I suddenly really had to go to the bathroom. I put my hand up and asked if I could go and the teacher said, “Anna, you can go whenever you like. There’s no need to ask me for permission.”
I got up and made my way to the bathroom. I stared at myself in the mirror and thought, “Did I just figure this out?” Then my Low German thoughts suggested that I was wrong and it was way more complicated than that and not to get so excited about it.
I fought with everything in me to stop the tears from bursting. I locked myself in a stall and focused on breathing for a while until it passed. Then I went back to the classroom and continued working on the newspaper article.
The teacher came to check on me and I was so sure she would say, “This is so wrong, Anna. You have to start all over again” but, instead, she said, “Good job, Anna, you are on the right track. Keep up the good work, Anna!”
I was in disbelief. I had never heard those words in that context before: “Be proud of yourself,” “Good job, Anna.”
I thought I’d soon wake up and she would say, “You can’t do this. This is not a place for you, Anna. You will never learn this. You can just go home now and don’t come back.”
At lunchtime I followed Chung and the rest of the students to the lunch room. It was filled with people of all ages and colours. I asked Chung where all those people came from and he said, “They are all students here. There are a whole lot more classes on the other side of this building.”
Chung continued, “Our class is a bit more unique. It is like a bridge we have to cross before we can join them. We have to spend enough time in this class so the teacher can see what level we actually are because we all come here with such different levels of schooling.”
I made a note in my head to look up ‘unique’ in my dictionary that night.
“Some of them are high school dropouts, others from different countries all over the world. They are here to learn English and some got laid off from their jobs and now they need more schooling to get another one” Chung explained.
“You are telling me that there are people who have lived their whole lives in Canada that have to go back to school when they are … um … older?” I asked.
“You got it. There are even grandpas here, Anna” he replied.
It was shocking for me to learn that there were that many adults in Canada going to a school. I was so relieved to learn that I was not the oldest person in history to go back to school at the age of nineteen. I asked Chung how long he had been in Canada.
He said, “Almost ten years. I’ve been coming to this school for a year and a half. I am here to learn how to speak better English and to work on my accent. I was in the ESL class for the first year.”
He still had a very heavy accent and it was hard for me to understand him.
“Did you already speak English before you came to Canada?” he asked.
“I knew a few bad words when I came three years ago” I replied.
“Wow, you learned a lot in that time and you don’t even have an accent” Chung said.
“What? I thought I did!” I replied.
“That is not fair. Most of us that come here from different countries have to work hard at it for years and years and we never completely lose the accent. Where did you learn to speak the English that you know?” he asked.
“I started working in a factory two weeks after I got here. I made some friends who only spoke English and that forced me to speak it but I embarrassed myself so many times. If a person could die from embarrassments, I would be dead and I have a feeling that it’s not over yet” I answered.
“That is the only way to do it and I too have embarrassed myself a lot. In fact, I think I should change my name to ‘Chung Embarrassment’. That’s how many times I have embarrassed myself already” he said.
I started laughing so hard I almost passed out and it was like he didn’t have a choice but to start laughing too. There was no more talking after that. I just couldn’t stop laughing.
Walking home, I was thinking about my day and how different this school was from the ones I went to in Mexico. I actually ate a little bit and I laughed. I thought to myself, “I laughed at a school and that is probably a sin but that should be okay now that I have a card for that!”
I loved that I could watch TV if I wanted to. I had choices now and how to make the time pass was no longer an issue. All my surroundings started to look beautiful. I caught myself breathing deeply without even thinking about it as I walked home, still smiling about Chung Embarrassment.
My Low German thoughts were working hard at reminding me, time and time again, that it was still only the second day and they probably would detect my disability soon. I thought, “They are probably having a hard time figuring out how bad my situation actually is.”
I got my books out first thing when I got home. I just had to test this idea I had. I sounded the words of the day out in my head in Spanish and turned the page over and wrote them down. Every single word was right. I suddenly got that really nervous feeling that I was right.
I looked up the word unique and read the definition in English then Spanish. It suddenly hit me like a ton of bricks and it made a whole lot to sense to me. I figured it out and realized I had just cracked the code to a world of possibility and that it would drastically change my life forever.
I spent a bit of time bonding with my tears since they had wanted to be with me on and off all day. I decided to just let it happen so I could move on already!
That realisation was overwhelming, a feeling unlike anything I had ever experienced before. I felt like the most powerful Low German girl/woman in the world.
I realized that the word unique was missing from the Low German language altogether and probably for this very reason.
I decided to think, with my new right to think, that “I have choices and I choose to think and accept that this is in fact the reason.”
But, of course, I could never ever tell anyone in my Low German world about my discovery and risk being told what an idiot I am for coming up with such nonsense. It’s kind of the same as me knowing that George is my man hero and they think he is the biggest kind of schwein noagel on this planet and, no matter how and in what way I try to make them see it, they just won’t.
That made me so angry all over again. I got up and put on my Alanis Morisette tape and it started at the Ironic song. I looked up ironic in the dictionary and thought, “Ha li dechjat!” I had to close my eyes and picture George’s face telling me to breathe to get me through this moment of awakening.
I thought, “This is too much. I have to tell someone, but who would actually get it?” No one came to mind other than George and how he would put it: “No one in your life gives a shit about this the way that you do, Anna. You don’t actually have to tell someone; just know it and keep it with you.”
I dug my way out of those thoughts and went right back there again and it just got worse.
“Hello nerve problems, Anna! Do you hear yourself thinking and answering your own thoughts as if George were speaking to you? If he comes over right now I will hug him. No, you won’t, Anna, you don’t have it in you. Those are your Low German thoughts thinking schwein noagelish thoughts. Dios Mio! Snap out of it, Anna!”
I just couldn’t take it anymore. I got up and turned on the TV. I was shaking, sitting there with all that and thinking, “I hope George doesn’t come over right now. I don’t even trust myself right now. How the heck am I going to sleep tonight? Grrr … I’m doing it again!”
Since I had already memorized and figured out how to spell the words for the next day, I practised writing sentences with each of those words. I would take a break and watch the Mexican news for half an hour and then a telenovela for an hour while I ate dinner. By the end of the night I was exhausted.
The next morning I woke up feeling enthusiastic and doubtful at the same time, still wondering if this would be the day they would tell me that I don’t have a chance at this.
I thought to myself, “Stop thinking about that! This is a new start and I have choices now. I can actually choose what and how I think about something. I can choose to take the teacher’s advice and force my thinking from ‘I think I can do this’ to ‘I know I can do this.’” That was a powerful realization. Click here to continue reading my story.