Decisions make you notice them at unsuspecting moments.
I remember a particular moment around midnight on the day I moved into my university hall of residence for the first time. The distinctly foreign nature of the bedroom suddenly loomed out of the -whoosh of traffic outside the open window..
It was not the first time I had moved out of home. Just before starting university here in New Zealand, I spent a month in Salamanca, Spain, with welcoming and loving host parents. I remember on my first afternoon, perched at the dining room table while my host mother–I’ll call her Ana–prepared dinner. I had my first long conversation in Spanish there with someone who, then, was a total stranger, bar a few introductory emails .. My mother was there staying with us for the first couple of days, to take advantage of the opportunity to look around Salamanca. As Ana and I started to share introductory snippets to our life stories, Mum just stood there in the middle of the floor, watching us, listening. . I’d been studying Spanish for five years in school by that point but, as she commented later, it was the first time she’d heard me utter more than the odd disconnected phrase in the language.
That humid summer night when I moved into my university hall, I sat on my bed and wrote to Ana. I’d been back in New Zealand for under two weeks and suddenly missed her and Salamanca a lot. Ana’s home was large, but small enough to feel like you belonged in her apartment. The evening meals were a comforting regular family and student ritual. Ana was only ever a door-knock or phone-call away if you wanted to talk about almost anything. That night, I found some solace in curling up and wandering back inside my happy bubble which was Ana’s house.
In the kitchen at Ana’s place, I was most aware of feeling weird about Mum watching me, because I was busy getting to know Ana–and Mum knew it–so I was making barely any attempt to interpret for her.
For her, it was the sign of her daughter sprouting linguistic wings to flee the nest, I suppose. For me, that mix of tentative excitement to be communicating relatively freely, coupled with self-consciousness in the knowledge that my speech had become a spectacle I would later understand as a first realisation of speaking on a tentative horizon of communication and possibility which I would be navigating without the assistance of my monolingual family.
In my room at halls, all I knew at that moment was that this place felt new and I was lonely and I missed Ana. Only on looking back can I see why the comfort of her home would’ve attracted me so particularly then.
If anything, these two moments were beginnings in an abstract sense, in that they sparked the emotive realisation that new, slightly scary horizons were in the air. Intellectually, I’d have marked the beginning of my time in Salamanca when I met my host parents at their doorstep. In halls, I’d have mapped moment zero to when I walked through my new, empty bedroom door. Those factual beginnings are necessary, of course, if one is to make new decisions and follow them through at all. But those decisions are usually followed through in such incremental steps that their sheer existence only bothers to signal itself after a delay of unpredictable length, and in veiled ways at that.
In this sense, I still haven’t realised I’ve started a blog. Time will tell when, and how, the news will sink in.
2 responses to “For starters: a Decision”
Just after “For her, it was the sign of her daughter sprouting linguistic wings” you’ve written “flea”, as in a small biting animal on dogs, instead of “flee”, as in to run in terror from your monolingual past into a bright glorious Spanish-speaking world. Just thought you ought to know.
Also, I’m curious. Are the decisions you refer to the choices to go to Salamanca and to go to the halls?
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Thanks re fleas/flees – fixed now! And yes to those decisions. More broadly they were moving out of home and deciding to spend time by myself in Spain, I suppose, but that was how they played out.