Found in Translation

it happened again

on a late August evening

as we were sitting by the river

Seine, waiting for the C train at Musée d’Orsay

 

I was kicking my feet above the black, flowing water,

trying to keep the nausea at bay,

but your feet were not moving, firmly anchored to the cool, gray stone

of the quay.

 

waves ricocheted under us whenever barges sped by,

filled with half-drunk people shuffling

and singing off-key,

my head was on your shoulder; my stomach was hurting.

 

I can’t remember the exact words that triggered it,

but it happened again,

me thinking you’d tried to mock me, me getting all defensive,

you apologizing, telling me to let the past in the past

 

ß

 

we must have had this conversation

a dozen times at least

maybe more;

you telling me to let it go,

 

shouting it sometimes,

as tears trickle down my face,

dripping, dripping, clink, clink

like drops out of a leaking faucet

 

let it go, tourne la page, you repeat

over and over again, like a broken

music box, stuck on the same two notes

(except I’m the one who’s broken, not you)

 

let it go, it happened more than a decade ago

 

I know the words you’ll say before you say them

I know them by heart, but I can’t escape them

I know you’re trying to help but at times the loop feels infinite

I know I’m safe now but knowing sometimes isn’t enough.

 

ß

 

in French there is no specific word for bullying

(and no word at all for bully)

there is only harcèlement, roughly translated as harassment,

umbrella term for bullying, street harassment, sexual harassment

 

I’ve never been able to admit it in French,

not even on the soothing, white-yellow pages of a notebook,

that I was bullied;

I’ve never been able to think or say or write:

 

je me suis fait harceler à l’école.

 

I just penned the words, but they feel all wrong,

because I don’t feel as if I was harassed (though I’ve learnt the feeling since – and learnt to stop wearing skirts

when alone in the streets of Paris)

 

I was bullied

and the difference is

meaningful somehow.

 

ß

 

that August night you said, as you’d said

so many times before:

it was more than ten years ago, it doesn’t matter anymore

and I froze

 

your face was cast in shadows, but I could see your eyes,

glinting, reflecting the river

that never stops, never halts.

I closed my eyes and time stopped.

 

it had been more than ten years ago,

thirteen to be accurate,

but it still mattered;

it had always mattered.

 

ß

 

as a child, I was bullied

in my middle school near Nice, on the French Riviera,

in French.

 

I did not admit it, to myself or others,

until recently, a few years ago,

in English.

 

ß

 

as a child, I was bullied

in a language with no word for bully;

as a child, I kept my mouth shut

but I won’t anymore.

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