My bare feet hit the pavement of the sidewalk, hard, heart pounding, going somewhere, going nowhere? It’s cold. Below freezing in February. There’s glass all over the sidewalk, shattered like the squares of a crossword puzzle. The sudden pain in my lower back causes me to stumble, but there’s no one there to see. It’s early in the morning, one or two. I have no jacket so I wrap my arms around myself to drive off the cold. The night roots me like Daphne to a spot near the fence and I wait.
I wait for who knows what - for my toes to freeze, to fall down a rabbit-hole like Alice, for the pavement to end, for the night to engulf me like a snake swallowing his prey whole. I close my eyes and imagine grinding my feet into the glass, stomping, jumping, impaling and of what you would say if you knew my thoughts.
I look back at the porch; the white house is my torture chamber. The white house is your Guernica. In it we debate the ethics of homicide, killing each other, again and again. We look for words in the words, fronts in the affronts. We climb on them like jungle gyms, chase one another across the playground, pump as high as we can on the swings and jump off, having dared who can jump the farthest? We land on the ground running, fall down when we are tired, and rise up again for the same reason.
I walk along, towards the other side of D.C., toward the lights and the glitz, the glamour and the high-end restaurants, towards the universities that cost $50,000 or more a year, and wonder what you are doing. If I knew that you had thrown my
things onto the porch and locked the door, I would have kept walking, forever, into the night.
I keep going along my path, past the CVS, past the 21 hour Chinese place, past the vacant buildings and rundown facades, past the barred doors and windows of storefronts. I should turn back but I won’t, at least not yet. There is evidence of the homeless - plastic cups for their daytime begging, gray blankets with lumps underneath, and empty liquor bottles. I lose feeling in my feet.
I think of the homeless man I used to know. His name was Kenneth, and he lived in Georgetown by the library. He was a good 6’5” tall, with massive hands, and pockmarked skin. He wore the gray, city-distributed blankets around his neck like capes and wandered through the streets, taking up the entire sidewalk. He carried a large walking stick, a tree branch that he could have easily broken off of a low-hanging limb with one hand. During the daytime, he would spread his blanket on the lawn, lie on his side and sip a can of cheap beer, his pants unzipped and his penis hanging out. Sometimes he would have a newspaper with him and would read in the sunny afternoon, never neglecting conversation with the imaginary person lying across from him.
My fingers are tingling. A car drives by and, “Como se llama, baby!” is spat at me from the open window. I’II be damned if I’m going to walk along the street and be catcalled after like a prostitute. Fuck you that I’m out here walking alone, that I’m out here at all. I glance to the right where an occasional car rolls past and to the left where the buildings blend into the night creating a camouflaged cage of prison cells.
I could march home to my warm bed in our cozy enclave, wallow in our pathetic fallacies, and offer up apologies like a priest raises up a Communion tablet to his God to bless, but I won’t fold. I am paper. I will not be made into Origami.
The homeless, Kenneth, commune on the wafer of human generosity, a food rationed on the whims of the passerby. Give them this day their daily bread, or let them starve to condemn their trespasses against you.
I could enter through the fortress gates of the white house, ask you to play “Rock, Paper, Scissors.” We’ll count, “one, two, three” and my paper will always cover your rock. Best out of three? You’ll throw the same, thinking I’ll change, but I don’t. Two-zero. My paper does not fold.
I can no longer bear the cold that has entered my lungs and made breathing difficult. I’ve walked nearly a mile and crave the space heater that I insist we keep on my side of the bed. I cross the road, walk a block to the next street, and continue, sometimes walking in a straight line, sometimes following the cracks, other times seeing how long I can balance on my tip-toes.
Finally, after an agonizingly long walk, I reach the steps to the white picket fence. It is not Oz that I enter into, but it is more than Kenneth has. I crawl into bed without saying a word, turn on the heater, and drift into sonorous sleep.
I awake. It’s past dawn. The sun peers into the window from over the buildings, from beyond the dome of the National Cathedral. I sit up and resolve to “shoot up the veins of another new morning.”