Almost every day I walk through my neighborhood to a bridge over Barton Creek from which I can look down and scrutinize the animals and plants below. I count the turtles, watch fish, and admire the water fowl. I feel satisfied when I see a snapping turtle beneath the surface and elated when I see two. I usually don’t see any at all, and I don’t know why. The water’s surface is a kind of immutable border between two countries; the citizens on each side of the border are rarely at home on the other side. Some of the residents- the waterfowl and the turtles- have permanent visas, so they travel freely between the two worlds, but the rest of us don’t live long if stranded in the foreigners’ territory.
I prefer sliding into a natural body of water to swimming in an artificial pool because I like to visit those who live on the other side of the border. It is the single place where I am judged impartially by the citizens- I am assessed for my level of threat, for my qualities of concealment, or, sometimes, for my texture, density, and calories per ounce. No emotion is evident in the decisions made there. It is a place where I do not speak the language, do not understand the secret signals passed back and forth between individuals, and where I can’t even collect the oxygen I need without sending back for supplies from the other side.
People on dry land think about and emote about borders a lot. Especially ‘The Border’, which is only a very full half-day’s drive from here. In some circles, even mentioning the word ‘border’ causes passion to inundate the conversation. I like to travel across The Border, but, until signs or prior knowledge point it out, I don’t see any difference between this patch of dirt and that patch of dirt, between this handful of water and that handful, or even between the person who lives here and the one who lives over there. The differences in language, architecture, and aesthetic preferences from my city to a town on the other side of The Border happen gradually during the trip. The Border has no natural demarcation like the border between air and water. When I cross this border, I can speak the language to some extent, interpret the secret social signals that pass between individuals, and fill my lungs with air. That is not a world in which I am treated impartially. I seem to represent something- hope to some, friendship to others, irrelevance to many, and an easy mark to a few. In that other country, I experience people who have aspirations, family love, pain, and disappointment like I do. Like twins separated at birth we have grown up together apart.