On Words of Love and Hate, or The Light of My Life

There are certain words that marked so strongly some moments of my life that I recall today these moments precisely through the expressions that illustrate them, as if each letter of these was an artistic combination of drawings representative of an era of modern art — but yes, they are only words resistant to the time of my memory itself. Of course, for a person who likes to write (writes to live), words are the sources for whatever happens in her life: memories, written texts and speeches, everything that is essential to her will revolve around words. I speak here, however, of moments that arise instantly in our minds when we read or hear certain locutions, we all have these moments. Before writing this short essay, I was watching a Mexican soap opera with my mother, when one extremely stereotypical woman cursed at another, raving the words “little minx.” Perhaps this memory was the first instance of my life in which I realized the importance and power of using words.

I was about four or five years old, and I was tormenting the patience of my grandmother and my younger sister on a Saturday night in which the old lady was taking care of us so that my mother could go out and have some fun . My grandmother is my goddess, but she is a woman who had a rough upbringing and couldn’t study, not learning how to read or write. With a short patience, very typical of the black woman’s own stereotype, she endured my childish adventures to some extent when she finally slapped me, telling me to shut up and “stop being a little minx”. My world collapsed at that moment — I opened the biggest mouth of the universe in a whining and screaming cry, making my Grandma despair in apologizing for the moment of violence; but it wasn’t the slap that had thrown me into that pit of sadness, it was actually the words “little minx.” I had no idea what they meant, and later I discovered that not even my grandmother knew what a “little minx” was, but the intonation with which Grandma had spoken it and the tonicity of the syllables of the word in question reminded me of everything that is awful about being a person in this world. I cried, I cried until I had no more tears, and I still feel a little shiver of discontent when I think of “little minx.” For the record: until recently I thought that “little minx” was a kind of chicken.

I never found myself morally elevated to the level of an “angel,” but one day, at the height of my twelve years, my favorite sixth-grade teacher called me “angel” and then I was sure that I was a heavenly being totally deserving of the attention especially dedicated to my person that that teacher gave me. He was the History teacher of the class, the favorite of all classes, because he was young, tall and extremely beautiful, the girls used to play around choosing which god’s name from Greek mythology best suited the beauty of that young man. It turns out that in addition to all this, he was an excellent teacher, and it was this fact that caught my attention about him at the beginning of the school year; I already loved History, and he made me love the subject even more. It was love, for sure. All the girls tried to catch his attention with their childish charms, and all the boys tried to catch his eye with an envy also typical of preteens. I’ve always been around with the weirdos, overly nerds, “antisocial” and easy target of bullying kids, but this professor made a point of gently noticing everything about me. He noticed the color of my fingernails, noticed dirt on my glasses, noticed when I went through a phase of eating disorder, he simply noticed all the details, small or important. And then, the day of my glory happened: he was giving some papers back to the students, I stood up when I heard my name, and as I approached his table, he opened that divine smile and said, “Congratulations, you’re perfect as always, my angel.” I paralyzed almost instantly. I could feel the eyes of some girls on my back, I felt the air get heavier, I felt my face turn red, I felt everything at the same time. He laughed lightly at my reaction, not knowing that he would mark forever within me the impression I’d have on the mythology of angels for the rest of my life. Because, really, if you want to prove the existence of angelic purity, there isn’t a more viable path than the Platonic adolescent passion. For the record: I always got A+ grades in his tests.

Much has been said, much is still being said — or rather, it’s still being repeated, about the magic of words; and if we repeat it is because it hasn’t been said enough for its meanings (both of the words themselves and of the poetry we take from them) to enter our minds, build a house, decorate it and live in it (in us) forever. I myself am constantly repeating it all, I always say the same things about words, I just use them in different ways, because their forms are infinite, I discover new combinations, sensations never before felt that the fascination with words causes me. I love how one word can have the sense of a completely different art for us, depending on its context and its use. A naive grandmother who curses at a granddaughter without really knowing what she is talking about, and the granddaughter who interprets the word in the worst possible ways, not one of them having the correct meaning of the phrase; and yet the word stayed, the word is the motive for laughter during family gatherings when we tell this story. A teacher who loves his students and a student who loves her teacher, both share a small moment of affection through a simple word; and, with all that innocence, the word stayed, the word marked what the student would one day see as her weakness for platonic passions, angels ceased to be mystical and became palpable. Words, they always stay.

For the record: I still love every existing word, words that hate me and words that love me; I love them indiscriminately, I love them unconditionally.