I never recognized the sense of being an alien until I went home. Thanksgiving, turkey in the oven, ponche on the stove. I inhaled smells that I knew growing up. As I set the table, I rehearsed.
"The diathesis-stress model tells us that a stressful situation, in light of a preexisting risk factor, ignites the disease. Stress-reactive rumination may exacerbate these effects and last night I was reading Shakespeare and finally saw how his sonnets are probably all addressed to this one person, and don’t you wonder about the state of our economy in light of recent events?"
Diathesis-stress model? Really? How would you even say that in Spanish? Rumination must therefore be scratched. And as for Shakespeare? That puts it too over the top.
“Escuela va bien, como han estado ustedes?”
Silence. The absence of sound has never been part of our household. Neither has that look on my mother’s face, forcing a smile. I look down at the floor and think of someway to occupy my time. I go back.
My house was a house of running. My older brother would come chase me around the living room to capture me, at which point my mom would come in for the tickle fight to end all tickle fights until I finally yelled “Me doy por vencida!” (Mercy!) Tears of laughter would roll down my face and too riled up at night to go sleep, my mom would transform into a train. Mimicking the sound of the engine and the honk of the horn, she would give me a piggy-back ride as we boarded the dream train. Destination-my room. The favorite part of the night- mom would read to me in our language. Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Federico Garcia Lorca,
her own poetry.
I realize I haven’t heard these stories in years.
In elementary school I grew passionate with my studies and wanting to play teacher, and as I now realize to fill an egotistical need, I would come home with presents- lists of spelling words in my hands, history textbooks, and later essays, novels, and grand ideas. Armed with this, I would proudly assign my mother homework. At first she played along, excited to learn along with me and proudly keeping pace. My lessons continued. Edgar Allen Poe, then Wordsworth. Eventually some philosophy. Then the lessons stopped. Novels were left unopened on her bedside table and silence became a new family member. It wasn’t that I hadn’t tried. It was that my Spanish was too broken to express complex ideas and her English too primitive. That moment was the first time I could accurately define the word “shame”.
Since then the silence has become part of our life.
“You graduate in a couple of months. You know we’re proud of you.”
The word stings with a force I’m sure they don’t intend. I try again. In English.
“We’ll, you see, I’ve been reading a lot and I just finished a paper on societal discourses of gender identity disorder and…”
It is then that I realize that what I thought had become emptiness, really wasn’t. The air was heavy, not with words but with the absence of them. All possibilities, of things unsaid, lingered like fog on a cold winter night.
I look to the oven. The turkey is ready and doing the only thing fitting I place it on the table and begin again. “Te bendiga padre por los dones que hemos recibido en este ano…”
I wipe away a tear.