After three years of medical school in France, Fred had to drop out. Massive currency inflation due to the war in Lebanon meant that Fred’s father could no longer afford Fred’s education. To give you an idea, imagine one Lebanese pound could have bought you a coke. Now a coke in Lebanon costs 1500 Lebanese pounds. Fred was on his own, and there was no way he was going back to war-torn Lebanon. So he got a visa to America in hopes that his uncle could guide him toward a better future. When that didn’t pan out, he went to Montreal where he could at least speak the language.
Fred and I both grew up bi-lingual. Fred spoke Arabic at home and with friends, but he attended a private Catholic French school where he was educated in French and was only allowed to speak French within its walls (except for during Arabic lessons). I of course was educated in English in the American public school system, but was only allowed to speak Korean when at home with my parents. I attended Korean school on the weekend as a child, and watched countless hours of Korean mini-series that were always playing on the VCR in our home. Fred picked up English when he lived in Canada because his classic French accustomed ears preferred learning English than constantly hearing the French-Canadian accent. I picked up Spanish through 6 years of second language education at my junior and senior high schools. Then he picked up Spanish very quickly on the streets of New York while working in sales. When we moved to Japan I had to learn Japanese in order to live daily life, and since the grammar structure is quite similar to Korean, I had a much easier go at it than Fred. He and I both have a good ear for languages and are fairly used to the broken English that has been flung at us from all walks of the world.
Because my parents’, my mother in particular, second language is Konglish (Koreanized English), I was very adept at understanding broken English from a young age. So when I met Fred, it didn’t bother me at all that he spoke with an accent or failed dropped an infinitive once in a while. In fact, his accent was alluring, especially after having grown up with the harsh and short sounds of Konglish. His French accent, with it’s softness and fullness, was enough to keep me following every single word he uttered for the five hours we spoke when we first met (Yes, that is 5, 5 solid hours of talking about everything and nothing, as if we have known each other forever.). And despite the fact that his opening line was less than smooth, the life he had lived to that point was so vastly different from my Suburban life that I couldn’t help but feel that he really was some kind of International Man of Mystery.
That was how it was between us… I was the innocent sheltered girl, and he was the experienced worldly man. He took me on adventures with his stories of the past and he opened my eyes to the possibility that I might not be just a shy plain Jane. To him, that is how relationships between a man and a woman should be… the man is the man, and the girl is the girl. When that dynamic began to change, things between us changed too. But we grew up together and found ways for our life to grow together. When we moved to Japan he felt lost, as if he had nothing to offer, and he resented me for it. I, in turn, resented him for resenting me. And then things went downhill from there.
We had to learn a new language. Yes, Japanese, but also the language of love. We had gotten through in the past by communicating by instinct because we were so in-tuned with each other. The 18 months spent apart made us lose that connection, and it was as if we were speaking completely different languages and losing ourselves in the gibberish.