By Kayli Harley, TIWP Student
I have discovered a wall. It stretches to my left and my right like reflections in a mirror. Like ebbing, black adamant, it draws light into an unknown embrace. I advance toward it, and just as I am about to reach for it, to graze my fingertips along its deceptive surface, a force that feels like a maternal embrace pulls me back frantically.
Not yet, the movement seems to echo. Please, not yet.
I swear I hear the light scream as it whizzes past, involuntarily taken into the wall’s structure as I am dragged away from it. The sound of its fright is the melody to the deep and almost imperceptible laugh that mocks me from the other side of the wall. It wasn’t there before, but it’s here now.
Faintly, I hear it promise: Not yet, but soon.
They tell me that the wall is something I shouldn’t have to face yet, then they whisper to themselves with sullen and quick sidelong glances in my direction. A hollowness begins to spread within me, and in the center of it a pulse of fury ignites toward something I don’t know yet. A preparation. A blind passion. It calls for the wall like a battle cry, and my young heart answers. A kernel of fire handed down to me from all of the women before me lies within my palms. As I place them on the wall, the surface hisses with indignation and centuries of complex repulsion.
“You are not on my side, are you?” I inquire.
“No,” the wall responds. “No, I am not.”
I drop my hands.
That same maternal force tugs at them insistently. This isn’t your fight yet, the movement says.
But it is.
I am here, so it is.
I have come to the wall every day since I discovered it. It’s not always by choice. Sometimes I wake up and I’m already here.
Everyday, I try to converse with it, but it never responds. I just stand here as the hollowness shrinks and then grows again, the kernel of frustration expanding with every one-sided interaction. With every second of silence my words build into a wave within me, but one long look at the wall is enough to turn that wave into a mere trickle of water. Somehow, this thing makes me feel worthless as it towers over me. Somehow, I am less than a pile of burnt bricks.
“Do you know what it’s like to have to speak to you, even when I know you aren’t listening?” I ask the wall. “Do you know what it is like to live with a voice that no one hears? Do you know this rage? Do you know how it feels to see myself reflected in you only smaller, less significant?” I am pacing now, wringing my hands together.
“Did I ever have a chance? Did any woman ever really have a chance? You may not have bitten the apple, but you bit the hand that fed it to you. Is that truly better? You mock our graciousness. You mock our empathy. You even mock our strength. But where would you be without us? Where would you be if we weren’t the sacrificial lambs to your self-righteousness?
“Did you ever stop to ask yourself why you built this wall? Why did you divide us? You are not a ruler; rulers don’t build walls. Rulers build bridges. Cowards build walls. Cowards hide behind arrogance. Cowards stay silent in the face of change.”
I can feel the heat of the earth rising through me. This fury is liquid. It’s a boiling liquid, and it’s pouring out of me. I sense the wall smirk, and this first form of communication ignites me. I hear its mockery. This is what it wants. It expects me to burn and I’m burning.
My throat aches from pure frustration and my body is tense with restraint. I don’t think this is something I can just let go.
I finally know what it does to the light. It strangles it, just as it strangles me.
It’s a new day and I have calmed that wildfire in my core. I have fenced it in and resigned to keep it contained. I breathe. Today, I need tenderness. Today, I need the water.
I place my hands against the wall in a commanding plea. I construct my voice so it is gentle like the coo of a mother’s song to a baby in the womb. I whisper my wishes.
“Why can you not understand?” My voice breaks. “Why must you leave us with this silent, raging agony? Why were we given lips, given hearts, and given minds if they are to be disregarded? Do you feel this? Can you feel how unsettling it is to be a contradiction? Feel through me and help me change this.”
My offer hangs in the air, crackling with my desperation. The wall holds onto it just long enough to give me hope, then it throws me back with a wicked and forceful “no,” shutting me out once more.
Hopelessness takes hold of my body as I sink into the ground, wrapping my arms around myself and tucking my legs into my chest. I cannot tell if the flame has burnt out or if I have melted into a bitter, metallic iron. I suppose it doesn’t matter either way. Nothing, it seems, will break this barrier.
