Do the fearsome imaginings of childhood ever really leave us?
When we were little my sister told me about the people who lived in the walls. I asked how could they fit inside the walls? She said they were very thin. And they watched us through the walls. They saw everything we did. At night when we were asleep they would come out from the walls and roam freely around our apartment. Aside from being spooky, there was something vaguely ominous about these mysterious beings inside the walls.
I thought of the “wall people” again only last week. Our wiring is being upgraded (finally) and the construction workers knocked a huge hole in the wall where the new circuit breaker would go.
The rectangular hole, three-feet high and two-feet wide, is right by the front door and I see it all the time. Yet the first day or two when the interior of the wall was suddenly exposed, I didn’t really see it. Or rather, what I saw was “electrical wiring being upgraded.” I paid scant attention to the exposed bricks, old wooden beams, big rusty nails, jagged plaster, smudged paint, etc, though all these things were plainly visible.
My observer’s eye didn’t open until I thought of taking a picture to send to my son. Somehow training the eye of my camera (okay, my iphone) on the hole had the effect of opening my own eyes too. For now I found myself taking a closer look at what was actually there. The thickness of the plaster and the grainy sand inside the part that made up the actual wall that was painted, was nothing compared to what was behind it. The bricks and beams and nails that held the building together and made the different floors possible. And among all the different colorations of bricks, and the battered old splintered-looking beams, and the long rusty nails jutting out, I saw all the empty space too. Lots of space with a cool, musty breeze wafting through, smelling of age and damp.
Now I was feeling excited about this unexpected view into the interior. This window behind the facade, and I took a few more pictures just for myself. I knew I had to share them, share my excitement. But then I started to wonder what exactly was giving me such a thrill? Was it because as an artist of renderings I am used to drawing the exterior of buildings? And this window to what was actually inside the walls was a novelty? Or was it because as someone who draws things, I focus on the outer shape, the outer form…all the while knowing that the feeling of the thing— whether a face or a flower or a fruit or a chair—will come through. And here, now, was the actual inner thing, the inner place, the mysterious unknown…
A few more days passed by and the novelty wore off, but not my interest either in the wall or my mysterious attraction to the innards of this dwelling place. And then, finally, I remembered the skinny “wall people” who lived inside the walls of my childhood. The subconscious, that deep inner sea filled with memories, went swish-swish-swish, and up to the surface rose the story of the wall people, as thin and as real as the exposed wooden beams.
The magic of childhood is never forgotten.
Punch a hole in the wall and there it is—alive and well—smelling of age and damp…