I am a guest in the English language.
Like a young lover who meets her partner’s family for the first time, I am beyond reproach.
Every night before my introduction, I go over the stories my beloved ever told about his childhood, the family trips abroad. The times he rebelled against them, the times he ran to them for comfort.
I gather every tiny detail and tuck them up my sleeve like the artful magician, master of studied spontaneity; I walk the thin suspended rope between expectation and surprise.
I know a bit about each family member—some whimsy quirk that only intimacy grants—but I am sure never to cross the line. I stick to what I know.
What an outsider is allowed to know.
I listen to their anecdotes and share some of my own, careful not to stray too far from the general discussion.
The conversation calls upon me more and more, I even crack a joke or two, nothing rehearsed; nothing too risky, either. Their laughter fills the air and falls over my shoulders like a blessing upon a faithful subject.
After dessert we’re gearing up for games. They’ve played them all among themselves for centuries, since that one great-great-grandfather whom everyone still remembers as the greatest player yet.
The rules have changed with time, naturally. Everything does. But the aim remains the same.
I’m not the best, but I try hard and—beginner’s luck—I score among the highest.
Applause and disbelieving cheers.
I turn around and meet my lover’s eyes. He beams with pride.
Don’t look at me, it was all her, he seems to say.
A distant cousin who barely spoke to anyone points out how quickly I’ve picked up the rules, how close I fit right in. I thank him as I would accept a compliment; although I know it’s not. He’s reminding me of his own birth right to be present, to play at the English family game, while I remain a guest.
The evening ends. I take my leave with an invitation to come back soon—another reminder: I cannot drop by anytime I please. I need permission. The kind you cannot ask for.
Perhaps someday it will be different, if we get married. But I’m not ready yet.
To say yes to the English I love, is also to say no. No, to the Italian I grew up with. To my first love: French. To the Spanish I met that one summer, years ago. To my own Romanian family.
How could I choose?
And so, I wonder: could we remain friends?
Could I forever be a dinner guest to all, faithful only to myself?