If I Knew French This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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If I knew French, man, I’d speak it all the time. German’s pretty beastly. Yeah, it’s easy, but to Americans it sounds like grunting. Everything sounds better in French.

Dad wanted me to learn Thai years ago, thought that maybe it’d be cool if I ever traveled to Mom’s home country. But they don’t offer Thai in school, and Mom couldn’t really speak English, so we worked on that instead. I can say “bath” in Thai, and “go away,” and what my mom claimed meant “stop” but I always translated as “Would you shut the hell up, ‘The Price Is Right’ is on.” I don’t know if there’s an actual word for it in English, but “lahm-cahn” seemed to sum it up pretty well.

It looks terrible in English, actually. Thai has its own alphabet, with swirly letters and tons of squiggles, and different ways to pronounce every word to make it mean something completely different. Like “cow.” In English it’s a type of animal. In Thai, if it’s “khâo” it’s rice, but if it’s “khao” it’s a family member, and if it’s pronounced “kaaaah-ow” it’s an adjective of some sort. If you need to tell a family member about the rice, you’re all kinds of screwed. “Khao, the khâo is kaaaaah-ow. Khao!” I’ve never understood how they can communicate without resorting to awkward sign language and pointing.

That’s how my mom taught me to cook. Pointing at seasonings, random bottles with Wolfgang Puck on the label, and she’d say, “Mai-aou, Tee, put in. Smells good.” And I’d shake a bit in with some bread crumbs, dip some chicken in, and deep-fry the sucker. There’s no real secret to cooking, just some patience, and a lot of hot oil. Either deep-fry it, cover it in gravy, or serve it with tater tots. That’s the only secret to cooking.

Dad never was able to cook. After she left, he tried to poach eggs in the microwave once. He found one of those cheap little magic-egg plastic contraptions that they sell at Dominick’s for 99 cents.

It exploded the first time he used it. Didn’t just wake me up, it scared me senseless. I stumbled downstairs to find the microwave door plastered with yellow and orange.

“The directions said to cook it for three minutes,” he said over and over.

“Why didn’t you just use the egg poacher?”

“It should have worked. The directions said to cook it for three minutes.”

The rest of the week he treated it like a bizarre science problem. He took the contraption to the garage and drilled holes in the top.

“It’s a pressure problem,” he explained, before exploding the thing again, breaking the hinge this time. He wouldn’t throw it out, though.

“It is never going to work,” I told him.

“I’ll fix it,” he said.

After that, I ended up cooking dinner most nights. Breakfast, too, when I could find the time. I hadn’t realized ’til then how often people eat, how many dishes they use for a meal, how many crusty utensils and pans are left in the sink at the end of the day. I do the laundry now too. He can’t iron. Or won’t, I guess. I don’t see how you “can’t.”

Mom used to iron all my clothes, everything, my jeans too. I can’t break myself of the habit. I’ll iron them and realize how stupid they look, so I’ll crumple them into a ball and throw them on the floor and put them on the next day and you know what, they’re jeans. You can’t tell either way. It doesn’t matter.

Nothing really matters. I could stop ironing everything. I could start buying TV dinners instead of meat. It wouldn’t really change anything. But I don’t like change, so I just keep doing that stuff, I guess.

I don’t want to end up like Grandma. She hates change. Mom used to call her every day, around eight at night. They’d talk for a few minutes, that’s all. But after she left, Grandma would call me.

“I love you,” she’d repeat, a meaningless mantra.

“Yeah, I know. I love you too,” I’d reply, the same words since I was four.

A month later, I couldn’t do it anymore. I’d let Dad answer it.

“Mother, please … Yes … Okay … I know, I know … Please … Okay. Bye.”

She stopped calling so often after that.

Then Grandma called Mom at her new home. My sister told me later what they’d said. “You’re abandoning your daughter,” Grandma had told Mom, and Mom had cried.

I didn’t really care. Nothing really matters.

It’s not like I hadn’t seen it coming. She’d always been incredibly honest with me. I was the first to know where babies came from. I knew exactly what kinds of magazines my brother kept under his bed, and why I wasn’t allowed to read them. I knew that I was the only reason she hadn’t left, that one day I would be a big girl and not need her anymore.

And so one day she went on vacation to my sister’s in Maine and never came back. That’s just how it was. Whatever. Nothing really matters.

I’ll be in college in a year, and maybe I’ll visit her sometime. Take her for coffee or something. Her accent is the coolest thing, especially when she tries to say French words. She ends up turning it into something completely new. A la carte? “Accalar.” It’s another word in that vocabulary that only we share.

But it’s not a real language, so whatever. Nothing really matters.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






Join the Discussion

This article has 3 comments. Post your own now!

Sparrows said...
Apr. 5, 2009 at 9:28 pm
I like it but I am confused about why she left
 
i_am_nobody replied...
Aug. 23, 2010 at 1:18 pm
same here.
 
purplerose said...
Oct. 1, 2008 at 12:06 pm
I love it! i can relate with it. keep writing.
 
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