Boundaries, borders…

M. Papiri Educator and linguist

Boundaries, borders…

Borders, boundaries, lines we draw, create, protect ourselves by hiding behind…

Social divides, that separate or differentiate us by background, lifestyle, experience. We don’t strictly ‘see’ these boundaries, not like actual fences (anymore – if only apartheid were truly dead), but looking around me on the London Underground Victoria line last night I played a little game with myself, and the first impressions that came to mind when I looked at the people around me. What could I see representing the many distinct lives, homes, dreams of those around me?

The girls talking about their next nail colour and the conversation they had last night with that boy. Where did they buy their imitation Gucci handbags? And the family of 3 – mother and daughter wearing identical makeup – which one of them chose it? And which one is following the other’s lead? Same ripped jeans, similar trainers. The lady in a pencil skirt and pointy toe heels. “Nice bag”, I thought. Mulberry. Is it real? The many guys in suits, some in overcoats and some in puffer jackets, changed their smart work shoes to trainers for the commute home. I imagined them all going home, walking up to their front doors, some via a garden path and others past the neighbouring flats. Opening the door and greeting someone, or being welcomed by silence. Then I swapped them around and put them into someone else’s ‘home’. I played with my assumptions and prejudices and judgments. Then I started counting iphones. And I mentally clapped Steve Job’s vision and foresight, and ability to cross and remove some of all those things that divide us to show us we are all the same iphone coveting and carrying humans, nodding in time along the Victoria line on that cold and wet Thursday evening before Christmas in London.

I only have to dig out my childhood globe to see how much the geopolitical borders change and evolve, become obsolete. Evolve to shift with the times, social and political changes. What are these lines if not temporary descriptions?

Existing to protect, provide a sense of strength against potential vulnerability to threat. A mirror of the emotional boundaries that we construct. If there’s one thing that encompasses how I feel about my ‘growing up’ it is the tangling and chaos of these. The complexity of adult (mature, experienced, intelligent, considered, reflective , healthy and deliberate – ha!) boundaries. Pah. PMSL emoji…

Never more complex and messy and mysterious as in how we present ourselves within our relationships. Where do I begin and you end in this love affair? Yesterday you were a stranger, and today you pervade my every thought, invade my dreams, and I am aware of you in your absence. Precisely this feeling of connectedness and the blurring of the bold lines we outline ourselves with, is what we crave – sharing yourself and your space and intimacy.

But where did those safe and protective boundaries go? The intoxicating bubble of romance and passion, spontaneity and discovery, growth, joy, feeling alive with energy and inspired by this new connection and doorway to a new world within someone else’s boundaries. Yours fade a little. Or a lot.

Then, when the fireworks have stopped and the fizz settles, it takes a while for the eyes and ears to adjust to the emptiness. The gaping hole. Vertigo. Trying not to drown in this sudden vastness of the surprising emptiness, reaching and not finding anything to grasp. Where did I leave the familiar walls I lean on, the damn boundaries I forgot about for a moment.

Some of us have more fluid borders than others, of course. The more emotionally open, and empathetic find it harder to cope with the problems of those close to them. The relationship between an adult and their parents can be a bit like Pandora’s box. Full of all sorts we probably don’t really want to even think about, let alone see, or even share.

Those brave enough to open that can of worms, Buckle up!

Few are we who do not have some kind of tangled emotions, unresolved clouds of baggage with our folks. ‘They fuck you up, your mum and dad. They don’t mean to, but they do’, said a wise man many moons ago.

This Be The Verse

BY Philip larkin

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.

They may not mean to, but they do.

They fill you with the faults they had

And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn

By fools in old-style hats and coats,

Who half the time were soppy-stern

And half at one another’s throats.

Man hands on misery to man.

It deepens like a coastal shelf.

Get out as early as you can,

And don’t have any kids yourself.

I discovered something about my mum when I was 35. Grown and independent, myself a mother, and married. This was a huge game-changer. And the way I discovered it not undramatic, I might add. My mum has paranoid schizophrenia. She is schizophrenic. I grew up living with my mum. Her and her schizophrenia, or what I understood (was told) to be her depression. So here’s the thing about boundaries. They are rarely lines, as clearly defined and specific, fixed as a deliberate line. More like a hazy area or gradient. Ombre separation. The journey from one space to another. from one state to another, fluid and changeable, volatile even, just like our emotions.

A conversation, mundane and normal, within all expectation, without turmoil – tomorrow includes the neighbours, your sister, the president back home, her at the bakery and the priest… in a tangled premeditated web of deceit and betrayal – in all your conviction and commitment to saving me from this conspiracy and evil-. I yearn for boundaries to help me distinguish between you and your illness and repair the trust and connection, where your reasoning might seem sound and your theories have just enough seeds of possible interpretation of truth to be plausible, plus your need for me to buy-in to your reality, to connect and validate you, accept you and be on your side– and my need to not lose you, my mum, my security and point of reference. Unconditional love and support. You are not your paranoia. But today you cannot be separated from it. Your schizophrenia does not define you but that distinction is so hard to find. The hard, bold line between before and after… a boundary hard to shift. Borders between then and now, you and me, trust and fear. We change, inevitably. The boundaries and borders between us forever betraying us one way or another.

I will never again be who I was yesterday.

But, all the people I have been contribute to who I will continue to discover I can be.

“I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends.”

Joan Didion.


Fotografía de Ehimetalor Unuabona

M. Papiri

Educator and linguist

Educator, linguist, mummy and brave adventurer.