There are walls that join and walls that divide. The wall behind my computer screen separates my apartment from a family who, in some form or other, has lived on the other side since before FDR. They invited us to Christmas dinner two days after we first moved in and have asked us to countless Fourth of July and Labor Day and Easter barbecues since then. They warn us when they see rats lurking in the ivy out back, or when my wife has left her keys in the gate under the stairs, and they’ve confidentially offered to break the knees of any future suitor who has the misfortune of slighting our currently-six-year-old daughter. They were beyond sheepish and contrite about suing us when a tornado knocked our chimney through their roof and our insurance was slow to pay. The wall behind my computer screen is brick and load-bearing and divides for the best. It is finished otherwise on the other side, but I’m sure my neighbors feel the same.
I’m equally sure the fence out back makes me a better neighbor to the older Chinese couple who live to my left. I admire the perennial effulgence of their regimented hydrangeas and I have never once imagined what it would be like to have Christmas at their place. Until now. It’s just as well it never happens. I don’t know the people who live behind my building other than that a woman who used to live on the ground floor behind us had the world’s worst laugh. The kind of laugh that jolts you out of your darkest existential musings and makes you think about ending it all now. Or moving. Or both. Anyway… said neighbor has either stopped finding anything in life to laugh about… or she’s moved. I can’t imagine there not being a fence around the back yard. Without it my clematis and climbing roses would feel aimless and squat. So would I. It would like gardening in the nude. But worse.
The wall in the common hallway of my building was not a dividing wall until it had legs. It was and is a joining wall. One that joins me and my upstairs neighbors together. It is ours collectively. Our hall. Our wall. We share the expenses of plastering and painting and keeping it clean. None of us has parents who were born before The New Deal. Some of us think the hallway looks better with giant construction paper legs growing from the baseboards. Others feel differently. But a shared hallway should never be a fence between vertical neighbors.
Maybe that’s one of the things about mending walls Frost was talking about? The strange dance between division and cohesion that makes the best walls work on both sides. Sometimes toes will be stepped on, but as long as everyone is willing to keep their feet moving there is a hope of music in the footwork.
This was supposed to be a post about arms. So much for that.