From 1975 (ok, probably 1976) to 1980, I didn’t speak English. Only Spanish. So says my mom; I have absolutely no memory of it. Whenever I really try to access that español, it just escapes me. I see my Spanish speaking friends. I want to say, “hey! what’s up! How was your weekend!?” Sitting here right now, I know I can say Hola! Cómo estas! (“Hi, how are you!”). … I even want to say Qué tal! but I learned that in Spanish class in high school, one of five Spanish classes in school that never stuck. I’m pretty sure Qué tal is a Spain “what’s up” thing, not a Mexican one… . And to ask about the weekend? I want to say Cómo pasó tu semana? But Google translate tells me that was “How did you spend your week”. I learn it’s better to say Como fué tu fin de semana? So I missed the “end” in weekend and I have no idea if pasó is just as good as fué. All that stumbling around in my head makes me mute; I actually don’t end up saying any of it. For me, speaking Spanish starts with an internal knowledge that I know how to say a simple thing. Certainly, when I was five years old, I could say all sorts of things in Spanish! Nowadays, when I open my mouth to speak Spanish, my brain goes blank.
All that incorrectness and awkwardness hits me in the split second I approach a conversation in Spanish. I say Hola! Como estas!? Friends ask how I’m doing, and I easily reply Muy bien, gracias. I also laugh stiffly, because that’s all I’ve got. I just can’t seem to converse. And yet when I’m out and about, especially since I’ve been studying Spanish lately (AGAIN!) I have the Spanish words and sentences float up in my consciousness. And I don’t know exactly what the words mean. For example, por ejemplo, it’s when I’m at the store and Spanish speaking Mexican moms call out to their children. Out of nowhere, I think ya se cavó. At least, that’s what I thought I was remembering. I repeated it to my mom, and she didn’t know what phrase I was referring to. Ya se cayó (he fell down)? Or Ya se calló (he paused)? So I figured I had it wrong, again. But that ya se cavó just kept popping in my head at the store, where mothers were calling out to their kids, even though I hadn’t heard the actual phrase.
Turns out, I was remembering Ya se acabó. (It’s finished.) It’s finished. It’s finished. I just kept thinking it as I walked around the store. Ya se acabó. Ya se acabó. Ya se acabó. My mom says that’s what she would’ve said it if there was no more ice cream, that kind of thing. “There’s no more!” And somehow, with me in that context around mothers and little kids, my brain just kept saying those words to me. It’s like my brain felt like I belonged, and had something to say. In Spanish. Péro, mama, quiero más! Por favor!
I’m going to keep working on my Spanish. I feel like there’s a place in my brain that’s just waiting for me to get to it, a whole well of Spanish speaking that’s deep inside. I almost think that it would have been better for me if I’d never spoken Spanish at all, maybe those years of Spanish lessons would have stuck after all. It’s so frustrating to know I used to know how to speak this language. The efforts I make as an adult feel deeply inadequate, I really feel as if I should be able to say so many more things, so much more easily, than I’m actually able. I can start thinking about something and want to communicate it in Spanish, and inside my mind, I hear the cadence of the Spanish words, I hear my heart saying something, but it’s so faint. I can’t quite get to it. It’s there and not there.
Quiero poder aprender español otra vez. Quiero poder hablar. Quiero poder explicar lo que pienso. Quiero recordar lo que me olvidé.
I want to be able to learn Spanish again. I want to be able to speak. I want to be able to explain what I’m thinking. I want to remember what I forgot.