9/21/15 3:49 pm
When you go about installing a chain-link fence, you first erect what are called “terminal posts” at either end. They must be set into concrete to withstand the enormous force to which the rest of the fence will subject those outward limits. Chunks of rock-laden concrete hold the terminal posts of a crooked splatter of fence at the edge of the campus, beyond the furthest extent of any place it would be reasonable to go, past the baseball diamond that sports a more presentable, straight metal mesh. That excellently thorough, crusty oxidation, that earthy brown like a layer of dirt consuming an abandoned carcass, ties the gorgeous diamond repetition to the scene. Each link begins to dissolve and rot away, falling to the patch of summer below. The man-made joins the natural in bits and pieces as flies, dandelions, dry weeds, and sharp shriveled things consume the dropping rust. I catch this process frozen in action. My eyes can’t see how it whirs through the seasons and changes day by day.
A break between the leaning stretches of links lazily gapes out onto a scrubby hillside. Here is the end of the fence, the terminal post, the place that allows a person to conquer the fence’s purpose by sliding between horizontal metal bars like a ghost through a wall.
As a child, I wandered to the edges of the fenced-in grass confines behind a square schoolhouse refurbished into a preschool. I would shimmy away from the playgrounds of wood and colored plastic and the sandbox, fathoms-deep and full of buried toys, and my sister stumbling around a Fisher-Price slide. She was enveloped by two layers of confinement: the post-infants were coddled in an even smaller expanse of outdoors, fenced apart within the larger play space of those children on the brink of self-awareness. In the heat of the summer, we all envied the littlest ones and their caretakers. The trees planted in their pen provided the thickest and coolest shade. When the air began to drag us all down, I was not the only one to poke my fingers through the metal links and to quickly be chased away with the bark of “Go play.” But for the rest of the year, there were few who joined me in my wanting in. I missed my sister, who I was never denied access to at home. But mostly it was the fence that frustrated me. Most of the time, I could barely distinguish Lindsay’s downy head from that of any other tot, and that sparse bit of grass on which they all plodded was so close. If I wasn’t hampered by this thin barrier, I could peer into little round faces until I found the one I knew so well. Instead I called her name. Sometimes I would be chided away, but sometimes she would follow my voice before they could stop her. She would smile at me and hang onto the links to abet her foundering balance. But she wouldn’t look at them as a cage, or as an enemy, or even as a friend. She looked right through them without seeing what they were doing: keeping her away from all that she saw.
I, on the other hand, was free to scamper to the outer fence, and to gaze up to where the chain link met the tall trees. The terminal posts were tarnished and they mingled with weeds and vines that twisted around them and followed them up out of my reach. The greenery looped back to the trees held just beyond my access by the fencing. They provided just a sliver of shade at most times of day, and they formed a demure partition between me and the dark brick of the apartment complex beyond. I wished that I could climb or fly, or even jump really high. I wasn’t unhappy to remain, and I was instilled with fear and awe of what would actually happen if I escaped. I would surely be rounded up and scolded, or perhaps jailed. Still, there was a passionate thirst to walk down the grassy slope to the street that connected the buildings of apartments together. It was a neighborhood like my own, with mailboxes and front doors. I could just barely make out that much through my thick, round glasses. But beyond that street, and beyond the next one— surely the world couldn’t keep going on like that forever.
Somewhere there were mountains, I knew, and forests of trees like the ones on the other side of the fence, but different because they had never seen a car pull into a driveway. I could barely imagine how fantastic the pieces of the world I would never see might be. From the limited wandering I had done thus far in life, I had begun to notice that every step brought a new marvel: enormous mushrooms the size of my head clinging to birch trunks, bumpy brown frogs I could hold, squirming, in my hands, and sticks that could be batons or wands or anything until an adult made me drop them. And trees, so many trees. It was already becoming clear to me that a big tree can be as promising as a playground. When there’s only one tree in the schoolyard, it becomes the center of every child’s attention; it brings them all together and it joins in their games. Hundreds of little hands pick at its bark, and hundreds of light-up, Velcro sneakers make perilous jumps from root to root. Just one tree becomes a base, a house, a safety. An entire forest of them was almost too much to hope for, yet it must have existed.
The idea thrilled me, and as I stared up at the fence, I wished to be the shining child who shocked them all by grinning to my astounded classmates from the other side of the fence and skipping away into the horizon, toward the mountains, toward the trees.
A gap in this fence on the edge of campus renders the entire affair purposeless. Whoever or whatever put it here didn’t feel any obligation to expend the energy to seal off their creation. No one is being kept in. The fence is simply a guideline; we are expected to know where our business is and to have the sense to conform to it. We are adults now, after all. The need for security is diminished by the terminal posts which have been erected within ourselves. I could cross the street and walk through the shining muck and the piles of garbage, and through the trees in the middle ground and toward the mountains of the horizon.
I have a clearer picture now of what I’d find, and how I’d begin to feel if I didn’t bring enough food, and the dread of losing my way, and the drudgery of not losing my way. For all the things to see and new paths to find, as I play out the hypothetical adventure in my mind, there arises a slew of conjectures. True, nothing is stopping me but the ingrained practicality that separates me from the wide-eyed excitement and impatient anticipation of the world that I held as a preschooler. I could wander through backyards and cornfields and parking lots now, maybe even through forests, all the way to the mountains. But I have little time, piles of work, and a desperate cling to what is familiar and safe which now restrain me. Reality has kicked in, and it serves very much the same purpose as a terminal post.
Casey Vincelette is an English and Communication double major and an honors student at SUNY Geneseo. She is employed by both the Philosophy and English departments of said institution. She is from Bethlehem, NY.