Her words came flying at me like tattoos darting their permanence into my mind.
“You speak English really well,” my mentor teacher proudly declared, after having heard me read a chapter of Old Yeller to her fourth grade class.
Stop, wait, and listen is all I could do in that unexpected moment. Sometimes, words force you
to stop and think. As my thinking process began, I noticed my mouth. My mouth began to drop slightly open, just enough for me to notice. My body and it's casual motion came to a gradual stop, as I tried to figure out what didn’t sound quite right. I gazed for a moment. It’s what I often do, I’m told, when in deep reflective thought.
I slowly took a breath and looked away, fearing that my thoughts would be heard aloud. Did I really hear her say those words? Why would she say such a thing? Was it the color of my skin? The color of my hair? Should I have felt accomplished for my abilities in English? Would she feel accomplished for hers?
Stunned a little, I wondered what or when or how it came to be necessary to speak aloud those words. Would it have been better to hear her declare that I speak two languages… well? Or, maybe even that I work a read aloud like a pro? Did it all really matter? It must have mattered, because I felt it.
I swallowed gently on purpose, and I gathered myself to respond.
“Oh… umm, okay,” the words finally spilled from my lips and I smiled. I smile because there was no ill intent. There was no ill intent, but I wasn’t finished thinking. I wasn’t really finished thinking through the comment, that compliment.
Fifteen years have passed. I’m not quite finished thinking through that compliment. Not completely.