“The first rule of the wall,” my father told me when I was five, “is being constantly conscious of its presence.” I remember my palm getting sweatier in his hand and my eyes having a hard time adjusting to the extent of the tallest structure I’d seen back then, one that scooped a diagonal part of the sky and stretched from one end of the horizon to another.
Twenty-six years later, the border wall still begs for attention and demands from whoever passes through to stop and appreciate its crude symmetry. Two towns of the same name neighbor one another from beyond the border and look similarly lifeless for decades. Most days, it is only an accent mark that identifies them, that crooked line curving over the first “a” and imitating the shape of the wall.
Apart from their names and the repeated letters in them, not two of anything coexists in twin Sasabes. No siblings or double roads. No double copies of a book, save for the Spanish-language Bibles found in the backpacks of some crossers and jumpers. Not anyone with a pair of eyes or ears or limbs or organs equally functional. Not even any two days are alike. Often weeds, snakes, and politics dictate what’s needed to be done in any given twenty-four-hour period.
One border, one belief, one God, one sun, and one moon loom over the dirt roads that ripple in every direction and lead to either side of the Americas. Everything in each town is shelved in its own place, rarely bending or crossing the line. Officers forget their equipment in people’s dark places; folks barely have fun out of strip clubs. Bedroom activities don’t leave the brothels, and emotions are safely preserved in adobe houses. There’s also one school, one ranch, one bar, one post office, and one general store with fuel pumps and all the souvenirs put up for the tourists that are never around, including a landscape postcard that reads SASABE? to depict both places for what they’re known for the most: obscurity.
So obscure that when the only general store is closed on Mondays, one must drive all the way into the Mexican side of the border, to a roadside vendor who rides from San Miguel every morning with plenty of everything to offer, unlike the desert she works. It is unclear what side of the sand came before the other, but the one in Arizona, one without the accent mark, is where my father and I make one hundred and twenty an hour now in his thirty-year-old Ford Bronco and about two miles into the English-spoken side of the border. Here the sun is high and its shadow short, and I gaze out the windshield and think about how much each Sasabe looks like the other, like a vast sandy hole scarred by a steel wall and marked by the imposing presence of saguaros whose arms mimic the bodies sometimes found in their shades, like a mob of chalk fairies.
The United Saguaros of America, my mother used to joke about it.
My mother also used to tell me that life outside the desert is full of options. If you were from up north, she’d say, you could always go to sea. Or if you were from around the sea, like her, you could take the ocean anytime. And if you were from the ocean, you could hit the road in any direction of the world you’d like.
But if you are from the desert, she would say, where will you go?