“You were invited, you RSVP’d and then didn’t show up.” “No, I wouldn’t do that! I wasn’t invited, I would have loved to go to that wedding, but I wasn’t invited.” “Yes you were, we sat at the table where you were supposed to sit and there were two empty seats, because you didn’t show.” “Si, y ni dijistes nada.”
I racked my brain trying to go back 10 years and piece back that memory but I couldn’t. I felt awful for having done something so rude and not being able to remember how/why.
10 years ago at 19, my life was in Spanish. I went to work and spoke English for a few minutes a day to my supervisor but most of my work friends were Mexican, making it easy to lapse into Spanish during our morning breaks, during whispered conversations on the way to the bathroom and during our daily lunches filled with boisterous laughter that bounced off the cheap carpet at City Hall East. I even laughed in Spanish, “Ja! ja! ja! Ja!”
At home, I spoke nothing but Spanish. I spoke so much Spanish or Spanglish that I feared that I was losing my grasp on English. Whenever I had to switch over to English abruptly, the words came out thick, my tongue slow as if stuck on peanut butter full of consonants.
Then it stopped.
23, with a new job and single parenthood. Not a single Mexican or Spanish-speaking co-worker in sight.
I curved inwards, trying to find and make sense of who I was. Not being able to express my feelings as freely as they flowed in Spanish; I grew quiet. The English words I released felt so proper and guarded as I took great care to avoid butchering this language that I had placed on pause for so long.
Another job, another life flowed by and the Spanish hardly surfaced. Even my girls, who shared Spanish as a first language, lapsed into all English with a mix of Japanese learned from their Buddhist preschool.
English. Painstakingly listening to the pronunciation of words on Dictionary.com, over and over, whispering the words as I walked to work until I felt comfortable enough to say them out loud to someone.
Now at 29, I miss the reassuring shield that Spanish used to provide. Like a tattered baby blanket, it fell apart in my hands and I find myself working hard to mend it back into the vibrant pattern it once had.
I ran away from Spanish to obliterate the memories that were formed in that beautiful language. It was easier to stop the unpleasant flashbacks if I moved my mental lever to Spanish:Off.
Such a black and white solution might seem callous, cowardly and cold but it worked.
But as my thirties beckon; I find myself gingerly stepping in and out of my Spanish voice and then stomping back in and out as my thoughts swirl into a frenzy and come tumbling out in a new musicality.
A duet that twirls into a self that isn’t quite Spanish and isn’t quite English.
I finally figured out why I didn’t go to the wedding; a once bitter recollection that had been buried in mortification. But that was a lifetime ago, it seems.
As I look forward, shortly immersing myself into a new decade, I hope that I don’t lead such a segmented life. I want to waltz easily to the tune of yesterday while retaining the smile of today.
Not quite English, not quite Spanish but both, hand in hand dancing along.