Here with my mother, I speak, using words I only ever used within my family, words and phrases we made up, some unintelligible syllables, others based on my father’s Hungarian accent, or words that one of us girls uttered when we were babies. The family vocabulary. It rolls easily off my tongue when I am there, and I enjoy uttering these phrases again, each with its own particular familiar cadence – phrases that at other times I have banned from my speech, phrases that it never occurs to me to use in other contexts.
Ruth, college freshman roommate and first friend in many years, said to me once, “You know, your sister Liz says that she wishes you all wouldn’t talk that family talk that you do,” and it was the first time that I heard the language we relied on acknowledged like that, and criticized. I could hear my sister’s criticism and immediately felt chastised, felt that yes, I have done something wrong and foolish, which was how Liz had often made me feel ever since her suicide attempt, her swallowing of the pills a big fat statement that she was suffering, that we were not, that she had the courage to speak up against the status quo that I had been so much a part of maintaining.
But this week in California I speak the language of childhood easily, almost with relief that I need not restrain myself – though my mother does not follow suit even though she created much of the vocabulary. She and I were the creators of this language though I have to think about this – everyone spoke it so freely we did not think about who was contributing the most.
I imagine my two sisters are quite strict about not using these childhood phrases that no one else understands, these phrases that covered up so much of what was wrong, phrases that made us laugh when maybe something else more mature was needed. Yes, I see how the language added to – maybe even created – the wall that kept us all safe from the rest of the world, hid a lot of reality, and my sisters are both so dedicated to doing things properly – one a 12-step sponsor to the masses, the other a food purist – that they probably forbid the speaking style. But I let it rip, surprised at how on the tip of my tongue it all is.