Diary of an Unapologetic Immigrant
“I’m. Sorry. I. Don’t. Know. What. You’re. Saying,”
There was that phrase again. The phrase that, while to some may seem like a neutral statement of not being able to comprehend what one has said, to you was the equivalent of drowning in open waters. You’d even go as far as comparing it to having a knife dragged across your abdomen. First, your body would succumb to the element of shock, then, confusion, as you try to process the fact that you have a large gaping hole in your stomach where your belly button once was. You feverishly try to cover up the hole with both hands, but blood would continue to pour out in thick ribbons onto the floor. You stammer incomprehensible words to call for help and shuffle from one foot to the other to gain balance, but it’s no use. Eventually, you give up. You allow yourself to slowly fall backward in silence.
Of course, they didn’t. No one could understand a word that you said.
Was it even worth trying to explain yourself at all?
To explain that it wasn’t your plan to move to a completely different country?
That you didn’t know that you would be here permanently?
Or, even worse, that you would find yourself in a crumbling 7-Eleven, trying to form a coherent sentence at 1 A.M. to a woman asking about boxed wine?
“I-I...small English,” you say carefully.
“Yeah, clearly,” the woman responds while throwing the boxed wine on the counter and leaving the store in frustration.
Could you blame her?
Wasn’t it your fault that you couldn’t speak English?
Or your parents? It’s not as if they’re skills in the language were any better than yours.
You pick up the (battered) boxed wine and return it to the back of the shelf, as your manager showed you on your first day.
“Okay, now anything that gets a little roughed up or ruined, don’t throw it away. Just put it at the back of the shelf,” he said.
You just stood there, eyes wide in confusion.
He sighs heavily before grabbing a box of Turtles and ripping open the packaging before putting it at the back of the shelf in an exaggerated manner.
Still not understanding what he means, you nod anyway.
Which is something that you have been doing a lot of lately. You resort to emphasized gestures to get your point across. Really, you were a walking and breathing mime. Everyday seemed like a circus act of hand gestures, overly-exaggerated facial expressions, and holding objects up to your face.
It has gotten to the point where you even forgot what your own voice sounds like.
Noticing a minor spill by the slushie machine, you roll the mop bucket cart from the back and clean up the puddle; every so often, you catch yourself singing a familiar melody.
Sometimes, when it was really dead in the night, you would listen to music in your language and belt out the lyrics as if it were second nature. Just to hear your old voice again. The way it dripped of honey as every syllable unfurled like flowers from back home. If you speak fast, it had the force of rapid winds that would sweep across valleys of lush, green grass. Speaking slow, it had remnants of late summer evenings with wine outside on a patio.
Your voice was that of your parents; it can be compared to that of a stubborn compass. Always pointing towards home.
You begin to cry as the music nears towards the end.
When will you hear your voice again?