I am Wren. I was born on a bus. That’s what my mother tells me. But she was also on so many drugs when she had me that I don’t know what she remembers correctly and what she invented in her delirious, maddened state.
She named me Wren Robin Finch Nightingale. My mother shares that last name with me, but she never needed to carry around the weight of three other birds along with it. I still can’t believe that she was allowed to decide what to legally name me when she was clearly strung out on more substances than I know how to name.
The point is, whether I like it or not, I am Wren. My mother is a drug addict. My father is a truck driver who gave her a lift and shared a hotel room with her for a night. He fed her. She says he was a nice man. I guess that makes me feel better about it. The fact that she doesn’t remember his name doesn’t.
She doesn’t do drugs anymore, mind you. She got clean after I was born. But she goes to meetings every day and she knows that she will never lose the track marks on her arms just as the craving for something to lift her up will never leave her either. She reminds me that because I have her genes, I’m most likely an addict too. Even though I’m only fifteen and I’ve never even tried a puff of a cigarette.
I am Wren, and today I am getting on a bus and going to visit my aunt for the first time. My mom finally got the courage to friend her on Facebook, and they renewed their relationship. My aunt wants to meet me, and I guess I want to meet her, but I’m not sure about spending the whole of spring break at her house in California.
My mother and I live in Las Vegas, and spring break is a good business time. My mom has two jobs – she reads Tarot cards at night and is a dealer at a casino during the day. She only does the Tarot reading three nights a week, but now that I’m going to be gone, she’s going to be working as many shifts as she can so that during the summer she can afford to take time off and then we can both go and visit my aunt.
But for now it’s only me. Wren. Leaving my mother for the first time in my life. Leaving Nevada for the first time. Flying away from the nest for the very first time. I’m terrified. I’m excited. I’m terrified.
Grandmother Isabelle never learned to bake. Other old women on the block were well loved for the cookies and cakes they handed down, smiling, from their wide and well-swept porches. The children ignored the missing teeth and the doughy cheeks in order to receive the extra desserts.
Grandmother Isabelle didn’t have a porch. She lived in the back room of her daughter’s house, and had her own door with its own lock and its own matching key, different than that off the main door. She spent her days watching soap operas. Her daughter and her son in law invited her over for lunch on Saturdays, but she didn’t often go.
The children thought she was a witch. Grandmother Isabelle decided, one Halloween, to go out dressed like one, but no one recognized her then. After Halloween, she went to the sales isle in the grocery store and bought cheap spiderwebs and cauldrons and pre-dribbled candles. She set them up outside her doorway, and waited for the kids that sometimes dared each other to tap on her window at night.
The first time it happened, she shined a green flashlight at them. The second time, she put a skull mask in front of the light. The third, she tried an evil cackle – the children ran away so quickly that they didn’t hear the fit of coughing that resulted.
I landed at Newark Airport a week and one day ago, at 6am in the morning. It was a long and unpleasant flight, but it ended, and I arrived at my destination safely, which is important.
Since then, it seems as if a whole month’s worth of events has already occurred.
My first day back, while I was still jet-lagged and hadn’t been on campus for even twelve hours, I volunteered to be an assistant stage manager for my school’s production of Macbeth. That same evening, I also went to the rehearsal of the weekly cabaret show we had. During those first five days, then, I had an average of about six hours of rehearsal a day. This week is a little easier, because I only have Mackers, which is four to five hours a day.
In addition, today was the first day I felt uncomfortable participating in class; I hadn’t finished the reading, which is something I hardly ever allow myself to do.
Then there is also the issue of several of my friends going through very hard time – I’m worried about them and feel responsible for some of them even though I know I shouldn’t.
Ranting doesn’t really help as much as it should.
Crammed in a corner of a booth, Marta watched the flurry of snow outside obscure the street. There were two people she didn’t know sitting across from her. The storm had ushered everyone inside and the owners didn’t want to kick anyone out. It was uncomfortable – Marta was a reporter, used to talking to people, but she was also used to being prepared. Being invaded by this couple made her feel as if she was back home.
