To Say Envelope, Think of Hope by Moisés R. Delgado
Managing editor Krys Malcolm Belc on today’s bonus essay: In this essay Moisés Delgado elegantly communicates the connection between the pronunciation and origin of his name and the trouble his mother has communicating at the post office. Delgado’s intimate, generous, and direct voice is one to watch out for.
To Say Envelope, Think of Hope
At the post office, my mom digs into her purse for some change. She sorts through expired school IDs of my sister and I, a pen, receipts, lipstick, a lucky two-dollar bill folded into itself twice, a half-eaten granola bar, an image of the Virgin Mary, until she finally finds some crumpled up bills. She shyly smiles at the postal worker and says, “Stamps and an envelope, please.”
The white man reads the time on his silver wristwatch, it’s a quarter past noon. He looks at my mom. “What?”
She clears her throat, and louder, says, “Stamps and an envelope.”
The worker glances at the entrance where people keep filing in. The door opens and closes to South Omaha, to the businesses across the street: Helados Santa Fe, Estética Tammy’s, La Única.
The woman next in line rolls her eyes. Behind the woman is a Latino man, dozing off. He’s in a blue button-up shirt with white paint splattered on his sleeves, pants, and shoes. White paint likely on his brown palms and white paint beneath his nails. The Latina mother behind him silences her son by promising him ice cream. “Yes, two scoops,” she tells him, “pero espérate.”
Seconds peel away from the clock. A bald eagle soars on the lime green wall beneath it.
The postal worker raises a fist to his mouth and yawns. “What?”
Sometimes I’m ashamed that I didn’t struggle learning English. Meaning my Latinx tongue should’ve shown allegiance to my blood by twisting and knotting. I learned complex words with ease, while my parents, at home, shaped and reshaped their lenguas until the English alphabet found a makeshift home in their Spanish-speaking mouths. They struggled and still struggle.
Maybe this is where I should admit to having lied. My mom asked for an envelope, but again and again said envelop.
The man looks at her as though my mom is in the middle of a ritual. Like any second now, my mom’s chants will call the moon to block the sun and the world will end. Her accent enveloped the word, but what she meant was easy to parse. The postal worker could’ve gently corrected her. He could’ve framed it as question, my mom would’ve nodded, and that would’ve been that.
Instead, he sighs, again says, “What?”
I could’ve stepped in at any moment, but I didn’t. To help would’ve been insulting to my mom. Had I intervened, I would have justified his actions.
I stay by the door until my mom gets an envelope. A small one, not what she wanted, but she’s defeated. She walks away, doesn’t correct him.
The postal worker smiles at the woman next in line.
“I understood you,” I say to my mom. “You can speak English.”
“No, I can’t.”
“You can,” I say. “You can.”
At home, my mom tosses away the envelope.
I repeatedly tell people to say my name like noises. To help my parents pronounce troublesome words, I offer them similar sounds, words they are comfortable with. (To say distance, think of this dance, this stance, this tense.)
To say my name, think of roses.
Say my name like noises, and you’re saying it wrong. My name is disyllabic, an accent over the second syllable. Moi–sés. However, to scorn you would be like me ridiculing my parents, aunts, uncles, friends, and peers who struggle with language. To hate you would be to hate myself.
I constantly mispronounce my own name.
There was a year when I fought for the accent in my name. Another year, I gave up on the I. I defaulted to my middle name, Roman, at some point.
I’ve reclaimed the I in my name but have given up on the accent—it sits on my name as a symbol for the Spanish I am losing. Spanish that I neglect. My thoughts are in English. I write almost exclusively in English. I mostly speak English. When I do speak Spanish, I salt in English words like I’ve never heard of seasoning.
I wrack my brain for Spanish, but only find English equivalents: liver, bury, grief. Sometimes, I’m ashamed to say, I don’t care if I lose my Spanish. It might be easier. Sometimes I want to lose both. As a high schooler, I’d daydream of cutting off my tongue. I thought it’d free me of language all together.
Moisés R. Delgado is a fifth-year senior triple majoring in psychology, creative writing (fiction), and English (CNF) at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. He’s the fiction editor of 13th Floor Magazine for the 2018/19 school year. His prose has been published in Polaris Literary Magazine and The Flat Water Rises: An Anthology of Short Fiction by Emerging Nebraska Writers. Physically, he resides in Omaha, Nebraska, but in his mind Moisés is dancing en la luna.