One of the questions I get asked most often is “Do you and Bruno speak English or Spanish together?”
It is an obvious curiosity. The more I am asked this question, the more thought I give to it. Linguistic work takes up a lot of space in our relationship.
At the beginning of our relationship we spoke mostly in Spanish. I was new to Rio Grande and I wanted total immersion. We texted frequently and I remember pasting my messages through Google Translate before sending them in hopes of double-checking for errors. When doubt tipped the balance, I would type out an entire message in Spanish and leave a word in English hoping he’d understand the mix.
Our relationship unfolds in an additional plane of existence. Two languages instead of one. I am Sarah and Sara. I smile at the art of it. Our code-switching subconsciously demands each other's attention. In public — ordering ice cream usually — I can sense Bruno’s hyper-awareness of my exchange with the ice cream scooper much like the family of a blind person lovingly minds their stride for a misstep. It is not invasive, or coddling — just present.
Both aware of each other’s first tongue, we anticipate mistakes or confusion before they happen. The improper direct translations bring comic relief. My favorite of Bruno’s is when he says “the day after tomorrow” which he takes from the figurative saying, “el dia despúes de mañana,” which means “one day in the future” and is used in talking about dreams or consequences.
Our relational rhythm relies on the rest notes of “wait what’s the word?” “how do you say…” “….is that how you say it in English/Spanish?” I need Bruno’s English much more than he needs my Spanish. He swiftly corrected my speech from “rAmera” to “rEmera” the difference in vowels the difference between “whore” and “shirt.”
For the majority of our relationship, I have looked at the bilingual communication to be an interesting fact — a party trick of sorts.
We stand in long supermarket lines and speak English as if it’s secret code.
And yet, I am coming to understand our double language dance to be a practice in empathy and humility. We practice active listening and co-process each other’s thoughts and emotions. We work together to create, edit, and refine true understanding. Our language demands patience.
When discussing soccer on or off the field, you will most likely find us speaking Spanish. When Bruno recounts what he learned in the kitchen, it will most likely be told in Spanish as he learned it all in a Spanish-speaking setting. He will switch over after my first question in English. I am still unable to quickly recount events that happened in Spanish, in Spanish. I usually choreograph a Spanglish code in which Bruno is now fluent. I keep the verbs in Spanish but I retreat to English to communicate the “he said/she said” more economically.
Small pleasantries like “good morning” “how are you?” “hope you sleep well” and “good night” are usually all exchanged in Spanish. Whatever language has the shorter way of saying it — is the language we choose. As Dr. Hamilton explained, “language changes because we are lazy.” It is easier to say “y’all” than “you all.”
My favorite moments are the crossover. One of us starts in one language and we finish in the other. It reminds me of the agility of those gymnasts that stride across the blue mat, throw themselves into the air and flip horizontally and vertically at the same time.
I tell Bruno, “I love you,” and he tells me, “Te amo.”
In moments of the heart, we both speak the words we learned first. It means more.
Home is in North Carolina. But, I take seriously Wendell Berry's imperative, "Be like the fox who makes more tracks than necessary, some in the wrong direction."