WALLS: A Thanksgiving Tale

SAM_0191It’s you. You’re the one. You are the miracle a stranger’s been praying for. He doesn’t know you. You don’t know him. But he is there on a sidewalk somewhere, praying that you would give him a chance–a second chance. After all, it’s Thanksgiving. You have food on your table. Lots of it. By morning, the cranberry sauce no one even touched will be in a trash bag. The pasta salad won’t keep. As for the turkey, you’ll have wings and thighs coming out of your ears by Black Friday. Still, the stranger prays for the miracle. You are the miracle, but you don’t believe this. You barely have enough to take care of your own household. You’re  not the one.

Yes, you are.



(The stranger is not mentally ill–not yet. Circumstances dumped him–front line–in a battle so fierce he can’t possibly win alone. The enemy is strong, and charges–armed to the teeth, speaking seven different tongues, confusing him, and shattering the last remnants of his will power. The stranger’s downward spiral began long before he was even born. It was foretold in those esoteric pamphlets he never had time to read anyhow).


First it was the job that went away. Then it was the wife. She took the kids. Of course, she took the kids. Someone said children have a better future with their mothers. Your part in making the babies doesn’t count anymore. You don’t count anymore. Your feelings… what feelings? You’re not supposed to have those.

The only thing that counts is the child support you must pay. But the job that was lost is still lost. Now, you spend every waking hour looking for anything to do—anything at all.  You’d walk from fifty miles for a dollar, maybe two. Twenty!

DOORsYou want only to feel useful again. You need to care for your children again. The fast food joint’s manager said you were overqualified. And weird. You knock on doors, offering to cut unruly grass. You walk Pitt bulls and poodles. Anything for a dollar. Maybe 10!

The babysitters you and the ex used to hire charged between 10 and 12 dollars an hour. You could do that; you would charge much less. Ah but who would trust you to watch children now? You can barely watch yourself.

Home repair is something you’d never been good at, but this time you have to tell yourself otherwise. You have convince prospective clients.

You’ll learn on the job. No big jobs yet: mounting doors, fixing locks, cleaning gutters. Claiming to be able to patch someone’s roof would be wrong. Not yet. A roof is a necessity, not a luxury item. Roofs keep rain, sleet, and hail from slamming like bullets on your face and shoulders. Roofs keep the sky off your back. And you want the sky off your back–the big, infinite, indifferent, devil-may-care sky.

Bridge over placid lakePlumbing. . .not yet either. You wouldn’t pretend to be able to fix leaking pipes. But you can patch a little water damage on the ceiling. Hang some drywall. Drill a couple of two-by-fours down and build a wall where one hadn’t been before. You’d always been a master at building walls. Walls like the one the wife put between you and the kids. Walls like the one keeping you apart from the job you held twenty years. 20 years of loyalty that meant nothing to the boss who had security escort you out. Those you past–friends, colleagues: no one said a word. No one wished you luck. You became the stranger you had always been.

You learn loyalty is worth less than that 99 cent mystery-meat patty a kid slaps between two slices of bread. No lettuce. No cheese. No pickles. No frills. Your life is like that cheap burger now: Months slapped between years. No extras. Just tasteless time. No hope. No frills.

Yes, sir, I can build walls.

How many walls do you need?  How high do you want them? How solid. Do you want a door? Doors are good. Doors are useful. Doors make it seem that the separation is not complete. Doors let you feel like a living ghost that can leave things behind and return when it pleases you.

If only there were a door between now and rest of your life. You could peer through. You could see where things would be different. You could hold on. You might be able to see past the long, gray, hungry, cold, endless days that turn into a coal-cold endless nights. Without a roof to protect you.

You’re hired. I’ve been looking for a good honest worker to build a wall for me. Come back in a week or so. Thanksgiving is big around our house. All the family shows up. The big dinner, you know. The warm fire. We might even put up the tree; string some lights; hang a few ornaments. Bring Christmas early. Why not?

gate before the white houseSo, you see, this week is not good for me at all. Let’s shoot for next weekend. You could start to build the wall then. I need it done before Christmas. Guests are coming. And that big room upstairs can easily be made into two bedrooms. All we need is a wall. I’d build it myself, but the wife needs my attention. And the kids…well you know how that is. Do you have children? No. . .You don’t look like the type. Well, let me tell you: you’re lucky. A bachelor. I remember those days myself. Great times, right.

Well, I better get inside. You must have plans for tonight yourself. It’s Thanksgiving. Everybody’s got at least one plan, right. Stay warm.

You do the same. If you need someone to clean the house tomorrow after the party. I can do that, too.

Warm House