My Intimate Relationship…with Portuguese

Henrietta Conrad - Brazil


September 20, 2011

Some words are pretentious. I see them once and they all of a sudden think they can  invite themselves into my mind, bursting down the mental door and ostentatiously announcing their arrival. These are the famous words; everyone knows their names. I see them everywhere: in magazines, on billboards, and on TV. I know everything about them: how they’re spelled, how they sound, and when they’re used. I have to  watch out for these words for they demand a lot of my attention. They think that I can get by only using them. So, they bounce around in my subconscious  echoing their names and throwing parties in my dreams. This could hinder me from  getting to know other more timid words, but I try to silence my mind  so I can listen  closely to mundane conversations, for the  less popular but just as important, words.

Other words come softly knocking on my subconscious door. These words almost always come alone and in the same manner. I’m forced to pause, close my eyes, and then take a deep breath.  Then the word enters shyly, revealing itself to me, in all its noble meaning and naked nuances. I don’t blame these words for being wary. It’s a big deal for them to leave themselves vulnerable to my manipulation. Sometimes I hurt the words, completely slaughtering their identity by stretching out their vowels or truncating their endings. At that point nobody would be able to recognize said word, not the bus driver, not the street vendor, or even my Portuguese professor who cringes when she realizes what I was actually trying to say. If this happens, the word regresses back into my mind and hides behind that mental door afraid to be used by me. I go to the door to make amends, to try again, because I need that word, to be able to use it, and it needs me, so it will never be forgotten. I listen closely but this time it won’t come shyly knocking on the door, because I abused it. So, I put my ear to the door and gently call it to me like I would a wounded animal. I call it, properly and correctly, caressing its identity with my tongue and lips, making it sound exquisite, like how the divine cosmos intended for it to sound: clarion and august. Only then does the word open the door and look up at me with big round  liquid eyes. We exchange a tacit understanding that if I don’t misuse it, it will stay with me forever. I solemnly nod my head in agreement and introduce it to its English counterpart where it will perpetually live in the profoundness of my mind.

Henrietta Conrad