Hearing Things

Maybe this all has to do with living in a second language, or perhaps it is just the way I am wired. Either way, I tend to hear things that may or may not have been said. Something about body language and fast words, something about whispers or screams and my mind fills in the rest. Interestingly enough, I find that my mind fills in the words in English, not Portuguese. Or perhaps, it fills them in in Portuguese but my mind processes them in English. Either way, I’m not ever sure if that little snippet I assumed that I heard and understand is in fact real.

 

I have three examples of this, two of them happening a while ago and one of them just moments ago that inspired this train of thought.

 

—————-

 

One night, my roommate and I were headed out and we were waiting outside the guard shack for our Uber to show up. While we were waiting, one of us was on our phone checking for the Uber and a shirtless young man came walking by and we immediately, for the protection of our technology and the realization that we were being dumb standing out in public with our phones out, dipped back into the guard shack. Coincidentally enough, the guard needed to talk to us about something and give us a paper, anyway.

 

The man proceeded into the doorway and there were things I knew he was yelling for sure. “É porque eu sou feio que vocês tem que correr?”, “Is it because I’m ugly that you ran away?”. Had he said this calmly and jokingly and then proceeded to enter the shack, perhaps because he lived there, it wouldn’t have left such a sour taste in my mouth, but he didn’t live there and he wasn’t calm. He continued to curse us out, my mind taking over and inventing all the things he could have been saying about us before storming out and punching the wall on his way. Whether they were true or not, my mind translated his screaming jargon to something along the lines of “you bunch of rich beeches, think you’re better than everyone, go back to your little room”. What I got out of this conversation most was the anger that rolled off of him in near-palpable waves and his disgust with us thinking we are better than him. My mind filled in the rest, regardless of the actual words he said.

 

————————-

**I edited this section when I first uploaded it 6 months ago, see bottom for full original text**

The second story happens during a costume party our housing complex was hosting. There were hundreds of people present, loud music, and everyone dancing.  The beautiful thing about parties in your own apartment complex is that when discomfort reaches its max, you can always retire to the safety of your own room and lock the door.

 

Upon meeting a friend of a friend, I noticed some signs that things were going to be frustrating and we would not just fall into a simple acquaintanceship.  It started raining. As if all Brazilians are similar to the Wicked Witch of the West, they took shelter as if they might melt. With most of them not being from the housing area, there were only so many hallways and doorways they could stand in. Spending time with our friends, but not wanting anyone in our own apartment led to some sardine-like situations.

 

I remember recalling the story to my friends the next day of my interactions with that same guy in the crowded stairway of our apartment building. The parts I remember least though were the actual words that were said and I’m not sure if my mind ever picked them up. Between the loud music, tons of side conversations, being cold from dancing in the rain, and being caught in certain areas with him, the thing I remember least were the words he used. However, I do remember the uncomfortable feelings that they caused and the way my mind decided he was placing the blame on me based on his tone.

 

Even the following day, I had to say the disclaimer “I’m not sure this is what he actually said, but this is what my mind decided he said.” Between the vibes he sent giving off his intentions, the loud music, and my inability to read lips in a foreign language, I invented the dialogue instantaneously.

 

———————–

 

Lastly, not just but a few moments ago. I was talking to one of the women in the apartment entrance who controls what visitors enter and leave. She is someone I enjoy seeing everyday and if I’m not running terribly late between the gym and a meeting or running late to catch a bus, we will spend a few moments talking about our lives. It is wonderful to have a familiar face to talk to almost every day.

 

We were talking about her applying to study law at a nearby university and we were both excited! I couldn’t be more happy! Then she said that one of these days we should go out and celebrate followed by a whisper of sorts to which my brain filled in “except we aren’t allowed to socialize with [residents of the housing area].” Now. I have 0% of an idea of what she actually said, I didn’t ask to clarify, but between the whispering and whatever way her lips were moving and the sounds that caught my ear, my brain decided that was that.

 

————————

 

Those encounters among numerous others have me thinking that sometime I just like to fill in the pieces I don’t know and to be frank, sometimes that works just fine. However, there are other moments, more embarrassing moments, when someone turns to me and asks me if I understood or to repeat what they said…to which I cannot lie and have to admit that I didn’t understand anything. Sometimes, my brain filled in the complete wrong idea. That’s especially frustrating when I’m trying to translate for someone.

 

Sorry for the random assortment of thoughts, but this was something that fascinated me today and I couldn’t help but reflect on the way communication is complicated and living in a second language is hard, especially when my brain makes up half of the conversation anyway.


**

The second story happens during a costume party our housing complex was hosting. There were hundreds of people present, loud music, alcohol, spiked desserts, and people dancing and making out everywhere. It put my imagination (and some of my experience) of frat parties to shame.  The beautiful thing about parties in your own apartment complex is that when discomfort reaches its max, you can always retire to the safety of your own room and lock the door.

 

Upon meeting a fairly intoxicated friend of a friend, I noticed some signs that things were going to be frustrating and we would not just fall into a simple acquaintanceship. He kept up a chivalrous front, letting me go first, guiding me through areas with his hand on my back, but in fact completely separating me from my roommate until we had all stopped walking.

 

Then it started raining. As if all Brazilians are similar to the Wicked Witch of the West, they took shelter as if they might melt. With most of them not being from the housing area, there were only so many hallways and doorways they could stand in. Spending time with our friends, but not wanting anyone in our own apartment led to some sardine-like situations.

 

I remember recalling the story to my friends the next day of my interactions with that same guy in the crowded stairway of our apartment building. He would say things like “So, have you learned all about Brazilian parties?” *wink wink, nudge nudge* and I would tell him I’m too old for this and stand up and walk away. He kept trying to find excuses to go upstairs to my place, showing up at my door after I’d gone to bed, and wouldn’t take no for an answer. He would follow me around and unlike the way I should have acted, cold and told him to go away, I was too Minnesotan and just kept passively moving when he would try to put his hand on my thigh, over my shoulder, or turning away as he had me pushed up against a wall pulling my face towards him.

 

The parts I remember least though were the actual words that were said and I’m not sure if my mind ever picked them up. With the loud music and being caught in certain areas with him, the thing I remember least was how he said some of the sleazy things he said. However, I do remember the uncomfortable feelings that they caused and the way my mind decided he was placing the blame on me based on his tone.

 

Even the following day, I had to say the disclaimer [and not because of an alcohol-induced hazy memory, as my drink of choice that night had remained water] “I’m not sure this is what he actually said, but this is what my mind decided he said.” Between the vibes he sent giving off his intentions, the loud music, and my inability to read lips in a foreign language, I invented the dialogue instantaneously.

**

Advertisements