Monday, August 29, 2005

Vikings and misspeak

Today I went to see my shrink. He'd been off on vacation for the better part of the summer, so it was a nice reunion.

As usual, I try to let myself go and think of nothing as I'm driving over. This is a quiet time where I make a conscious effort to empty my brain and my heart. As I turn upon the street beside his office to park, or sometimes as I'm riding up the elevator, a thought or a feeling wells up from the void I've created. This is, invariably, what I talk about during my session.

Sometimes I am lucky and the feelings are clear. Sometimes I am not so lucky and the feelings are shrouded, mysterious and completely out of focus. When I'm in this state, I must work very hard during my hour with my shrink to make some sense of the turmoil. It's akin to a shot in the dark. Sometimes you work hard and nothing comes, but today I hit something.

Hacking through my confusion, I remember an event of my past. I was 7, maybe 8 years old, I was in school in England, grade 2 if I remember correctly, possibly grade 3. We had a Viking project to do which entailed cutting up a cereal box in the shape of a Viking ship and building little shields with the leftover cardboard and some aluminium foil. A nice little project, and if I do say so, the Brits are brilliant at recycling such materials into school projects.

I had a few friends one of which was Jackie, a lovely and sweet girl. She also build her own little viking ship in her class. She ran into a little trouble with her ship, nevertheless it came out very nice indeed. Either she told me this or I heard it from someone, another friend maybe, that she'd had this trouble.

I must specify that I was pure french Canadian, and didn't know all that much english at this point in time. I was with a couple of my classmates and saw Jackie's ship. I had a good story to relate, I point out her ship and told my friends "this one is stewpid". I remember, clear as daylight on a 10-foot snowbank, my intent was to say: "this one is interesting". I know this word today, I did not then.

But it was all too late. My ignorance had already set me up: the teacher that I liked most of all, the one who granted me extra attention when I had first come to this school, the one who I feared the least, the one who taught me about trousers, shirts, pullovers, socks and shoes on a drawing of myself... took me aside. She was angry. I had made her angry. I was already wishing I'd kept my fucking mouth shut. But it was too late.

I was wisked off to the spread of boats in my own class, and am compeled to point out my own. "This one is stewpid" she said in what I assumed to be the same tone as I had used.

Needless to say, I was shattered. Not because my ship may or may not actually have been stupid, not even because I'd been taken down a peg. Indeed I was shattered because I'd garnered the wrath of my favourite teacher, to say nothing of having said ill of my friend's project. Misunderstanding, ignorance on my part, plain and simple.

I don't think Jackie ever found out. If she did, she never said anything and we remained friends afterwards. From that point on, however, I have no recollection of my favourite teacher... at all.

It's not really anyone's fault. My teacher was giving me a lesson in civility and manners. Maybe she should have continued my language education instead? Who's to know. I was uneducated and bore not a shred of ill-will, nor towards my friend, nor her project, nor towards my teacher, as it was really a misunderstanding.

I don't think this was a defining moment in my history. But it was important enough for me to remember today, decades later, for no obvious reason. Or maybe there is: I need to forgive my teacher, she did what she thought was best, she's not to blame. But maybe more importantly, I need to forgive myself. A silly mistake I could not possibly have known nor avoided.

Note of Author: I knew not a single word of english before I went to England. By the time I left, a year and a half later, I had a wicked-cool British (Manchester) accent and was for all intents and purposes bilingual, actually to a point whereas I was starting to lose my french.


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