Thursday, February 01, 2007

The Foreigner

They sat on the floor playing cards and smoking. By one in the morning, the ceiling of smoke hung just a few feet above our heads and I no longer felt the need to feign indifference to it. It was hard to breathe.

I made tea and provided refreshments throughout the evening, but mostly I sat alone on the couch. An outsider. A foreigner. Every so often I was able to pick up a comment or two that included my name and knew to expect that any moment all heads would turn to glance in my direction. And when they did, I smiled. I always smile when they do that, and I always feel like a damn idiot.

Normally when I'm with them, they attempt to speak English with me. I certainly have tried to speak their language with them. But some members of the family speak one language, and others speak another, and over the years I've heard both of them used interchangeably so I'm clueless as to what words belong in which language. So, I unknowingly mix them up. It would be the equivalent of saying, "Bonjour, mon cherie. Wie geht es dir?" Except the languages are not french and german, and are much more closely related. They find this quite humorous. Most of the time I do as well. Except for the time that instead of asking someone if I could cook an egg for them, I asked them if they would like for me to lay an egg for them. Ugh.

But during this visit, relatives from the old country had come as well, and so I took a backseat to them. I understood that would happen. By now I understand traditions, and what expectations are imbedded in the culture. But it still doesn't make it any easier.

When the folks from the old country arrived earlier that evening, I stood to greet them. I performed the perfunctory greeting of three kisses on both cheeks, not because I had to, but because that greeting has become part of who I am as well when I’m with them.

The matriarch hugged me tightly, looked into my eyes and began speaking to the other members of the ensemble. I had not seen her in over ten years and I was prepared to be inspected. I understood most of what she said. I instinctively smiled and lowered my eyes.

"She colors her hair now. But it's still dark."

She felt my hair.

They like my dark hair. It provides a sense of belonging - an outward manifestation that there is a kinship.

"Her skin is still young. No lines around the eyes."

She held my face in her hands and ran her fingers around my eyes.

They like the porcelain skin and light colored eyes. It provides a certain exoticism to which they are drawn.

"She's gained weight."

She traced the outline of my body from my arms until her hands rested on my hips.

"Her hips made way for the children."

She gently slapped my ass.

I've never hidden my curves under a long flowing garment, and I won't - EVER. It's their culture, not mine. I dress like a woman. That annoys the hell out of them, but also intrigues them. They aren't accustomed to seeing a "family" member display her body in such a way.

I raised my eyes back to meet her gaze and we smiled sincere smiles and hugged once more. I've always liked this woman. I like her feisty spirit. I like her determination to survive and demand respect from women and men alike.


Back to one a.m., the card game, and the smoke-filled room. As I sat there thinking of how many of these nights I've experienced over the years, several things became crystal clear.

They will never really understand who I am.
I will always be different.
I am an outsider.

I am a foreigner in my own home.


Bubbles, Ink. said...

i remember reading this a long time ago. is this a re-post, or have you reworked it?

southernfemme said...

repost. I deleted everything awhile back, and now have decided to put a few things back up.

Mad William said...

You just described my relationship with my family. They have no idea who I am. When we get together I feel as though I have been dropped in the middle of a TV sit-com and don't know my lines.

I wouldn't have it any other way.

Good to hear from you, repost or not.