Learning to Love Without Words | Teen Ink

Learning to Love Without Words

December 27, 2018
By Anonymous

Language has to be one of the most fundamental parts of life. It brings people together with the gift of communication and its importance cannot be underestimated. Until I couldn’t use it, I didn’t realize how precious it was. Staring at her aged, Venezuelan grandmother, six-year-old me wants to do nothing more than talk to her. There’s one problem.


I do not speak Spanish.


This is, ultimately, the fault of no one but myself. A working immigrant father and stay-at-home deaf mother were not a great recipe for learning a language that wasn’t absolutely necessary. I got along fine without it, shouldn’t I focus on my speech impediment? I should learn how to enunciate the letter ‘r’ before trying to pick up something else. Years passed. I watched my grandmother’s smile fade slowly, and a wheelchair become her confinement. I watched her head start to bow, and I wanted to ask her why. I was eleven years old.


I spent full school years in programs that were supposed to teach me how to talk to her. I sat in a hot classroom for hours every day in a school that wasn’t mine over summers so I could pick up words in a language I wished was mine. But it’s so easy! Everybody who lives in South Florida speaks Spanish! These were words I heard repeated, for much longer than I was comfortable with. I had no answer.


The size of my father’s side of the family is substantial. He has ten siblings, scattered around the globe. They had one undeniable thing in common: their mother. My grandmother, or Lola (a nickname my brother gave her since he couldn’t pronounce abuela). For me, I felt like my thread to her was severed when I was born. With such a failure to communicate, how could I ever claim her as my abuela when I couldn’t speak her language? How could I ever feel at home at her house, where all the words being said are foreign to me? A language is supposed to be an association, a link, and a common love. For me, it was a barrier, a hopeless boundary that I could only hope to get past with age.


Then, age hit. Not for me. My grandma. She had numerous strokes, dementia, and numerous other health problems. She was unable to speak. Any words she could say were fragments, chopped off parts of a sentence she could no longer hold in her mind. There were words I wanted to offer to her, but they fell short every time. I was thirteen. She was on a quick decline, and I felt like I had failed her. Talking to her felt like something I could never do, and besides, it was too late. I had to find other ways to show her I loved her.


She was slowly losing her grip on herself, and reality. I remember seeing her head perpetually bowed, and kissing the top of her hair. Often those were the only interactions we could share anymore. She rode out the rest of her days, finding solace in her youngest grandchildren and offering up rare occasional smiles to the rest of us.


Even towards the end, all I wanted to do was tell her how much I loved her. How much I admired her brutal and unyielding determination to provide for her children, living through extreme poverty in search of an American dream. I never really got the chance to tell her, in words. In other ways, through the squeezing of a hand or a smile that crinkled the edges of the eyes that I got to inherit. Everything I do is for her, in repayment of the things I could never say to her. Abuela, te amo. Todo es siempre para ti.


You live on in my dreams, because I know I was yours.



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