Sunday, January 10, 2010

Can One Joke Change Your Life?

Recently Pollo and I have had our share of discussions over when I'm leaving and why. And inevitably, it comes up that despite how much he loves me, I remain unfulfilled. Not because of lack of love, but because of lack of Cathy.

My dance friends pointed out to me when I was last in the US that I am a very communicative being. And a complete one at that. But, when you put me in a situation for say, a year and a half, where my communication is restricted, you bet I'm going to be a little -or a lot-unfulfilled.

When I was last in the US, having gotten reacqainted with myself as well as with others, I broke up with Pollo on the basis that he really didn't know who I was. I had been lost in translation.

I still feel like that. Less so. But still, the shiny, bright, happy Cathy is just below the surface, as if I'm floating under a Spanish sea. Everything I do in Spanish is with that slow, walking-in-water feeling. When I talk, I feel like I talk underwater.

Pollo said to me once, "I don't understand it. You seem shiny, happy Cathy to me. And what's the problem? I love you as you are."

How to explain that I'm half Cathy and the other half is some weird, new Spanish entity that oddly seems similar to the timid, shy high schooler that faked her way through with a lot of bravado.

Then yesterday, we went to a Chilean wedding in Rancagua, an industrial city an hour south of Santiago. We went to the ceremony and then the socializing at the reception began. This is my most uncomfortable moment-a Spanish wedding reception. Normally, wedding receptions are a bit uncomfortable--until the alcohol starts flowing. The disadvantage for me is that I still feel uncomfortable here, even with the alcohol. It's a tough line to walk. Get too drunk and you lose the capacity to speak at all. Not enough and you say "uhhhhh" a lot!

But the gods were on my side. I had the BEST Spanish night of my life. Others might have judged the wedding for the food, or the dancing, or the drinks. But I judged it solely based on my ability to speak.

And then there it was. The golden opportunity. I was telling a friend of Pollo's about my travels to the north--that I went with my roommate and her friends and we camped beneath the stars and the full moon. Then he asked, "And you guys were naked, right?" And I replied in split second, "Well, that was implied." Ba doom doom. Chan nan. Joke (not true, but funny nonetheless). He laughed on cue.

So here's why it was so special. It was the first intentional, well-timed clever joke I have ever made in Spanish. I wanted to use the word "implied" but didn't know the word so just guessed at "implicado" and hoped for the best. I actually managed to get the joke in under the timing required for all jokes...something that with a lack of vocabulary usually leaves me in mid-joke going "uhhhhhh, como se dice....."

How could a joke make me feel so darn good? So fulfilled after so long being half-Cathy? Because it's a part of me. I might not be funny to everyone, but I like having a full set of tools in my toolbox to try. Spanish was mine fully to use last night. I used Spanish slang. I asked questions to other people. I understood when they responded (most of the time).

It was like coming up for air after such a long time underwater. A little peek at me--a little wave hello. Like "Ah, there you are. Where have you been?"

So here's the ultimate far do I take this Spanish thing? Do I see how long it takes for me to really start swimming? Do I have the patience to wait for the real Cathy to appear in Spanish? And even scarier...what if Pollo doesn't actually like the real Cathy. Actually, that's not scary--if he doesn't like the real Cathy, we all know he's crazy, right?!

I think everyone should live in a foreign country for the experience of limited communication. It's like having your mouth taped except for just a tiny hole and having to learn how to speak again through that tiny crack at the side of your mouth-exhausting, frustating, embarrassing, awkward as hell, but, once you get it, you ARE the party trick. Your command of your new speech IS the fascinating thing you bring to the party. People are amazed (frankly, I'm amazed too).

So here's to more Spanish jokes, a little brighter shimmer of me through the Spanish sea.


Randy said...

HA! You have inspired me Cathy. I'm going to start working on my Spanish again. Maybe in 20 years I'll be able to crack a perfectly timed joke.

Melissa said...

I can not believe that it had been six months since I'd checked your blog! Whoa! I'm so glad that you feel you are finally shining through! I know what an accomplishment this is for you. I hope you savor it!

So does this mean we might have to do without your lovely company for a bit longer?

clanier said...

this post made me smile. you are so beautiful and funny. i'm glad the chileans are finally getting your humor. ;)