Christina: the first days

March 18, 2010

First days are fear. Fear of speaking French, fear of hearing French, fear of being lost and not knowing it. They are dizzying days, delusional days, days when I awake from thin sleep and pull away, frightened, from my dream-selves and my dream-friends who all speak French. Days when my mind hurts, when the tiniest phrases are a mystery, when I cannot see three feet beyond the chaos.

First month is helplessness. It’s humility and vulnerability. This is the month when the smallest things turn out to be the biggest challenges: buying a cell phone, sending a letter, taking the train for the first time. It’s the month when I sleep for days, head-sick and heart-empty from the physical strain of staying awake. And, in the most unromantic, un-French way, it’s the feeling of being stupid.

Second month is unsettling. Waking thoughts are an undecipherable mix of French and English—thoughts that swim between two languages and two worlds, often within the same sentence. Dreams are still in French. And my memory—that once sacred and secret place I thought was my own—is now so interwoven with the present that I no longer know what is true. Conversations I had with my friends and family in the United States before I left, lines from books I read in English, stories from my favorite American radio show—all these things I instinctively remember in French.

Throughout it all: the sinister feeling of powerlessness. I speak French, but badly, so when I open my mouth this language exposes my weaknesses and holds tight to the limits of what I am allowed to communicate.

But penetrate beneath the lack (of courage, of knowledge, of skill), and it’s two months of living. It’s constant awareness—of self, of word, of sound, of other. It’s an everlasting feeling of being alive in a way that I’ve never experienced before. It’s discovery, and novelty, and conception. It’s that great freedom that comes from knowing all I have to do for the next five months is learn this language.

It’s this new feeling of ownership and the intuition that something always waits for me.


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