I am an orphan with a family
Because I never quite learned our Mother tongue.
I have a physical family: a mother, a father, and two brothers. Yet, I am missing the Mother from my mouth. I am orphaned from my Mother tongue.
Growing up, my parents wanted us to assimilate properly to the culture we were surrounded by, so they spoke English. We learned in English, we wrote in English, we read in English, but my parents never fully transitioned back to the tongue they were fluent in to teach us properly. The tongue that flowed effortlessly like honey from their mouths, and like peanut butter from mine.
My brothers dipped their hands into the honey jar and picked up on it quickly. Maybe because our extended family members gave birth to boys, and when they’d see each other, they’d spend more time with Mother. It didn’t take long until my brothers knew that a viljuška (fork) wasn’t ice cream, or that a kašika (spoon) wasn’t a plate, and they’ll still never let me live that down.
Thinking about it, it’s like being the close friend who grew up with the kids in a family, who dabbled in the culture, who sat at the same dinner table almost every night to break bread, and can only utter a few sayings, but needs a sentence spelled out for them, word for word. Never quite inside. Never quite a child of our shared country of origin.
And even as an adult, my ears work to hear the language, my brain works to comprehend it, but my tongue has been cut out. In family gatherings, I am the mute, because I never quite learned the flow of Mother’s honey. I am capable of fitting in by cooking the food, by enjoying and dancing to the music, but I loiter just outside of the entrance to our family court.
Most of the time, I feel like the village idiot with a college degree.
Yet I still kept my family name when I got married. Maybe it was a deep, buried hope that I wouldn’t be left out of the culture if I held onto it, that my family would overlook my awkward peanut butter tongue because I made the effort to still be part of it.
However, I am still in between, still mute, still loitering.
English doesn’t feel like my Mother, but she adopted me, and she’s the only Mother tongue I will ever know.