Some days I live on the border between my daughter and myself—reaching across, hoping to grab ahold of her, to understand.
Some days I am certain I will never understand.
I stood at the places that remain of the wall in Berlin. It was only in standing there that I understood that what we called a wall, was something other than a wall. It was both a presence and an absence. It was a thick space, a gap of nothingness delineated by multiple structures, guarded, lit, and monitored. Slicing through buildings, through streets, through plazas, though lives…
It was only in standing there that I understood how it could be that the wall was gone, and also? Also it was not.
It appeared in its first form overnight, rolls of barbed wire and men with guns, surprising citizens who knew the divide—one of governance, of theory—existed, but hadn’t believed that the divide could take brutal physical form.
From there it was strengthened, reinforced, made permanent. People leapt, climbed, dug, swam, snuck…for their futures, their families, their beliefs, their hopes.
And every time the wall grew in material, still people found more ways to work around it. Each time it grew it became more permeable, a weaker testament to itself, and a stronger reminder of what walls cannot, will not, keep out.
I lay on the ground next to her, trying to mimic her posture: Her feet up in the air, legs either straight up in the air, or cycling, heels landing hard against the carpeted floor. The toy car, one of her favorites clamped between her hands, pulled close to her face, the lights flashing in her eyes, the song truncated as she presses the button obsessively, hand slapping against it.
I cannot see into her world. I can see the edges of it, the boundary between her and me. I know the car, the posture. I can predict her movements. But I cannot see in.
As a child I saw the thin boundary separating me from a magical world everywhere around me. That boundary bent and flexed as I pushed against it, allowing me glimpses into the mysterious world of faeries and elves. They visited me, little specks of light dancing in the sunlight, leaving treasures for me.
I looked for the passage between my world and theirs. But I was always afraid I might actually find it.
Perhaps I did?
“I love you, Esmé!”
Esmé’s voice reaches out, purposeful and, still, indecipherable. Her mouth wide, head tilted back, eyes fixed in concentration: Ahhhh ah
She grimaces, rubs her small lightly clutched fists against her forehead. And tries again.
In that moment I wish I could reach inside of her and pull the words out for her. I imagine a cork, one that would open with a celebratory Pop! And her words would spill out.
Even in my imagination her words are halting and broken, but I would have hope of understanding her, of knowing her in the simple ways you can know a child: their silly questions, their impulsive desires, their constructions of how things work, their pretend.
“I love you Esmé,” I repeat it, because I cannot think of anything else to say.
She descends into frustrated and frenzied cries, saying that thing that she says out of anger that sounds so much like ticket, ticket, ticket that I cannot help but imagine her in a small police outfit, writing up a citation for violating a law I do not understand.
“It’s not fair, Esmé. I know. I know you want to tell me something. I’m trying to listen better. I’m sorry.”
She looks at me, eyes wide. AHHH aha AAAaaa ooouuu.
“I love you? Did you say I love you?”
She smiles and nods. I think, Oh my god. OH MY GOD.
Then she begins shaking her hands in front of her face again. I am uncertain if I imagined the whole thing.
They say that it is only from the other side of trauma, when you feel safe, that you can begin to understand it. I wonder what happens if you live most of your life in the border, unable to pass to the other side. I wonder sometimes if I will ever look at my daughter and not, on some level, see how blue she was that day.
I wonder sometimes if I will spend my entire life this angry and frightened and cold, constantly prepared for everything to come crashing down around me.
I think I may.
I wonder how it is we have a president now who ran on building walls of the figurative and the literal variety. Walls, I am still convinced he is surprised anyone believed in. Walls that are certainly imagined and unnecessary…but walls that will remain a presence and an absence for a long time to come.
Like the remnants I saw in Berlin, however, they will grow increasingly penetrable the more they show of themselves.
This has been a Finish the Sentence Friday post. This week’s sentence is “When it comes to borders…” (borders, boundaries, walls…)
Our lovely co-host, and this week’s sentence-thinker-upper is Kerry, from Her Headache.