Start at sixteen, going on seventeen. Old enough to drive a car but not so old that the insides of your brain have cemented themselves into the permanence of only knowing one language. Or half of a language, as your mom would say, because she doesn’t understand how someone can be so smart and still not be able to spell deserve and receive. “What do you need another language for when you can’t use the one you have?” she’ll ask.
Get a job in a restaurant anyway. The restaurant isn’t high-end, like the kind your father takes you to when he comes to visit in the summer, because you’ve seen the cooks there, they’re called chefs, and they’re all white boys with pudgy, dough faces. If they speak Spanish, you know it will be Spanish like your friend Amy, who taught herself out of a book and says “ko-mo es-ta you-sted” to everybody she meets who has skin darker than hers.
No, it is one of those low-end restaurants, one that gives your mother a brain aneurism that you want to work there, because it’s in a strip mall and the parking lot is not lit at night and there are trucker-men who come in. But you can tell her that your friend Heather works there and she’ll give you a ride, no worries. And your mother will not want to say anything bad about Heather, because Heather might be only 16, but she is already accepted at Cornell, and you know that in your mother’s mind there is a possibility that riding to work with Heather will give you some kind of Cornell-acceptance osmosis.
Read the rest of How to Learn a Language at Storyglossia. I’m so honored to have my story published in this great literary magazine, and they even included an interview with me about the story, which was a blast. I really had to sit down and ask myself all kinds of questions about why I’d written the story and what I was trying to say. A million thanks to Storyglossia for publishing it, another million thanks to my writing students who inspired it (this story began as part of an in-class assignment that I gave my students a few years ago), and another trillion thanks to you for reading my words!
Kiss kiss bang bang, s.