Something happens to my tongue when I speak Spanish. It widens and thickens, becoming a wild, unmanageable appendage. This unwieldy beast trips and traipses as I coerce it to form Spanish words. Orgulloso, arodillaron, imagínate, all half-marathons that I must complete in order to finish a thought or a sentence.
This morning, I tried to say something fairly simple in Spanish: I was thinking that maybe we could do these exercises. But the untameable shrew of my tongue couldn’t follow the slow and pea-soup dense maze of conjugation in my brain, resulting in a phrase that was unintelligible and brought out the crinkle between the brows of my tutor’s forehead. I often wonder: On a scale of one to Donald Trump, how idiotic do I sound?My 3-hour Spanish tutoring sessions feel very much like self-flagellation – each mis-pronunciation a stripe on an already shredded threadbare back, unfinished thoughts dangling mid-air as I cast frantically for a word to bridge the distance between me and a language that is not my mother tongue.
Speaking my first language is so much easier. I never have to consider what mood I should use or how to conjugate the third-person singular in the subjunctive. I never worry about demonstrative adjectives or if I’ve used the direct object preposition when I should have used the indirect object one. It just happens. The coordination between my brain and tongue is seamless – the words a-ready in my mouth in the instant that I need them.
After struggling to be heard and understood in Spanish all morning, speaking English feels a lot like skipping, like standing on one of those moving passageways in the airport while everyone else is trudging along with weights on their legs. It’s that effortless. I want to break out my tap dancing shoes (and I don’t even tap dance) and yell “watch this” as I execute perfectly coherent and grammatically structured sentences.
When speaking Spanish, I have the unmatched grace of a drunk baby elephant, bumbling and stumbling all over the place.
When I speak English, however, I’m a Grandmaster of chess, the 4-time winner of the Indy 500, and a prima ballerina – all at once.
There’s this release- like after successfully carrying your 50 grocery bags into the house in one trip without dropping or breaking anything– that comes with speaking one’s mother tongue. For me, that release is magnified tenfold when I write.
When I write, I am Prometheus, both fire thief and fire gifter, broken chains dangling at my sides. Sweat glistening from the effort of daily wrestling with an eagle of a broken world. Writing is the torch with which I defiantly steal fire from the Sun, lighting the path for myself and those around me. My torch, ablaze–a refiner’s fire — removing impurities, burning away ego and clarifying purpose, allowing me to write those things that I can never verbalize no matter the language. Every written word a way of harnessing the power that resides in ink and font type. A lit torch that turns a slight case of pyromania into full-fledged arson.
In some ways, this is my raison d’être. I write because it keeps that damned eagle of regret and wastefulness away for one day longer. I write because it keeps the chains from tightening around my wrists. I write because it keeps my torch lit and ready for battle. It is here at my waiting keyboard that I am unshackled. Unbound. This is liberation personified. It’s the best way that I know of to get free.
Perhaps one day, I’ll speak Spanish as fluently as English, but it will never match the fire that burns — within and without — from writing.