For many years I have talked about my Suegra right in front of her face, and she hasn’t understood me. She doesn’t speak English and so we could all be trapped in the car together and I could say to my husband, “Turn the A/C off because I’m opening my window. She has way too much perfume on. It’s killing me.” … And Suegra would be sitting in the back seat, (stinking like a big bouquet of rotten flowers), blissfully unaware.
Eventually Suegra seemed to catch on to the words “she” and “her”. I could see her ears perk up, and her eyes would dart to my mouth, trying to make sense of the next few words I said. And so we had to come up with another way to talk about her. We ended up using “somebody”. For example, I would be in the kitchen preparing dinner. I’d open the fridge, only to find that I was out of an ingredient I know I bought only a few days ago.
“Dammit,” I’d say shutting the fridge and going to the cabinets to find a dry substitute for the fresh ingredient.
“What’s wrong?” my husband asks from the living room as he hears me slam a cabinet.
Out of the corner of my eye I see Suegra staring at me.
“SOMEBODY used all the fresh garlic,” I say.
Being able to talk about Suegra in her presence is essential to my survival with her in the same house. I don’t abuse it. I don’t make fun of her or say anything especially vicious, but to keep the peace, I need to be able to speak my mind to my husband and vent frustrations or else I will talk to her directly in Spanish and what I’ll have to say won’t be nice at all.
The problem is that now Suegra has figured out the word “somebody”. The other day after I used it she narrowed her eyes and said, “Qué es esa palabra, ‘somebody’?” (What is that word, ‘somebody’).
It means “alguien”, I explained feigning nonchalance while silently cursing.
Tell me how this woman has lived in the United States on and off for a decade and she hasn’t bothered to learn the language, except when it’s convenient to her. Oh yes, she knows the words “she”, “her”, and “somebody”, not to mention “free”, “yard sale” and “clearance”, but she can’t be bothered to learn a few useful phrases such as, “independent living”, “cut the umbilical cord” or “God help me this woman is driving me crazy.”