There is a life on the other side of this wall that I have never known but have fought for nevertheless. I have taken part in a battle against a force that doesn’t even need to fight back to win. It does not matter if I fight softly or destructively. I can kick it. I can slam my hands against it. I can plead with it. I can demand that it listen. I can scream. I can say nothing. I can be patient. I can be vengeful. I can be everything, and I will still be nowhere.
As long as I am here, I am nowhere.
As long as I am here, I am exactly where it wants me to be.
There is something in my nature that urges me to try. Maybe it’s that kernel of ancestral passion, or maybe it’s something new. Either way, it’s here and I can’t deny it.
But, I am exhausted. My voice is hoarse from talking without closure. My limbs are weak from standing up. My heart and mind are at their ends with this. What a cursed system this is. It breaks me down and for what? Who gave this wall the authority to stand?
I trace my fingers along the seam where the wall meets the earth. Everything along the seam is withered, touched by the hands of decay. I offer the earth my empathy.
This thing has the power to root into even the strongest of foundations, I tell the earth through my hands. I am sorry that it has also taken advantage of yours.
I feel a familiar anger ignite in my chest. How dare this wall–this leech–stand? How dare it take so much and give so little? How dare it exercise a power we never gave it?
My anger quickly dissolves into clarity. That’s it, I think. We never gave it the power.
It’s just a wall.
And I’m going to bring it to its knees.
I will be strong for them. I will be strong for the people who suffered in silence before me. I will be strong for the children aging blissfully behind me. I will be strong for the other people like myself who stare up at this wall as the hope fades from their eyes.
I brought some tools with me today and a promise on my tongue.
“Either you fall on your own accord,” I threaten, “or I am going to disassemble you brick by brick until you are nothing but a pile of rubble for the scrapyard. That is my promise.”
When I don’t receive a response, I begin to dislodge the first stubborn block. It does not go easily, and it burns against my skin. But I never expected ease, so I burn it right back.
When I finally have the block within my hands, I move to place it behind me on the ground, but that unknown force takes hold of my hand before it touches the earth. Just as I am about to protest, it guides my hand above my head and throws my arm down in a swift motion that has the block shattering against the ground. I am not alone, and I did promise rubble.
I spend hours like this until I hear a noise to my left that interrupts my concentration. When I turn my head to inquire about the source of the noise, I meet the gaze of another woman as she pulls a block from the wall herself and throws it upon the ground with a fury that I am familiar with.
Tears well in both of our eyes as a silent declaration of empathy and gratitude passes between us. I am not alone.
I hear footsteps behind me, and when I turn my breath escapes me. An endless number of people approach with tools in their hands. Some are smiling. Some are crying. Some do both. I look around in awe as these people step up to the wall and break it apart one piece at a time. I have never felt something so profoundly beautiful.
I feel that hollow space within me fill with love and pride and hope–so much hope. I see it all in the eyes of the people that surround me. It’s enough to bring me to my knees, but I won’t submit. We all remain standing until it’s not dirt beneath our feet but rather the gravel of the dismantled patriarchy.
The pieces cry under our weight, but we don’t listen. We just share a collective vow to never let this wall rise again. When we step across the boundary where the wall once stood, we do it as one, entering this new world we have dreamt of and will now endeavor to discover.
The strip of decayed earth where the wall once towered has healed. Patches of wildflowers decorate the ground and bring life with their blooms. I welcome the maternal embrace of the force that greets me every time I return to this spot. It doesn’t pull me anywhere or allude to anything; it just holds me.
The light sings as it dances around me, and I breathe in the scent of freedom threaded in the wind. I sink to my knees and run my fingers through the blades of grass that still carry the stickiness of the morning dew.
This is the birthplace of new life. It is a place where children will escape to, following the pull of their curiosity and the tales of a living legend. It is here where people will tell of the time when the narrative changed, and it won’t just be a dream. Here, we can look toward the horizon where there was once darkness and feel in our hearts the presence of something warm, something gentle. We can watch the sun disappear knowing that we will all be here to witness it rise tomorrow. We finally share a line of sight. At last, we can see past the barrier.
The story hangs in the hair, waiting for lips to string the words together. Once upon a time, there was a girl who discovered a wall…