They were bickering. It was whispered – hissed, really. Marta kept wanting to wipe nonexistent spit off her face. She tried hard not to look at them, but her plate was empty and her book was too dense to concentrate on in the louder-than-usual bustle.
Another similarity to home, that overcrowded air. Different, though, was the fact that the diner seemed to have been invaded, whereas home had never been any different. She clenched her fist and caught the couple staring at it. She took it off the table and hid it in her lap, turning a page of her book with the other hand even though she hadn’t taken in anything on the previous page.
She glanced out again. There was no one in the street that she could see, but then they might be behind the first or second or third curtain of snow.
There were a million reasons for why she was sitting alone – more alone than she’d have felt if there was no one else at the table with her – and at least half of those were reasonable. But a deep, black rage bubbled inside her and she had to put her book down to be able to clench her other fist in her lap.
Maybe it’s because I’m bilingual, but I find that reading translated works is almost always less satisfying to me than reading things in their original language. I read Crime and Punishment during my last semester, and while I ended up loving it – which isn’t to say it didn’t drive me crazy – I also didn’t like it nearly as much as any of the other classics that I read that semester that had all be written originally in English.
Now I’ve started reading The Red and the Black, and I’m enjoying it immensely. The beginning was slow, though, and it took me some time to get into the flow of the writing style; once I did, I managed to begin to find the characters and the social dynamics to be fascinating.
And yet – there’s something missing there. I think, though I can’t be sure, that it’s the fact that I’m reading a translation from the French. I feel that there’s something inevitably lost in the translation process, and it’s something that is impossible to regain unless I learn to read French perfectly and read it in the original. Even then, I’ll have had to have lived in France long enough to understand the ins and outs of the idioms, the connotations of certain phrases and the way I’m supposed to feel about Napoleonic history.
I’m so glad that I’m bilingual and am able to enjoy reading books in two languages – English and Hebrew – and feel the incredible and fascinating difference between writing styles in each of them. However, I wonder whether I’d notice that hard-to-describe lack in the translated works I’m going to be reading this semester if I was monolingual.
Thoughts? Comments? Have any of you felt this or do you think I’m crazy?
Judy tried to frown. Standing in front of her mirror, she tried to maker her lips curve down naturally. It didn’t work – her whole mouth would sort of shift into a strange diagonal line and the lips would almost disappear. She pulled the corners of her lips down with the forefinger of each hand and looked at the result. It was ridiculous. Walking back to her typewriter, she pressed the newfangled “delete” button that automatically whited out the previous words she’d written, which had been “I frowned.” She had just realized that there wasn’t really such a thing as frowning, or that at least she herself didn’t know how to do it.
Over the little white squares that hid the falsity, she tapped out a more accurate description, slowly speaking the words aloud and pulling them through her mouth like a piece of gum. “I furr-r-r-rowed my bro-o-ow.” With a loud CLICK, the page juttered up and sideways, the typewriter moving it mechanically so that she could type out the next line.
It was the seventy-second day of her experiment, and a big stack of papers already stood beside the machine. She had another eighteen before she needed to start sending the manuscript out. After that, she’d have another sixty – and not a day more than that – before she had to return to her day-job. Her heart sometimes pounded with adrenaline as she pounded the keys with her two forefingers, the same ones that pulled down her lips in order to check the authenticity of a frown. They were her trusty sidekicks and she often had nightmares about them getting slammed in doors or drawers, or being chopped off by knives. She’d wake up with them stuffed into her mouth, awkwardly, with drool sticking her cheek to the cheap pillow-case.
The light was fading but Judy didn’t turn the light on yet. She tried to save electricity so that her bills wouldn’t give her a heart attack. She kept typing as the sounds of the evening news rose and fell in the apartments around her.
As a twenty-one-year old college student, I’m well aware that I’m still living in a bubble of parental care and structured life, even though I’m encouraged to act independently and take on responsibilities of my own. Still, once I graduate (in two and a half years) I will need to deal with a monster scarier than in any horror story you can imagine: the infamous Real World. I sometimes wonder if I’ll be able to handle it. I’ve decided that there should be a specific school that teaches how to be an adult. Here are the courses I imagine:
-How to Manage Your Money 101 (a required course for the following electives: How to Be Frugal Without Being Stingy; The Bare Essentials: What Are They?; How to Take a Vacation Without Regretting it Forever; and the ever-popular How to Pay Off Your Student Loans.)
