysteries of Africa.” My father worked at a paper-mill when he had work, but didn’t have work often. And sometimes he’d bring me with him “into town,” drop me off at the library for 6 hours or more before picking me up on his way home. It didn’t matter that he didn’t actually have work many of the times he did this, that he was actually fucking a woman who wasn’t my mother “in town” and would sometimes forget to pick me up until hours after the library closed. It didn’t matter, because I had books.
Later, I had books. I had a partner who got a master’s degree in history, and so there were books everywhere, and I read every one of them and edited his term papers because I knew the books sometimes better than he.
And there was Harper’s Magazine, and all the un-educated punks at the coffeehouse reading European Critical Studies and Post-Colonial theory with whom I could argue and whose books I could borrow and to whom I could lend my own.
I can talk real smart, sometimes, so much so that people who have money mistake me for someone who also has money. She mentioned this often, too–her eloquence and cunning and ease with legal theory hides the fact she lives on almost nothing, and not by choice. She’s been mistaken for a bohemian, as have I. A bohemian, a poetic soul eschewing his legacy of prosperity or her access to wealth to live artistically, a “class traitor” who can always return once amends are made, prodigal daughters and sons experiencing their mid-life crises early.
It’s funny, but not funny at all, that people think that any of the four of us could just “return” to middle-class lifestyles, as if we were merely sojourning on the other side of the wall a bit.
Nah. We’re the fucking poor. And we’re playing a rather dangerous game with you.
A partner and I both dreamt the same dream one night. We were in another city, in ancient apartment complexes towering over cobbled streets, and found an entire world just behind the interior walls of the flats.
There were the homes, well-furnished, rented and stable. And there was the outside, the cold and wet streets. But between them, we’d found others like ourselves, living glorious lives just outside sight, as if ghosts or rats.
This world between the walls, or the world within the walls, is where the four of us around that fire were. None of us could claim more than 20 dollars to our names (and perhaps collectively possessed no more than that amount), but the hot cocoa was absurdly rich, the flames warm and illuminating, the moon and stars glorious in their dance across the sky.
And we were talking about some of you, actually. The ones who can’t see us because we’re between the walls. The ones who think we’re one of you but wonder why we don’t really get along. The ones who think we’re a little crazy, believing silly and extreme things, or think we’re just angry because we don’t know non-violent communication skills. The ones who think it’s great and wonderful that we care about the poor and homeless but don’t quite grasp that we care about them because they’re our kin and kind, not some amorphous receptacles of charity.
And what we were wondering is this–why don’t you understand? Is it really impossible to see us, we who live between the walls, between these worlds, who want to topple those walls and let the poor and unwashed masses come flooding in to your nice homes and meetings and restaurants and campgrounds and parks, smelling of sweat and the forgotten patches of earth where they’re barely allowed to live?
And is it really all that impossible to understand that we’d do this not because we want to destroy you, but because we want you to join us? There was room around that fire, you know. I ran out of milk that night, but if you had a little change maybe we could have bought some more–I’ve still got chocolate powder and a tiny bit of sugar left.
Gods live in-between, as do some of us humans. But walling the gods out isn’t getting us all anywhere very pleasant, and walling out humans isn’t very nice. But hot cocoa is incredibly nice, and so are fires, especially when built with torched barricades and toppled mansions.
3 thoughts on “The World Between the Walls”
I love this. There’s something about this that makes me want to cry. Maybe it’s because I’m so tired of class getting the way. I just want to know good people who are fighting the good fight who show up and mutually support one another. I don’t care how much money you have or don’t have. When my family is doing well, I will cook for you. When we’re not I’ll still give you a cup of tea. But please, join me around the table.
And yes, my response is completely colored in middle class hues.