outwait outrun outwit


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Cursing my compellingly incessant lack of composure, I awkwardly speak a language I know only and so intimately on paper. Crimson streaks my cheek. I try not to stutter, though that is what I can do, too, in moments like these, when someone laughs or silence exists because people seem so avid to measure the space between each hesitant sentence.

Although an American-born and bred speaker of English, sometimes I don't speak like a native. That is part of my inheritance, something that lies leaden and stubbornly alien in my mouth, something that I have accumulated all those years in that house, where words often flew, to shatter against windows and white walls.

Although Mummy had already forgotten her grandmother's Cantonese, she still dreams in this language, reverberations from former soil echoing faint in Californian sunlight. She murmurs, You spoke Chinese once as a little girl running to the door, peeping "Key!" to Daddy, newly returned from work. (And, always, she mourns the words I never knew in Khmer, the ones for love and home and sadness.) Sometimes she dreams in English. Sometimes she dreams her husband spoke better English. He would make more money if he spoke perfectly.

Daddy will never speak better English. He's a stubborn man. The way he speaks is entirely his, and he relishes every mispronunciation and malapropism and mis-tensing, grinning whenever I absentmindedly correct him.

The laughter gnarls deep in his throat. Your father's too old to change his ways. He'll never relinquish those acrobatic polyglot sentences, French pronunciations for English words strung Khmer-style, the lingual legacy of his colonial education.

No, this is his, entirely his, even if it sometimes feels leaden and stubbornly alien on his tongue.


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