An honest reflection on my Polish heritage slipping away.
I’m a tablet of Alka-Seltzer, slowly dissolving, fizzing out, drowning in a giant fishbowl. I’m a chip off the old block, a chip that has spent 17 years corroding and fading.
I was whole in the beginning, like all of us were. Polish was my first language, taught over months of evening reading and constant speaking, a bonsai tree cultivated over time. It was my first skin, my first mindset. Those words were my first friends. Not long after I learned, however, I had to enter Pre-K and pick up English; in other words, I was dropped into the solution for the first time in my life.
The foreign language, the foreign culture, the foreign soul fought with the one already present. I spent countless more hours of my life speaking, writing, and being American-English that the battle was lost before it began. I spoke at home in the fleeting moments that I was with my parents, yet English still managed to sneak into the sentences like a parasite. There was Polish school on Saturdays too, but of course I dreaded that. These were a few hours of exercise a week at best. I was a speck of Alka-Seltzer in a sea of acid.
Every so often, the foreign liquid would get nervous, though. My summers were spent in Poland, with grandmas and uncles and grandpas and cousins. In that beautiful red plaza, whose stores and alleys I knew like the back of my hand; in the backyard of a family house, ‘helping’ babcia garden; in one of our garden plots, the same as the other hundred but unique because it was ours. I was an Alka-Seltzer tablet with millions of others, immersed in the solution of my soul. It was a reprieve from the onslaught suffered elsewhere. It was a summer vacation.
And it couldn’t last. Another year of school, of English advancing and Polish stagnating. Another year of Polish words lost and English words filling their place, creating that ugly reminder of futility. And another year of the Alka-Seltzer growing ever smaller.
When will the Alka-Seltzer disappear? When does that soul draw its last breath and die? When does the tablet dissolve completely? When will I only be able to say “Czesc, jak sie masz?” and grin stupidly? I know the answer can only be “never”. My inheritance was seeded first, and its roots have grown infinitely deep into my being. I will always be Polish. It is who I am.
Would the alternative be less painful, though? To lose that soul completely and fully in one ephemeral instant and never look back. To totally dissolve, rather than suffer for eternity, bathed in acid, decomposing, disintegrating, disappearing but never quite dying. I know that it would not. To rend an inextricable part of you would likely be devastating beyond comprehension.
The options are grim then. What else is left, beyond accepting the torturous asymptote of dissolution, or forcefully removing a physical part of myself. It has to be fighting back. Reclaiming, salvaging, and repairing the soul I’ve abused for so long. Visiting Poland, hugging her sweet earth and inhaling the sweet scent of the land. Insisting on speaking at home, in Polish school, wherever. Perhaps picking up a book of Polish literature. Whatever it must be, for the Alka-Seltzer cannot be allowed to dissolve.