Lost in Translation
“In Poland, I would have known how to bring you up, I would have known what to do,” my mother says wistfully, but here, she has lost her sureness, her authority. She doesn’t know how hard to scold Alinka when she comes home at late hours; she can only worry over her daughter’s vague evening activities. She has always been gentle with us, and she doesn’t want, doesn’t know how, to tighten the reins. But familial bonds seem so dangerously loose here! Truth to tell, I don’t want the fabric of loyalty and affection, and even obligation, to unravel either. I don’t want my parents to loss us, I don’t want to betray our common life. I want to defend our dignity because it is so fragile, so beleaguered. There is only the tiny cluster, the four of us, to know, to preserve whatever found of human experience we may represent. And so I feel a kind of ferociousness about protecting it. I don’t want us to turn into perpetually cheerful suburbanites, with hygienic smiles and equally hygienic feelings. I want to keep even our sadness, the great sadness from which our parents have come. I abjure my sister to treat my parents well; I don’t want her to challenge our mother’s authority, because it is so easily challenged. It is they who seem more defenseless to me than Alinka, and I want her to protect them. Alinka fights me like a forest animal in danger of being trapped; she too wants to roam throughout the thickets and meadows. She too wants to be free. My mother says I’m becoming “English.” This hurts me, because I know she means I’m becoming cold. I’m no colder than I’ve ever been, but I’m learning to be less demonstrative. I learn this from a teacher who, after contemplating the gesticulations with which I help myself describe the digestive system of a frog, tells me to “sit on my hands and then try talking.” I learn my new reserve from people who take a step back when we talk, because I am standing too close, crowding them. Cultural distances are...
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