Dec 1, 2020

At first I was too shy and insecure to speak much Spanish, afraid of making mistakes. I’d had three years less Spanish than the other students in my program, since I’d started out in French in junior high, as I’ve said, and I continued to have to struggle to understand and keep up.

But in the spring of that year, a strange thing happened. I’d become so facile at conjugating verbs from tables in my head and to referring, mentally, to the other diagrams and charts I’d memorized that I sounded—almost—fluent. Then, quite suddenly, all my “props” fell away—I couldn’t remember these schemata, and I found myself floundering in a sea of panic and confusion. This lasted only a few weeks, until one morning I woke up fluent. I could talk and think—I even began to dream—in Spanish. But the change wasn’t just a matter of verbal proficiency. With mastery, I underwent a more profound transformation from the anxious, reticent young woman I’d been to a voluble, extroverted “Latina.” An alter ego emerged who actually enjoyed being the center of attention. I’m afraid you could hardly shut me up.

Looking back, I think one of the things that freed me was finding in the Spanish language a refuge from my father, a place he couldn’t follow me—criticize or mock me. Rather than the unsympathetic audience I’d had in him, I found a sympathetic one. The Spanish people couldn’t have been more pleased and enthusiastic about anyone’s efforts to speak their language. Soon they were asking me what country I came from, assuming I was a native Spanish speaker, though they couldn’t quite place my accent. (My accent, curiously, WASN’T quite like anyone else’s—and it wasn’t until many years later when I met a woman from the Canary Islands that I finally heard an accent like my own.)

And perhaps I should mention here that throughout all these changes, I frequently shared my evolving thoughts and feelings in fantasy dialogues with one person—Dr. Camarer, promising myself that when I got back to the states, I would resume therapy with him. More than once I thought of writing to tell him how rich and full my life was in Spain and to thank him for his help. But I never did.