-Being Single (a required course for the following electives: How to Know When It’s Time to Break Up; How to Dump Your Partner with Kindness, Courtesy, and Minimal Ego-Damage; How to Survive Rejection; Bars, Beaches and Bowling Alleys: Meeting People; The Online Dating Scene: Going Digital)
-Tax Returns and Living Alone: Life Skills (a required course for the following electives: Leaving Home: Tragedy or Jubilation?; A Corner of One’s Own: Living with Roommates; How to Pay Taxes Without Tears; I Rented an Apartment: Now What?; Health Insurance: Step by Step; Robbers and Rapists and Muggers, Oh My – Getting Past First-Time-Out-of-the-Nest-Paranoia)
People are already returning to my school today. My flight leaves tomorrow night. I should get to bed so I can wake up early and pack.
It’s with mixed feelings that I’m leaving. In many ways, I’m glad to go back. There are good things waiting for me back at school, in all avenues of life. But there are good things here, too. I guess this is kind of the best possible problem to have, right? Leaving one happy place for another happy place isn’t really something I feel comfortable complaining about.
If he hadn’t blacked out, he would’ve remembered the swagger with which he entered the house. Of course, he was the only one who would’ve thought it was a swagger; everyone else saw what could only be described as a stumbling kind of weaving between the wall on one side and the crush of people waiting to get their coats on the other. He would’ve – if he could’ve – remembered the way he’d begun to laugh at the expressions on everyone’s faces. As if they’d never seen him before! As if he hadn’t been dandled on the laps of half and had his hair ruffled or his cheek pinched by the other half!
If he had been able to remember anything in the morning, he would’ve been embarrassed by the way he’d attempted to sing. It had been that kind of night, when everything seems like it should be a musical. So he’d decided to burst into song, and he’d sung, or more probably screeched with a cracking voice, about how he was a big boy now, with pubic hair and deodorant and the ability to get illegally inebriated (he’d been very proud of how he hadn’t stumbled over the word “inebriated,” but he might’ve been less cocky if someone had told him that it had sounded like “in-a-bread,” as if he was trying to describe what a sandwich was).
If he hadn’t woken up with a splitting headache and a mouth that tasted like a tar-pit, he might have even realized that someone had tucked him into bed, gotten him out of his vomit-soaked clothes, and closed the curtains of his east-facing windows. He might have realized that it must mean that no matter what scene was going to greet him downstairs, someone cared enough to make him comfortable through the suffering caused by his own idiotic behavior.
But he’d blacked out, and he remembered nothing. So he spent the rest of the day sulking over the grounding and making up stories to tell his friends about the wild things he’d probably done during the night he couldn’t recall.
Rick had always been short, round and bespectacled. He started wearing glasses when he was two years old; he looked like a little owl in the photos on his mother’s mantelpiece. By the time he was six, his father began worrying about his rotund qualities and tried to get him interested in sports of all kinds. Rick took every kind of class that was offered at the community center, from karate to swimming, but he always ended up crying and, somehow or other, with broken glasses. His mother grew tired of buying him new glasses and refused to sign him up for any more classes. Instead, his father tried to get him involved in the peewee teams at his elementary school, but that didn’t’ work either. Rick was always gently taken off any team he was on when he was found, elbows on knees, staring at a caterpillar rather than paying any attention at all to the game.
It was no use. Rick simply wouldn’t become the son that his parents had thought they would have. But unlike many unlucky little boys and girls, Rick had parents who loved him and learned to accept him. Rick himself was a cheerful and dreamy child and never seemed to quite realize that his parents had been disappointed in him for a time. He grew up happily, finding friends among the other quieter kids, entertaining himself with adventure books and building blocks, and pleasing his parents with his good report cards.
Of course, little children grow up, even if they read Peter Pan over and over again. Rick stood by the train tracks nervously, fiddling with a ragged piece of tissue between his fingers and dabbing his nose absentmindedly every few seconds and thought back on his life. The bad things, he decided, must have begun around middle school.