No Man’s Land

December 27, 2007
A week before we were due to move, my sister and I took notice of an area behind one of the apartments in our community. Certainly, we had passed it countless times while walking to school, but had never seen past its leaf-littered ground and empty snail shells. After all, it was a no man's land, untended to for years. But in its ugliness, we suddenly recognized a potential for beauty. And right then, we resolved to renovate it.

It was not an easy feat. The small area, at most six strides in length and width, was cut off by a rickety fence that separated our community from the small forest in which we had discovered a shortcut to the elementary school. The fence, with its rusty gate and rotten wood, was peeling and faded. The pine trees on the other side had spilled over, peppering dried pine needles and cones over the crusty, burgundy ground. Even the empty apartment was a banal brick color, save for its contrasting blue graffiti—the cliché of urban sprawl.

But in a week's time, we transformed the lot. From the community dumpsters, we salvaged an eclectic array of commodities to adorn our makeshift abode with. The needles and cones were swept aside, replaced by a rug to hide the ground's nakedness. Over the rug stood a chair on either side of a table that was pushed against the fence. Clocks, plates, and other random objects formed a sea of secondhand items, from which a bulbless antique lamp protruded like an elaborate peacock among a bevy of sparrows. The gate, the one thing still dirty, was concealed with posters, projecting vibrant colors into the air. There was now a personality to the plot; our mission was successful.

But perhaps it was not the product, but the process that we sought so desperately. The labor was a medium through which we could release our grief. Every second spent cleaning was a second not spent pining over all we would miss. Every piece of furniture salvaged gave us false hope, as if we too would be saved from our impending destination. And every time we paused to gaze at the fruits of our labor, we felt our legacy being imprinted.

When we did finally drive away that summer, we did not cry. We did not even feel sad. As we stared out the back window, we felt tinged only with curiosity. Perhaps someone would move into the abandoned apartment. Perhaps rebellious teenagers would defile our renovations with blue graffiti. Perhaps children, shortcutting past the fence on their way to school, would take notice of the area and add to our efforts. No man’s land had been ours for a week. Now, it was once again up for the world’s taking.

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