Tag Archives: society

I'm an equal-opportunity lover.

My mother didn’t teach me how to love suburban-style or warn me about falling in love with a boy for whom English was a second language.

Oops.

I’m concerned we’ve watched one too many movies set in the 1950s where everyone’s skin is the color of Wonderbread.

Is racism is now a chemical additive in our Skippy and Welch’s jars so that when we make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, all that bad stuff sticks to the inside of our mouths and lines our stomachs and eats away the acid?

I go to college in the south, where 80% of last year’s freshman class was white. My roommates don’t know about diversity. They never had the option to fall in love with a boy whose skin glows golden in the summer. Tanned arms wrapped around them on a breezy summer night like a blanket.

They might not think twice about cutting someone down because of the color of his skin or the love threaded into his mother’s cooking.

For the record, she made some of the best lasagna I’ve ever had in my life.

We’re not together anymore. Me and him. It had nothing to do with the way his mother says his name, a breath of air easing off her tongue in a way I could never master. Nor did it have to do with conversations between the two of them, while I stood on the other side of the staircase while they fought—her yelling in Spanish and him in English, just to drive her crazy.

It’s called code-switching.

And it doesn’t matter that he answers her in English, because she retorts back in Spanish.

That’s how love works, too. It happens to each of us differently, but we all know what it is. We all know the other person’s falling even if it feels like they’re speaking a different language.

I’ve been living with my grandparents for a month now. We don’t see much of each other except at dinner, and we generally get along. But sometimes, the generational gap creeps up on me from behind and pulls a sack over my head. Leaves me stuck in the middle of their kitchen with no words to defend someone else’s story.

My grandparents believe everyone in America should speak English. I never met my ex-boyfriend’s grandmother, even though she visited that whole first summer we dated. She doesn’t speak English, but I don’t think she needs to.

Because it doesn’t matter.

“If you live in the country, you should learn to speak the language,” my grandfather says to me. I try to find the words to tell him about the Hispanic families I drive by on the way to work in New Brunswick each morning. The mothers who push strollers and walk their antsy sons and daughters to the front steps of the elementary schools lining the road.

No words come. We are speaking different languages—me, the advocate for those with less money and more love, and him, the consummate logic-abider who does not budge for anyone.

I wonder how he would’ve reacted if my ex-boyfriend didn’t speak English. If my grandfather knew he isn’t technically an American citizen; that his mother sometimes stumbles over words and his cousins will probably always speak Spanish.

“Castilian Spanish,” my grandfather says to me. “That’s real Spanish.”

As if the rest of the dialects are fake imposters lined up in a county jail, waiting to be identified. Slapped on the wrist for trying to be a language. For trying to communicate amongst people, and share life and love and compassion.

If he weren’t from Madrid, should I have loved him any less? Should we cut someone else down because they came to America and didn’t have the resources or the brain capacity left to start learning all over again?

I wonder, if my grandfather moved to Spain, what he would do. I wonder if he knows that you cannot choose how you fall in love, but that you simply wake up, well after you’ve said your goodbyes, and realize the song “Forever Love (Digame)” by Anna Nalick will always freak you out.

Because my mother never taught me about the proper way to fall in love. For that, I can only thank her.

We have become experts in grabbing onto someone else to pull ourselves up higher.

The first time I ran three miles, I almost cried when I saw the 7-Eleven up ahead. My lungs ached; my legs felt like a ton of bricks; my heartbeat thumped loud in my ears and mocked the sound of sneakers on concrete. I was acutely aware of every movement, every step forward to the invisible finish line.

It wasn’t a race.

guys running slow road woods

via http://weheartit.com/entry/9898252

But us slow pokes in the back have trouble remembering that. We round the next corner and spot a street sign up ahead.

“Make it to that crosswalk and then, maybe, you can take a quick break.”

And then we pass the crosswalk and refocus on a new landmark. That’s the way life should be handled: as a series of stops we should conquer one at a time. Don’t look too far ahead, kid. You’ll freak yourself out.

Someone should have told us that. Someone should have written us a letter when we were just old enough to read and said that life is a marathon—not a sprint.

Instead, we had to wait until we could grasp the metaphorical concept sung about on the radio and written about in books and challenged in movies. We had to figure it out slowly over time, after we already pressed hard harder hardest toward the end.

To take the 30 seconds to stop and look at where we’re at, who we’re with, what we’re doing, that’s crazy, right?

My senior year of high school, I finally figured out the whole running thing. I’m high strung by nature, but the day I ran my best, the clouds covered the sun and the light breeze cooled my back as I started from the back of the pack and picked the girls off, one by one, like flowers on tree branches as I eased by them. I wasn’t aggressive or laid back; I found a rhythm and I trusted myself.

That’s the way to go through life.

Instead, we’ve turned to vices. A quick cigarette here to ease the nervous jitters. A shot of tequila to make that guy in the corner by the jukebox look worthy enough to take home. And then the invisible ones:

Surveying a room full of strangers and knocking each of them down three rungs on some beauty ladder by tearing apart their bad hair dye job or their orange skin tone or their extra little flab around the waist.

We have become experts in grabbing onto someone else and using them to pull ourselves up higher. In life, in love, in the workplace.

We’ve taught ourselves that the only way out is through. Through holes in hearts and cracks in consistency and the pieces of us that break off when we shed pounds in preparation for bikini season the way dogs shed fur.

Have we forgotten to believe in helpfulness? In buying the box of girl scout cookies from the 7-year-olds dancing and skipping and begging us to pay attention please, oh please, just this once, it’s for a good cause?

All of it’s become extra weight we don’t need to carry around.

We’ve forgotten about connections.

About linking hands and hearts and creating an army of good to battle the bad in our past, present, future. We’re warriors fighting against each other when really, we should band together against the disease and terror and heartbreak that threatens to kill us each and every day.

Have we forgotten to sweep our neighbor’s sidewalk when the leaves fall or the snow piles up? To take in their delivered package on the porch when it’s raining and they’re on vacation?

We forgot about Gandhi. About being the change we wish to see in the world. Instead, we see the face in the mirror transform into the change we should’ve avoided.

The good news is that it’s never too late to get it back. What will you do today to turn it around?