I grew up grappling with the English language. It was a series of shoulder throws, breakfalls, pulling, and pushing. Growing up on the international border proved words were currency, allowing you access to several commodities but failure at proficiency left you vulnerable for exploiters. Panic and suspicion would color my parent’s faces when confronted with the garble of the unknown phonetics. At the first opportunity, they entered me in school and exposed me to the world unbeknownst to them.
It was, in lack of better words, a less than pretty transfer. A speech therapist employed by the elementary would hold others along with myself back on Wednesdays and Fridays to work on our pronunciation. The words left an aftertaste of frustration and embarrassment. The alien words proved deceiving: rules were built to be contradicted, different letter combinations were pronounced similarly, and its great unpredictability was an understatement. Still, my mother’s longing expression as she gazed upon the English-written books made me curious as to what kind of contents they could hold.
In fourth grade, a teacher named Mrs. Rojas took particular interest in my writing, mostly because I expressed my extreme distaste for the practice. She sparked my interest when she read out loud “Because of Win-Dixie”. With my finger, I would follow the lines she read down the worn-down pages. Her multiple voices and sudden voice elevations enraptured my mind and made me look forward to the next reading session. Secretly, I would read ahead of the class trying to make my own voices with high intonations for the young protagonist and a low croak for the older characters. As she read, I would covertly scribble important events on a torn piece of wide-ruled paper. At home, I would re-tell the important events to my mother to share the joy I felt from reading the small novel. During this time, I would see her behavior change. She would curl up in my bed, covers her chin, and stare at me in anticipation for the next event I would describe. In this setting, she did not look imposing or hurried, instead, she contained this infectious childish giddy that would make laughter bubble out after every few details I would add to the story. As the story flowed, she would interrupt with questions of her own, smile in the parts that made me grin, and become sad in the parts I cried in. When the novel ended, I hungrily waited for the next book. And the next. And the next.
Mother Listening To Stories Credit: Alexa Melendez
I steadily grew a love for books, if only, to relay to my mother later. The books grew heavier as time passed. They amassed larger vocabulary and set up intricate storylines. Fantasy, thriller, dystopian, with no discrimination they all fell prey to my hands. Without me noticing, a repertoire of vocabulary had been collected and there was a noticeable improvement in my writing. A heartwarming instance that lured me into the world of writing involved Mrs. Rojas. It was a school day afternoon and I had just finished running a lap around the gymnasium for volleyball practice. Her head poked out from an opened door, and she signaled me to come forward. I quickly excused myself and she began leading me into her classroom, the sound of her heels clicking and clacking the linoleum floor echoing in the empty hallways. She gestured for me to sit, and I plopped on the plastic chair. After shuffling some papers, she paused and looked at me – the entirety of my sweaty self-melting into a pile of stuttering nerves. “I shared it with my husband you know”, she began, “the paper you wrote last week”. Okay, unexpected statement. I nodded unsure where this would follow. “He loved it. When did you suddenly learn how to write so well?”. I tilted my head unsure of what paper she was talking about. She pulled out a paper filled with nearly indecipherable scribbling that I recognized as mine. She began to read my paper out loud. It was a short essay, written in the five-paragraph format she had taught us, using the thesis formula she had emphasized, and contained but two grammar mistakes. After finishing she looked up and cracked a grin mirroring my own. It was indeed a well-written paper. One I could play in the cinema within my head. “Can I share it with the others? Print copies for the future classes?”. I nodded with fervor and after saying thanks, she sent me on my way.
Looking back, it was just two people. No one believes they are the ones to cause a change and be the one grain of rice that tilts the scale. Nevertheless, in such a mundane afternoon, an additional one person was all the force needed to lead me down the path I continue today. Since I have used the iconic five-paragraph essay and the read books with the same ardor I had since the fourth grade.