Merely Lingual

Spanish or French?

That was the question every kid in my middle school had to answer by the end of sixth grade. Most of us just shrugged and picked Spanish. Some of the more ambitious students (girls mostly) chose French.

At eleven, my life wasn’t set to fall apart for another few months; I couldn’t see ten years into the future and know if I was going to study abroad or meet some foreign hottie (I couldn’t even catch the attention of a the one cute boy whose voice already changed), so I shrugged into seventh grade Spanish along with most of my classmates.

It was a disaster. Even in that calm month before the impending three year storm, I sucked at Spanish. Turns out, I would have been just as horrible at French. Or German. Or Japanese. Or any other non-English language. This was in the nineties of course; so while there were tests for learning disabilities, they weren’t widely used at my school, and my mother probably wouldn’t have let me be tested anyway. She was a teacher, and she believed: once labeled, always labeled.

Three weeks before I turned twelve, my struggles with language became trivial. My dad had written me a letter, and, after more than a year of silence, I agreed to see him.

Unlike most of my family, I love my dad. It took me a long time to understand his shortcomings as a parent, but I think I love him even more now because of it. The only thing I will never understand is why he chose to marry his fourth and final wife. She is the most ridiculous human. No one cries that much and means it!

My grandpa drove but didn’t go inside. He stayed in his car chain-smoking and reading. The evil new wife was there with my dad. I wasn’t there to see her, yet she dominated the visit as usual. Worse, she was all bubbly and weepy about it – like seeing me after so long was so wonderful – like she hadn’t thrown something at my face the last time I was there – like she was still trying to be my mom even though I had a perfectly good one back home. And at least my mom didn’t use crocodile tears to get attention and sympathy! My mom hated when people felt sorry for her.

This other woman needed to get the hell out of my space. She needed to not hug me (cringe). She needed to leave the room (or the country), so I could find out why my dad didn’t stand up to hug me and why there was a cane propped against the couch where he was sitting.

I found out what was going on. But I found out from the woman I hated. She loaded me up with so much medical information that I went home believing that I was going to die of the same disease. Lou Gehrig’s used to be rare – the hereditary cases even rarer. By the end of an hour listening to the Crocodile, I was so stuffed with genetic information that I wanted to die quickly before something much more horrible happened.

Even if I didn’t develop the disease, my children (especially my sons) might. From that moment on, I didn’t want to be a mother; I didn’t want to fall in love just to watch that love die. The fact that I am a mom now is astounding, but don’t give me too much credit. I didn’t overcome anything, and I’m still terrified that I’ll live long enough to watch…

I’m just terrified. Let’s leave it at that and get back to the original purpose of this ramble.

Postmortem: I was messed up emotionally. I didn’t care about school, so my grades dropped. If I learned any Spanish, it was quickly forgotten. I switched from public to private school, held myself back a grade, and somehow skipped out on the language requirement until college.

Would you believe I tried to learn Latin my first semester? Latin! It is the coolest language ever, but I flunked it. A couple years later, I went back to Spanish and somehow scraped an A for the semester, thus fulfilling my bilingual obligation to society.

I can’t prove it, but I’m fairly certain that A was a gift given out of pity by a native Spanish speaker; my professor saw how much I struggled and how much harder than everyone else I had to work. I can’t even remember seeing anything over a B on my tests! Today, if you asked me to conjugate a verb, I could probably do it. Past that, I’m useless.

It’s a good thing I’m never getting married because I would want to go to Spain. More specifically: Valencia in mid-March for the burning festival. Traveling to other countries without learning the language is perfectly acceptable, but I’m not sure I could do it. Just moving to another region of the US was a challenge for me.