Below is a little something I wrote a few years ago and stumbled upon in my backup files recently. I hope you enjoy it!
There is a line that separates my house from my neighbor’s. It’s invisible, marked only by pieces of paper that declares who “owns” each side. But, on the other side of that border, past the invisible line that our neighbors go to great lengths to keep erected, is a border of a different kind. Not visible to human eyes, but there nonetheless – a silent tribute buried a couple inches under the lush green grass. A tribute that, even after all these years, I cannot forget and have not talked about until now.
On our side of the invisible border, my dad keeps the grass green and well-cropped. He’s out there every weekend, mowing at seven in the morning with the other dads in the neighborhood. While I find their dedication admirable, I often grumble about how they should find a decent hour of the day to mow – preferably after noon. My dad is almost obsessive about it, to a newer level than before we had moved into our new neighborhood – it still, to this day, puzzles me a little. It must be a guy thing.
On the other side of the invisible border, there have been many neighbors. I wonder why none of them seem to stay for too long, and it amuses me that every single family has animals. The yellow-brown spots staining the otherwise green lawn is a standing testament to that. The newest family tore down a perfectly good wooden fence in the backyard to put another, taller, thicker wood fence in its place. I think that this is so that they won’t have to talk to us – they’re a real friendly bunch…
And yet, every year the same things happen in that yard across the border. The carpet of grass becomes more and more spotted as the summer progresses. The natural spring under the house emits a constant supply of water through the ground that will, every year without fail, flood the basement – so the neighbors installed a pump that re-routes the water away from the basement. Unfortunately, it seeps down the neighborhood (which is all downhill) and kills our grass and flower gardens.
And, I can tell every stray dandelion that has never dared to stay long in our yard that they can go right back to where they came from and be welcome there. A shower of white seeds blows from that yard every year, giving me a lot of entertainment in sitting on the couch and watching my dad walk around the house, looking out the windows and muttering under his breath.
My dog likes to eat the dandelions, I have no idea why, they don’t look very tasty and she always ends up spitting them out after they’ve been completely mangled. I think she thinks she’s giving me a present because she almost always does it by my feet. Since she is always following my dad everywhere (to my amusement, she even shoves her nose into the corners of the doors when my dad is on the other side and proceeds to breath heavily, just in case he didn’t know that he locked her out of the room while he was in there), she looks out the windows with him, too. When she does this, she drools on the windows, causing my mom to walk around the house later in the day and mutter under her breath about the dog being stupid for drooling on an otherwise spotless window.
The neighbor dog doesn’t drool on their windows, and doesn’t like to eat dandelions. Instead, he likes to cross that invisible border and wander into our yard incessantly. It’s funny how the neighbors yell at us if our dog crosses that border, but never care when their dog goes into our yard.
And still I think about that invisible border that separates our two very different lives.
When I was little, I was almost painfully shy. It didn’t help that there weren’t many kids in our neighborhood yet – our house was the second house built in our cul-de-sac. The only friends I really had after we moved were my sisters and it stayed that way even after more kids moved in. Well, as kids will do when left to their own devices, we ran wild, causing our parents no end of grief and filling our days with mischief and amusement at how our parents tried so hard to keep us more “tame.” It didn’t help when my dad gave up trying to civilize us and started encouraging us instead, showing us how to catch butterflies and put toads in buckets. We even caught tadpoles once and stored them in a bucket in our garage – I lost interest in them eventually since they weren’t growing fast enough, and we finally released them in a local pond.
The little things we managed to catch – mostly moths and butterflies – we learned to be careful with. It was a hard lesson we learned one day when we found out that once you’ve touched a moth or a butterfly’s wings, they can’t fly anymore and they die. It was harder still to have to bury our now-dead catch. We created a miniature graveyard on the border of our house and the at-the-time-empty lot next to us. Dad even buried a frog there once after we found it one morning half-mangled by the trash can after we moved it. I cried for the frog until my dad explained to me that it was suffering more by being alive and that he was happier in frog heaven because he wasn’t feeling pain anymore. The word “mercy kill” was introduced into my vocabulary that day.
That little unmarked graveyard, now covered over with grass, represents more than a lesson in loss and how things change. It’s the border between time; the time when I was a child and cried at the loss of a single butterfly, and time as I know it now – complicated, messy, and filled with the responsibilities adults have to face every day for the rest of their lives.
It’s a border beyond the tangible, the borders we hold in our own lives. That border separated us from our neighbors – not because of that invisible line that tells who owns the papers to the land, but because we had put it there.
It’s not something that is easily crossed, so we stand on the precipice and watch others cross it instead. It’s a crossing that we're sometimes afraid to make. What if on the other side there is no beauty? What if there’s only pain and heartache on the other side?
When we enter into the border, we go with the trepidation of being rejected and hurt, and we get past it only to get pushed back into it again on the way back to our own side, experiencing the pain of loss every time, experiencing the soul-numbing sense of rejection.
And after we’ve crossed the border that last time, only to get pushed back across it, we give up. We stop crossing the border.
But eventually, when we’ve been away long enough, we come back to the border and we stare at it. We wonder how other people can be so unafraid to cross it, when every time we cross it we're sent back to our own side, hurt.
The seeds of friendship can cross the border, but they always die and when they do, we're sent back to our own side with the mess of what’s left all around us in pieces on the floor.
And yet, how is that any way to live life? To stay on your side of the border just because we’re afraid that things will get a little bit messy.
There is a sense of courage in being able to cross that border, even knowing that you might get hurt. And I think that’s how we should live, not in fear, but in courage.