Post #5: There’s no cure for this. But what’s the alternative?
I’ve been reading a slim Portuguese volume called As Mentiras Que Os Homens Contam—The Lies Men Tell—and it’s charming the pants off me. The chapters are mercifully short, and I read a new one every night before bed. Savor it, like a good Riesling. I chuckle, I guffaw. This is a seriously funny book.
On this particular night, in paragraph two of my latest chapter, I run into a word I haven’t seen before: caixão. I know that caixa means box and that the ão suffix makes things bigger, so caixão must mean big box. A few lines later I get it. Caixão means, ah, ah, what’s that word again? It’s the box you put dead people in before burying them. You know the one, right? It’s called, ah, ah… Damn it, why can’t I think of the word?
A torrent of related terms floods my mind: hearse, procession, gravestone, undertaker, pushing up daisies… But not that word.
I try to picture myself at a funeral—maybe that will jog my memory. Well. The funeral that jumps to my mind is my own mother’s, twenty-nine years ago. I had to choose the box myself. I remember standing in the funeral parlour, the reality of having no more parents just beginning to sink in, while the funeral director showed me samples of mahogany and cherrywood. It was not a fun time. No wonder I’ve blocked out the word.
But I haven’t blocked it out. I remember it in French—cercueil—and I now know it in Portuguese. Just not in English. I call up its distinctive hexagonal shape and imagine myself opening it, hoping to find its name inside. Nada.
This wouldn’t have happened to me at thirty. Or forty. Or fifty-nine. There’s no escaping it: it’s the beginning of the big biochemical blowout, the synaptic switch-off, the slide into vacant-eyed oblivion. By the time I get to Brazil I’ll probably have no words left, just chin hairs and missing teeth.
What am I doing, trying to learn another language when I can’t even remember my own? I should just invest in a rocking chair—a model that comes with knitting needles and a lapdog—and call it a day.
But no, I can’t do that. I’m enjoying Portuguese too much. And if I give up on my sputtering synapses, I may as well buy a nice little plot and bury myself in my own… ah, ah… it’s coming, it’s coming… my own coffin!